I love listening to podcasts and therefore regularly use platforms like iTunes (not the best user experience) and TuneIn (lots of choice). Although I’d heard of audioBoom, I haven’t used it yet. Let’s give it a go and see what the product is like:
- How did the app come to my attention? – I think it must have been one of my colleagues in the digital music space who mentioned audioBoom to me.
- My quick summary of the app (before using it) – I expect a platform which both enables people to upload their audio recordings and provides easy access to these recordings.
- How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – The first screen of the app displays a video without sound, showing two different people using audioBoom (see a screenshot in Fig. 1 below). Each video segment mentions a different element of audioBoom’s proposition: “Welcome – The best in spoken-word audio”, “Trending – The biggest stories as they happen”, “Curate – Build your listening playlists”, “Trending – The biggest stories as they happen”, “Discover – Explore unmissable audio content”, “Record – Record, upload and edit on the fly”, “Follow – Don’t miss your favourite posts” and “Download – Listen offline no internet need.”
- Getting started, what’s the process like (sign up and choose a category)? – I’m not looking to record anything at this stage, I’m just looking to discover new podcasts to listen to. The signup screen and related steps are very straightforward. The second screen of the onboarding looks great and again, feels very intuitive; I can select the categories that I’m interested in (see Fig. 3 below). The overlay message explains this in two easy to understand messages (see Fig. 3 below) after which I tick the categories that I’m interested in.
- Getting started, what’s the process like (choose a subcategory)? – Per category that I’ve selected, I then get to choose a subcategory. For example, for the “Sport” categories I can choose from subcategories such as “Football”, “Rugby Union” and “NHL” (see Fig. 4 below). Once I’ve gone through the different subcategories, I’m then presented with “Recommended Follows” (see Fig. 5 below).
- How easy to use was the app? – Once I completed the onboarding process, the app explains how to navigate between different pieces of audio (see Fig. 6 below) and how to follow a specific user or to download audio for later. When you get into an actual piece of audio, the interface is clean but has all the info and calls to action necessary to listen to the audio (see Fig. 7 below). Navigating between the different pieces of audio on audioBoom felt very easy and intuitive.
- How does the app compare to similar apps? – TuneIn Radio is one of audioBoom’s main competitors. TuneIn’s iOS app has a similar feel to audioBoom. However, I feel that TuneIn currently has more to offer when it comes to audio to listen to. For example, in the “Sports” category there’s more content to explore than on audioBoom (see Fig. 8 below). However, from a pure design and visual perspective, audioBoom looks a lot nicer and feels like a more ‘delightful’ experience.
- Did the app deliver on my expectations? – Yes, easy to find and use audio content, presented in a way that feels very intuitive. The only thing I’m hoping for is that audioBoom will be able to further grow its content portfolio. This way the app will no doubt get more sophisticated in the personalised recommendations that it can provide me.
Fig. 1 – Screenshot of audioBoom’s opening screen
Fig. 2 – Screenshot of audioBoom’s signup screen
Fig. 3 – Screenshot of audioBoom’s “Choose your preferences” screen
Fig. 4 – Screenshot of audioBoom’s “Choose a subcategory” screen
Fig. 5 – Screenshot of audioBoom’s “Recommended Follows” screen
Fig. 6 – Screenshot of navigation messaging on audioBoom
Fig. 7 – Screenshot of audio interface on audioBoom
Fig. 8 – Screenshots of TuneIn’s sports category screen
Last week it finally happened: Twitter launched its own music service in Twitter #music. This is “a new service that will change the way people find music, based on Twitter.” Like so many other music and content-oriented services out there, Twitter is trying to crack the holy grail that is ‘discovery’.
Here are three reasons why I think Twitter is in a fairly good position to do so:
- It knows what’s popular – Since Twitter’s acquisition of music service We Are Hunted, which specialised in analysing the likes of Twitter and making recommendations accordingly, the question has been how Twitter would encourage its users to discover music. An obvious first angle is to highlight music that’s popular, showing “new music trending on Twitter” (see Fig. 1 below). The tracks on here are irrespective of a user’s taste or the artists you’re following on Twitter.
- It can point you in the direction of new talent – I’d love to find out more how Twitter’s algorithm compile the artists and bands that appear in its “Hidden talent found in the Tweets” screen (see Fig. 2 below). Twitter suggests over a 100 artists who are considered “emerging”. Because Twitter Music primarily focuses on the artist, it will let users discover new music through the artist. For instance, when I click through on The Blank Tapes, one of the emerging talents mentioned, I get a neat overview of all the artists that The Blank Tapes follow (see Fig. 3 below).
