Why I really like This Is My Jam

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/this-is-my-jam-pinterest-for-music.php

http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4144756-behind-the-screens–dis-meets-this-is-my-jam

http://pandodaily.com/2012/03/05/this-is-my-jam-share-the-one-song-youre-currently-obsessed-with/

Rdio vs. Spotify: when it comes to user experience, the first round is for Rdio

Last year I wrote about Rdio, about its affiliate programme and data partnerships respectively. At the time, Rdio was only available in the US and my interaction with its streaming service was therefore limited. I had heard, however, that its user experience design (‘UX’) was great.

I have now had a chance to try Rdio (it recently launched in the UK) and compare it with Spotify (of which I am a premium subscriber). If this was a boxing match, Rdio would win against Spotify in the 1st round. Spotify would have struggled to put a punch in whilst Rdio’s decisive knock out punch would have come in the form of its powerful UX.

This is how the two streaming services compare in my opinion:

  1. Design – I have a got a strong preference for clean, simple design and Rdio comes up trumps in this respect. Whether it is an artist (see screenshot 1), album or track (see screenshot 2), all pages have a very uncluttered layout. Even though I can understand Spotify’s rationale for collating as much artist or product info onto a single page, I feel that Rdio’s pages are more effective. Rdio’s UX design   feels like it has been thought through a lot better.
  2. Social – On Spotify, opportunities to understand what others think of a particular album or track are limited. When I have got my “This is what your friends are listening to in real-time” functionality enabled on Spotify, I tend to ignore it. I think the way in which Rdio have enabled user reviews is again simple but effective (and not a distraction from the main purpose, i.e. to listen to a track or an album – see screenshot 2).
  3. Labels – The main differentiator between between Spotify and Rdio is the ability to filter by labels. Increasingly, users are looking to engage with specific labels. Spotify is tapping into this trend with its label specific apps (I love the “Def Jam at Spotify” app) and services like Drip.fm and Distro.fm are geared towards this. Rdio gets this too: I can follow labels directly and get a good sense of all their releases. For instance, the 4AD Records (see screenshot 3) or Blue Note pages provide a neat overview of their top albums and recent activity.
  4. Nobody is perfect – At a first glance, Rdio’s music catalogue seems smaller than that of Spotify and I would love to see more labels involved with this service. Perhaps it is my perception but the “unavailable” tag seems to be appearing on albums a bit too often. From a UX point of view, there is nothing as frustrating as finding the album you were looking for to then see it marked as unavailable.
Main learning point: Spotify clearly has a ‘first mover’ advantage in the UK, both in terms of its user base and breath of music catalogue. With the right amount of marketing and word of mouth, however, Rdio could be catching up sooner than you think. Rdio’s design is great and opportunities for interaction and discovery have received the right amount of attention by Rdio’s designers. The main thing for Rdio to concentrate on is adding to its catalogue and creating a user base / ecosystem around its service.

Screenshot 1 – Artist page on Rdio

Screenshot 2 – Track page on Rdio

Screenshot 3 – 4 AD Records page on Rdio

Related links for further learning:

http://www.electricpig.co.uk/2012/05/03/rdio-launches-in-the-uk-spotifys-worst-nightmare/

http://www.techradar.com/news/internet/rdio-coming-to-the-uk-to-take-on-spotify-1073595

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/05/04/spotify-rival-rdio-launches-in-uk_n_1476668.html

http://musically.com/2012/06/08/with-teeth-rdio-spotify-and-the-perils-of-user-experience/

zeebox – the value is in sharing and discovery

Like music, TV is another traditional medium that has gone social. Forget about ‘just’ watching a show on TV’ that is only half the fun nowadays. Watching something on telly is one thing, but the conversation around it on  social media such as Twitter and Facebook is pushing the way in which we consume TV content to a whole other level. zeebox is an app that taps into this trend. It presents itself as “Your TV sidekick” which it tries to do in a number of different ways:

  1. Knowing what you are watching, right now – zeebox will pick up, for example, that I am watching Formula One on Sky Sports 1 and will provide me with all kinds of related info on this programme, of which the “News” tab seems most helpful.
  2. Real time is the key  With an app like zeebox, you want everything to be instant so it lets you invite your friends and start a chat with them whilst you are watching. Similarly, I can view the “Buzz” (i.e. tweets per minute) or “Audience” (popularity figure) for a specific show, both in real time.
  3. “zeetags” to help your discovery – I believe that the big potential of services like zeebox and Fanhattan is in helping users discovering new content. Zeebox will automatically picks up references to things on a show that you happen to be watching or be interested in. For instance, when I’m watching Formula One on telly, zeebox will bring up related tags such as “Fernando Alonso”, which I can then click on to delve into more info about this driver (generated from sources such as Wikipedia and Google). However, the quality of these tags can be improved judging by suggested tags such as “The Netherlands” and “Morocco” when I’m looking into a coverage of an international golf tournament …
  4. Acting as a content ‘hub’ – The idea is that zeebox acts as a portal from where you can dip into various forms of content linked to a particular TV programme. For instance, when I go onto the Top Gear page on zeebox, I can branch out to associated content in the form of apps and downloads.
  5. It’s social! – Last but not least, zeebox enables you to keep on top of what your friends are watching or are talking about. This is a route which is already prevalent across music services such as Spotify and Rdio. Once you know what other people are watching, you can then engage with them around this content or discover new stuff through your friends.

Main learning point: I can see why zeebox and the idea of a “second screen” (as zeebox’ Co-Founder Anthony Rose calls it) is generating quite a bit of excitement. The main thing that I am not sure about is how people will use zeebox on top of some of the social channels like Twitter and Facebook that they are already using. Also, it will be interesting to see how many people will be interested in the ‘context’ around TV. I feel that this area of content sharing and discovery is still at its early stages and that it will get more and more sophisticated over time.

Related links for further learning:

http://zeebox.com/uk/about-us

http://thenextweb.com/media/2012/05/17/zeebox-launches-shout-out-and-group-chat-features-to-better-connect-uk-tv-viewers-with-celebs/

http://gigaom.com/2012/04/02/zeebox-boss-says-smart-tv-is-a-dumb-idea/

http://www.techradar.com/news/television/iplayer-creator-launches-zeebox-app-for-social-tv-viewing-1037959

Facebook follows Turntable.fm with “Listen With”

Keen to get a piece of the action that Turntable.fm has generated, Facebook has just launched its own “Listen With” feature. Like Turntable.fm, the main concept behind “Listen With” is simple: sharing music with your friends. These are the main things that this new Facebook feature will enable you to do:

  1. Listen to music with your friends – You can listen along with any of your Facebook friends who are listening to music or you can listen to music with a group of friends whilst one of your friends plays the DJ.
  2. Chat room –  Similar to Turntable.fm, Facebook offers its own simultaneous chat room feature. This means that when I click on the “Listen With” button in Chat and news feed stories, I can then select a friend as my personal DJ. When clicked, Spotify or Rdio will be launched instantly and I’ll start hearing the music my friend is playing in real-time. Other friends can also join the group chat listening room and we can discuss what we’re listening to whilst the music is playing.
  3. Only open to friends selected – The feature only works for whoever you allow to share music with. This means that a person who is allowed to view your listening activity will see a music note appearing next to your name in a chat. By hovering over this friend’s name, the “Listen With” button will appear.
  4. Newsfeed – If another user then clicks my “Listen With” button we’ll then listen to the same music, a chatroom will be created and my newsfeed will state that “Marc Abraham is listening with ….”
  5. Artist page – When someone plays a song for a friend, their “Listen With” chat room will display a link back to that artist’s Facebook Page. This could be a very useful feature for artists who can thus generate more fans and reach out to them with links to concert tickets, merchandise, and their websites.
Main learning point: looking at this new Facebook feature made me wonder whether the guys behind Turntable.fm are loosing sleep over it. At the face of it, this doesn’t seem to be the case. In an interview with TechCrunch Billy Chasen, co-founder of Turntable.fm, explained that “I look forward to seeing how they (Facebook, MA) interpret what social music means as we seem to have different core philosophies about it (such as the importance of discovering new music from strangers and not just friends).” I can see where Chasen is coming from, but with the sheer scale of Facebook and ample opportunity for it to iterate (for instance make it easier to replace DJs and for non-friends to join a chat room) I can imagine that Turntable.fm will be going back to their drawing boards very soon.