- It’s dynamic! – The dynamic nature of Twitter is probably best symbolised by Twitter Music’s #nowplaying view which displays those tracks tweeted by the people that you follow. The tracks that appear on this screen are likely to change in rapid succession (obviously dependent on the number and kinds of people you follow and their Twitter activity).
- It’s cross-platform – Users can currently access Twitter #music via the web and iOS. An Android version is set to follow soon, with Twitter also looking to expand the service beyond the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. One can imagine a tablet version to also be introduced soon. Apart from being cross-platform (which was to be expected), Twitter Music offers a tight integration with iTunes, Rdio and Spotify. By default, you users can listen to track snippets through iTunes and will have to log into to Rdio or Spotify account to listen to the full-length track. Twitter is thus creating its own – fairly closed – ecosystem around music and music discovery.
Main learning point: in a way, with “Twitter #music”, Twitter has launched a music service that very much does what you’d expect it to do. With the amount of ‘social data’ that Twitter has of its users and the activity on their platform, you’d expect nothing short of a highly usable and ‘intelligent’ music service. Twitter #music definitely delivers on those fronts: it provides a good user experience, it’s visually appealing and – most importantly – it does stimulate users to discover new music.
However, Twitter’s new music service still feels fairly one dimensional. Opportunities to actively engage with artists are limited and ways to find out about more things than just their music (e.g. live dates, discographies) are non-existent. It would be great to see Twitter build on its music service by adding more ‘interaction’ over the next few months.
Fig. 1 – Sample “Popular – New music trending on Twitter” view
Fig. 2 – Sample “Emerging – Hidden talent found in the Tweets” view
Fig. 3 – Sample of viewing the artists followed by the artist you follow
Related links for further learning:
It was interesting to read a very detailed breakdown of how Spotify build products by Henrik Kniberg. Kniberg is a Swedish Agile expert who consults with a lot of different companies on how to best implement Agile and Lean practices. Kniberg is well respected when it comes to iterative development and Spotify is growing rapidly within the music industry (an industry which I also happen to work in with 7digital). Kniberg’s article gives a great insight into how companies can successfully apply some of the principles around “releasing early and often”.
In this blog post, I’ll highlight both Spotify’s underlying philosophy and the 4 key stages that form its product development process. Let’s start with Spotify’s core philosophy first:
- “We create innovative products while managing risk by prototyping early and cheaply” – Rather than taking a product through a whole product development cycle before finding out whether it provides value or not, Spotify prefers to release early and often instead. True to the philosophy of “Agile” and “Lean” development methodologies, Spotify’s focus is on launching new products or features as soon as possible to see how they perform in real-time. The main benefits of this approach are twofold. Firstly, risk is managed more effectively and companies are likely to get real-time product feedback (from real users) a lot sooner.
- “We don’t launch on date, we launch on quality” – I guess not all businesses have the luxury of not having too worry about deadlines – think of companies that have to oblige contracts or other time-led constraint – but Spotify clearly seem to value quality over time. I guess the main point of this principle is the focus on quality above anything else. The challenge for any product person and developer is to strike the right balance between releasing early and often AND launching quality products. For instance, at 7digital we aim to release continuously whilst making sure that every singly release is fully tested to ensure set quality standards (I’ve written about this practice earlier).
- “We ensure that our products go from being great at launch to becoming amazing, by relentlessly tweaking after launch” – “Continuous Improvement” is the key term here. I wrote about this earlier and highlighted its roots in Japanese car manufacturing. In practice, this means that Spotify will try to ensure a certain quality standard upon launch, followed by further improvements based on real-time feedback and performance. A product is never ‘finished’ and as a product person you can never rest on your laurels; I believe that iterative development is effectively a continuous loop of releasing, measuring, learning, iterating, releasing and measuring again.
Now look at the 4 product development stages that are applied at Spotify:
- “Think It” – The first stage of Spotify’s product development process is all about figuring out what type of product should be built and why. The “Think It” stage can apply to both completely new product ideas or improvements to existing Spotify products. What’s interesting about this stage is that the overriding emphasis seems to be on creating a compelling narrative and less on on coming up with convincing metrics or a tight business case. Like they do at Amazon, a product’s narrative is written well before its being built (see also the the scope of a standard Spotify “product definition” in Fig. 1 below). Prototyping is the other aspect of the “Think It” stage that I like very much; a dedicated “Think It Squad” (typically a designer, a developer and a product owner) will create a number of prototypes to kick things off, varying in fidelity.
- “Build It” – With Spotify’s “Build It” stage the focus is on creating (and shipping) a product that’s “narrative complete” and not feature complete. Going back to the focus on delivering a compelling narrative in the previous “Think It” stage, the aim is is to release a product that fulfils the basic narrative to the user. At Spotify, they don’t talk about a minimum viable product (‘MVP’) but about a “minimum loveable product” instead. It’s about creating an initial product that real users will love and that fulfils the narrative.
- “Ship It” – True to the “Lean” approach, in the “Ship It” stage, Spotify will gradually roll out the product to all of its users. Instead of one big bang release, Spotify will start by releasing to a small percentage of all users (typically 1-5%), in order to collect data. This is the best bit in my opinion; the use of data to incrementally improve a product, compare groups of users and spread risk. This approach is a clear example of “data driven product development” as advocated by the likes of Eric Ries, Ash Maurya and Steve Blank. This ‘staggered’ approach is used for continuous measuring and improving, making product improvements as it’s being rolled out to more and more users. This also means, as Kniberg points out, that by the end of the “Ship It” stage a product is by no means “feature complete”. It just means that the product (= MVP + necessary improvements) has been 100% rolled out and that it will continue to evolve.
- “Tweak It” – This is a critical part of the product lifecycle since this is where the product is likely to spend most of its time. The product is now live and being used by all users and ‘the squad’ will continue to experiment with the product. The squad will continue doing A/B tests to make improvements (big or small) until a point is reached where the product as whole needs to be evaluated, especially when the product is starting to reach the point of diminishing returns (see also Spotify’s definition of “done” for this stage in Fig. 2 below). Do we keep tweaking the product, adding minor improvements? Or do we rethink the product as a whole?
Main learning point: Kniberg’s article on how Spotify builds products provides in my opinion mandatory reading for most product managers or developers, especially for those with an interest in lean or iterative development. The 4 different product development stages used at Spotify are well defined and really help in both spreading the risks involved in launching a new product and getting real user feedback as soon as possible. Don’t worry if you don’t have the resources that Spotify have; you’ll still be able to apply a lot of the underlying principles and techniques!
Fig. 1 – Scope of a “product definition” document at Spotify
The product definition is a short document that answers questions such as:
- Why should we build this?
- Who will benefit from this and how?
- What are the key metrics that we expect this product to improve?
- What are the hypothesis? How will we know if this product is successful?
- Is this a “step change” (that is, a product that we expect will give at least a 2x improvement on the chosen metric)? If we expect only minor improvement on the metrics, there better be some other strong reason for building it, for example a strategic reason.
Fig. 2 – Definitions of “done” for the 4 stages of Spotify’s product development
- Think It – definition of done: The Think It stage ends when Spotify’s management and ‘the squad’ jointly believe that this product is worth building (or that the product will never be worth building and should be discarded).
- Build It – definition of done: The Build It stage ends when Spotify’s management and ‘the squad’ jointly believe that this product fulfils the basic narrative and is good enough to start releasing to real users.
- Ship It – definition of done: The Ship It stage ends when the product is available to all users.
- Tweak It – definition of done: The Tweak It stage ends when a product has reached a point of diminishing returns. The product is great and the most important improvements have been made. The cost/benefit ratio of new feature development, however, is less attractive. Looking at the metrics, new features and improvements don’t seem to be moving the needle a lot.
Fig. 3 – Scaling Agile at Spotify – Taken from: http://techcrunch.com/2012/11/17/heres-how-spotify-scales-up-and-stays-agile-it-runs-squads-like-lean-startups/
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I’m a big fan of Songkick, a London-based company that enables users to track live shows of their favourite artists. Songkick was founded in 2007 by three friends who felt that finding out when your favourite artist was coming to town could be made a lot easier. Songkick enables users to track their favourite artists and will automatically send an alert once an artist or a band announces a show in your area (see Fig. 1 for a screenshot of my personal artist tracker on Songkick).