Related links for further learning:

http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/12/facebook-listen-with/

http://mashable.com/2012/01/12/facebook-listen-with/

http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/12/listen-with-musicians/

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/turntablefm-8216flattered-by-facebooks-listen-with-friends/7325

http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/12/turntable-facebook-listen-with/

You don’t have to go out to enjoy a social DJ

A few weeks ago I learned about Turntable.fm a great new service which combines social media principles with music. The idea behind this new site is simple: ‘social listening’, with users having shared experiences around music. Turntable.fm has only been around for a month or so but has already picked up over 140,000 users which is certainly no mean feat, especially if you take into account that this number is purely based on viral growth.

The only main downside with Turntable.fm’s model seems to be music licensing. Reason why the site (temporarily) had to restrict its access to the USA only. Even though I havent’t seen an official announcement, I presume that the licensing issues have now been resolved, since I just managed to get back into the “Hip Hop – All Eras – Just Dope” room (and helped to oust another DJ who thought he could play 6 Wacka Flocka Flame songs in a row – sorry, wrong room!).

This is how it works: at the moment, Turntable.fm is invite-only and you can only sign up if a friend of yours on Facebook is already signed up. Once you’re in, the site lets you DJ, playing songs in an on-screen ‘nightclub’. Others come to listen to you in your ‘room’ and can join you on the decks if they choose (although I always seem to struggle to get some ‘play-time’).

Multiple DJs (up to five) play a song each in turn and everyone else in the room gets to vote on the current DJ’s choice. If your choice gets voted up, you get a point (and the user’s avatar start nodding its virtual head to your track). If it gets voted down by too many people it’s ditched for the next DJ’s choice (see my Wacka Flocka Flame example).

Almost as entertaining as the music are some of the comments in the site’s chat room, ranging from people desperate to get to play their songs to others explaining why Wacka Flocka Flame rules.

These are the reasons why I’m really excited about Turntable.fm and its potential:

  1. It’s addictive – I don’t normally get truly hooked onto social media networks but Turntable.fm could be the exception: I now want to accrue lots of fans and get people to like my track selections!
  2. Simple but innovative – It’s really easy to enter or create a listening room and the game oriented design of the interface is very intuitive.
  3. It truly is a shared experience – From people voting for a track a ‘DJ’ is spinning to having a chat about the music being played, the way Turntable.fm makes music sharing and discovery a fun, social experience is pretty genius.
  4. The potential for integration is there – I think that the main beauty of Turntable.fm’s model is that doesn’t eat into the market areas that the likes of Rdio, Shazam, Spotify or Soundhound occupy. Turntable.fm has already started partnering with UK-based Mixcloud and Mixlr to offer aspiring DJs and musicians a good launch pad.

Main learning point: having played with it, I can understand why people are so excited about Turntable.fm. It’s social, it’s innovative and it’s a fun way to share or discover music. Whether Turntable.fm gets the kind of traction that is necessary to become a lasting success remains to be seen; for instance, will people lose interest because don’t they get a chance to DJ or because they don’t like hanging out in empty listening rooms? Another threat (which has already materialised) is music licensing; will Turntable.fm be able to continue to use the self-created licensing loophole?

Let’s wait and see but for now I’m just going back into the “Hip Hop – All Eras” listening room and enjoy some true rap classics …

Related links for further learning:

http://thenextweb.com/industry/2011/06/25/why-turntable-fm-is-the-most-exciting-social-service-of-the-year/

http://thenextweb.com/apps/2011/07/11/console-fm-taps-soundcloud-to-become-the-next-turntable-fm/

http://thenextweb.com/media/2011/07/06/the-age-of-the-social-dj-has-arrived/

http://mashable.com/2011/06/27/turntable-fm-international/

http://musically.com/blog/2011/06/23/7735/

http://techcrunch.com/2011/07/16/the-underground-promise-of-turntable-fm/

http://listeningroom.net/

http://outloud.fm/

Rdio partners with Echo Nest and shows it’s serious about things

Last March I learned about Rdio opening up its API and launching an affiliate programme. In a move to strengthen its proposition, Rdio has now announced a partnership with music analytics and recommendation service Echo Nest. The partnership will allow developers to add music recommendations from Echo Nest to their apps and then actually play the music using streams from Rdio.

The Echo Nest is a music intelligence service which develops bespoke applications for customers like the BBC and MTV but also for independent app developers. It provides a platform that analyses music in various ways (e.g. similar artists or songs, beats or loudness).

MusicMaze is a good example of an app where the respective APIs from Rdio and Echo Nest have been combined pretty well; this webapp maps relationships between musicians (data powered by Echo Nest) as well as enables users to listen to related music (streaming powered by Rdio). Non-subscribers to Rdio will hear 30 second previews and Rdio subscribers will be able to listen to the full songs.

Main learning point: Rdio is clearly serious about making the most of its API and strengthening its affiliate subscription programme. Their latest partnership with Echo Nest seems very logical in this respect; it adds extra analytics capability to its offering, which may very well be of interest to the developer community. Time will tell I guess.

Related links for further learning:

http://blog.rdio.com/post/5161479190/announcing-rdios-partnership-with-the-echo-nest

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/music_nerds_gain_new_powers_with_rdio_echonest_api.php

Rdio creates API and launches affiliate program

It all seems to be happening in the world of online music services; in January I blogged about the linkup between music stream service Spotify and mobile music discovery service Shazam and last week I learned about on-demand social music service Rdio opening its API to developers and starting an affiliate program.

Rdio is the brainchild of Skype founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom. The service allows its users to build and share online music collections from a catalogue of over 8 million songs. Rdio offers a web-only, paid for music streaming service and a premium version that adds mobile access.

Rdio has now created an API that gives developers the ability to create web apps that can search, access and play all of the artists, songs, albums, playlists, and charts in Rdio’s music catalogue.  The API will allow developers to access community-only features such as the ability to see what’s in heavy rotation in your network, follow people whose music tastes you like, check out other people’s music collections and modify a personal collection or playlist.

I guess the main difference with other APIs is that the Rdio API is tied into a subscription service and therefore only fully accessible to Rdio subscribers and trial users. Users who are not subscribers or trial users and who encounter the Rdio API on third-party sites will be able to hear 30-second song excerpts. These users will also be given the option of enlisting in a free 7-day trial (no credit card required) to hear the full song.

Rdio also launched a new affiliate program which enables developers to monetise their applications. It will pay commissions for referring new subscribers and song downloads. Affiliates can earn two to three percent gross revenue per month for the lifetime of a new subscriber and seven percent gross revenue per song download referred.

From a business and strategic point of view, I learned the following about Rdio’s API release and new affiliate program:

  1. Engaging with third party developers early and often is a good way to spread the word and usage of Rdio’s services.
  2. Opening up an API helps to create an ecosystem centered around Rdio and its core functionality.
  3. Similarly, the affiliate program – like the one Rdio launched – tends to be a good way to extend the reach and audience of a product (and create an extra revenue stream in the process).

Main learning point: Rdio managed to get into the US market before its biggest competitor Spotify. From that perspective, it makes a lot of sense for Rdio to open up an API and launch an affiliate program, not only to generate more interest for its services but also to get the developer community on board to come up with interesting and commercially viable applications. It will be interesting to see what kinds of applications will come out of this affiliate programme and whether Rdio can offer some serious competition to Spotify.

Related links for further learning:

http://blog.rdio.com/post/3786039074/now-available-the-rdio-api

http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/11/social-music-startup-rdio-pushes-play-button-for-api-affiliate-program/

http://mashable.com/2011/03/11/rdio-api/