Co-founder Ian Hogarth recently referred to Songkick as “the second most visited ticket site after Ticketmaster” in a recent “Tech Weekly” podcast by the Guardian. Songkick have received backing from well-known venture capitalists like Index Ventures and, recently, Sequoia Capital. Apart from capturing already scheduled concerts, Songkick has now also started crowd funding concerts. This recent initiative is called “Detour” (see Fig. 2 below) and is based on the idea of fans paying upfront for a gig by an artist or band that they really want to see.
- Will fans use Detour to get Nicki Minaj to come and perform? – Can you imagine how many fans one would have to gather and how much money one would have to pledge to get Nicki Minaj to come and play in, let’s say, Huddersfield!? That’s not what Detour is for, it helps to bring those artists who otherwise might not come. Songkick’s Detour kicked off with a campaign to get Tycho, a small electro band from San Francisco, to come to Europe. Tycho had never played in Europe before and this is how the Detour initiative came about.
- Fans make it happen – To gage interest in bringing Tycho to these shores, the guys at Songkick started emailing those Songkick users who track Tycho’s live shows through Songkick. Over 100 of these users pledged money for a ticket. Since that number still didn’t make it viable for Tycho to come over, the Songkick users started contacting their friends to get them to pledge too. Soon enough a sufficient number of people had pledged money to buy a ticket, which made it feasible for Tycho to come over and do a show in London.
- Can make Songkick make a lot of money out of Detour? I’m not sure whether Songkick will be able to make a lot of money out of Detour (and I’m not sure whether that’s the goal), but it can nevertheless become a self-sustainable revenue stream where Songkick perhaps take a fee to recoup its operational cost and the transaction fee which normally would go to ticketing giants like Live Nation or Seatwave.
- Where does the (user) value come from? For Songkick, I can see the value of Detour being in (1) user engagement, finding another way of actively engaging with the Songkick user base and (2) a reduced dependency on other ticket sites, being more in control (and generate revenue) of organising events and creating a platform for ticket and merchandise sales. For users, Detour provides a great platform for getting to see artists that one probably wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.
Main learning point: crowd-funding initiatives like Kickstarter are rapidly growing and gaining momentum and now Songkick has launched its own version in Detour. An interesting extension of its services, tapping into Songkick’s solid user base whilst providing Songkick the opportunity to take over from ticket vendors. I guess the success of Detour will be largely determined by the scale of its user base and by Songkick generating sufficient interest for the artists ‘in the offering’.
Fig. 1 – Screenshot of my artist tracker on songkick.com
Fig. 2 – Screenshot of Detour homepage
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Last week saw the UK launch of Amazon’s Cloud Player, a service enabling Amazon users to play their music stored in the cloud (through Amazon’s Cloud Drive) from any computer or Android device connected to the Internet. The service was launched in the US back in July, and now Amazon’s UK customers will be able to experience the same service. These are the main propositions that the Cloud Player is promising to offer:
- Your Music. Everywhere. – Seamless access to one’s music is rapidly becoming a ‘given’ when it comes to offering music services. Irrespective of the device one is using – smartphone, tablet, PC or ebook reader – users expect to be able to access music wherever, whenever. No surprise then that this is the main underlying promise of the Cloud Player: your music is available on a range of devices (e.g. Android, iPod, iPhone, Sonos, etc.) and the experience will be consistent across all of these devices and platforms.
- Import your music collection – Like iTunes Match and Google Play, Amazon’s Cloud Player will enable users to upload their own music collections, with Amazon matching the music on your PC to their 20m track catalogue. This means that music purchased from Amazon or iTunes or from ripped CDs will be matched against Amazon’s catalogue, upgraded (to a better audio quality where possible) and made available through the Cloud Player.
- Secure and easy to use – Amazon promises that for all the MP3 songs and albums users purchase or have purchased in the past will be automatically saved to Cloud Player, which means you’ll have a secure backup copy of the music you buy at Amazon. The ‘secure’ and ‘instant’ aspect are key to any service of this kind. I haven’t used the Cloud Player yet but this would be main challenges to any product or service which promises a great user experience. Is is easy to use? Does is ‘just work’?
I haven’t yet tried the Cloud Player, but reading user and expert reviews gives an interesting insight into this new service. The main thing that struck me is that users are restricted from buying songs through the Cloud Player app on Apple devices (think iPhone, iPad and Mac). This means that one can use the Cloud Player for listening and streaming on an Apple device but not for buying music. I know I’m biased (since I work for 7digital, a competitor of iTunes and Amazon Music) but this defeats the purpose of using a service that promises to work ‘everywhere’.
Main learning point: I guess the main caveat to this blog post is that, as I say, I work for a (smaller) competitor of Amazon in 7digital. At 7digital, we always try to concentrate on a consistent user experience that ‘just works’ irrespective of the device or operating system one uses. Services like Amazon Cloud Player are good solutions for anyone who wishes to ‘consolidate’ his/her music collection. I guess the main downside of using the likes of Amazon and iTunes is that they are pretty ‘vertical’ which means that their products only work totally seamlessly and as intended on their own devices and operating systems, which has bearing on the overall user experience.
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Impressed as I was by the success of online ticket seller Eventbrite, a recent announcement by WillCall then triggered my interest. WillCall is a San Francisco based-startup which started off by sending users in the San Francisco area a push notification about discounted tickets or VIP packages a few hours before a concert was due to start.
“A pretty easy way to see more shows” is WillCall’s main strap line and that is exactly what their Android and iOS apps seem to be providing for. As WillCall founder Donnie Dinch explains on the WillCall blog, the main problem they are trying to solve is “how to connect willing and excited people, using a mobile phone, to the greatest local shows, concerts and social events in town.”
I can imagine that people reading this might be thinking that they have seen this all before or that WillCall is not going to upset the likes of Live Nation in a million years. However, these are the main things that differentiate WillCall in my view:
- Event discovery – I believe that any form of discovery, be it content or events, is a hard one to get right one. WillCall is trying to crack this by handpicking shows that they think are likely to be popular and cut deals with the hosting venues. 48 hours prior to an event, a WillCall user will receive a message with a number of events to pick from, including info on friends attending and any special deals (e.g. discounts or the ability to jump the queue).
- Push notifications – WillCall’s messages are push based which means that users will get automated notifications well in time for an event. The only risk with such push notifications is that subscribers can eventually get fed up, treating these alerts as spam.
- Tailoring notifications – I don’t think WillCall currently enables its users to set preferences for the types of notifications they wish to receive, and I’m not sure if their competitors Thrillcall or Sosh do either. I guess the extent to which a service like WillCall can customise the push notifications one receives (e.g. by genre, area or venue) will play an important role in its long-term success.
Main learning point: the problem that WillCall is trying to solve is clear: helping artists/venues/promotors with those shows that don’t get sold out. As a user, the main added value comes from attractive last-minute deals and from discovering new events. In addition, the ‘social’ element of being able to see who of your friends are going to a gig should not be underestimated. Definitely a service with a lot of potential; don’t be surprised if the likes of Live Nation or Ticketmaster jump into this niche very soon!
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I love This Is My Jam. Period. This service, which only came out of private beta a few months ago, is as simple as it is effective. This Is My Jam (‘TIMJ’) lets users select one track at the time (your “jam”) which will expire after one week. As a result, you tend to get recent tracks and a good flavour of the kinds of music people are ‘feeling’ at any given time. These are the main things I like about This Is My Jam:
- It is curated – Are you also getting tired of “what my friends are listening to” features on Spotify or YouTube, and the unfiltered flood of music that provides for!? As TIMJ co-founder Matthew Oggle explains: “Music gets lost in the deluge, and even when it’s noticed, links out to Spotify or Youtube in a social feed can feel impersonal.” TIMJ tries to address this by forcing users to carefully select a single jam at the time and enables them to personalise their pick by adding their own text or imagery.
- It is simple – The TIMJ site looks simple and is simple to use. Selecting and previewing the jam of your choice is incredibly easy and so is customising it. If you wish to share your jam on Facebook or Twitter, again, that is very simple too. I don’t know where it sits on TIMJ’s product roadmap, but it will be interesting to see what their mobile app will look like when they launch it.
- Music discovery at its finest – Having been on TIMJ for a good 6 months now, I am impressed with the variety of music on there. There is definitely an element of people trying to ‘outcool’ each other which means that you get a truly eclectic mix of genres and artists, and get to discover music that you might not have come across otherwise.
Main learning point: like with all these services, the question remains how popular This Is My Jam will become, how quickly it will manage to grow its user base. What I do know is that TIMJ offers a great, easy-to-use service for anyone who is passionate about music or who wishes to discover new stuff!
Related links for further learning: