Book review: “Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love”

About four years ago I read and reviewed Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan, who I regard almost as the ‘founder’ of modern tech product management – along with Steve Jobs of course 🙂 Cagan has now released a second edition of “Inspired” in which he captures two aspects he’s uncovered since writing the first edition.

The first aspect is a critical need to focus on the specific job of the product manager, aiming to clarify which elements constitute the role of a product manager in a tech company. The second aspect is the importance of creating the right product culture for success, and understanding the range of product discovery and delivery techniques available to solve customer and business problems.

Whilst the book contains a wealth of valuable content about product management and how to create great products; in this review I’ll primarily focus on Cagan’s recommendations with respect to product discovery and delivery. Before I do that, it’s important to first look at Cagan’s take on the “root causes of failed product efforts” (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – “Root Causes of Failed Product Efforts” by Marty Cagan  – Taken from: https://www.mihneadb.net/notes-on-craft-conf-2015/

Cagan sees a very sequential, “Waterfall” type approach as the underlying reason why many products fail. This approaches comes down to companies using a ‘feature heavy’ and preplanned roadmaps, as well as and using regular planning sessions to negotiate and prioritise the roadmap. Cagan shares some home truths to explain why this approach is now obsolete (Fig. 2).

 

Fig. 2 – 10 problems that companies using a Waterfall type approach suffer – Adapted from: Marty Cagan, Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love, pp. 17-21

  1. Stakeholder-driven products: It’s a top down approach which leads to stakeholder-driven products and teams that don’t feel empowered
  2. Business cases are mostly fictitious: I couldn’t agree more with Cagan when he argues that the two main business case inputs – how much money we’ll make and how much it will cost – are complete unknowns. We can’t know how much money we’ll make because that depends entirely on how good the solution turns out to be. In contrast, a lot of products end up making no money whatsoever! One of the most critical lessons in product, Cagan explains, is “knowing what we can’t know.”
  3. Product roadmaps –  There are two problems with traditional, feature led product roadmaps. Firstly, the reality is that half of our product ideas are simply not going to work. I always cringe when I see product roadmaps that contain detailed features prioritised prioritised for an entire year … In my experience, until you start discovering, implementing and launching product ideas, you’re not going to know whether your product is actually going to work. Secondly, even when ideas do prove to have potential they’re likely to need several iterations to reach the point where they deliver tangible business value. Cagan introduces the term “time to money” to refer this evolutionary process.
  4. It’s not about gathering requirements for engineers to implement – I recently came across an organisation where they employed an entire team of project managers and business analysts whose main job it was to gather stakeholder requirements, and document them for designers and engineers to implement. Cagan rightly makes the point that “this is 180 degrees away from the reality of modern tech product management.”
  5. UX designers are getting involved way too late – Don’t involve designers only once the requirements have been gathered, it’s simply too late as the designer won’t be able to add much value add this stage.
  6. Engineers are getting involved way too late – If you’re just using your engineers to code, you’re only getting about half their value. I love the ‘little secret’ that Cagan shares with us: “engineers are typically the best single source of innovation.” He’s totally right!
  7. Agile for delivery only – Cagan talks about “Agile for delivery”, whereby product development teams work in an Agile fashion, but the rest of the organisation isn’t.
  8. Project-centric processes – The company usually funds projects, pushes projects through the organisation, and finally launches projects. Unfortunately, projects are output and product is all about outcome. I’d add that most projects are one-off pieces of works whereas products have a continuous lifecycle, until the product is being discontinued.
  9. Customer validation happens way too late – Cagan points out the biggest shortcoming of the old waterfall process, which is that all the risk is concentrated right at the end and that customer validation happens way too late. Instead, customer validation or discovery should be continuous and needs to happen early and often.

 

Cagan offers three overarching principles which help overcome the aforementioned root causes of failed product efforts:

  1. Risks are tackled upfront, instead of at the end
  2. Products are defined and designed collaboratively, rather than sequentially
  3. Finally, it’s all about solving problems, not implementing features

“Continuous Discovery and Delivery” is a great way to translate these three principles into a process and mindset for people to adhere too (Fig. 3). You can see how Cagan has taken the eight steps involved in the traditional waterfall approach (Fig. 1) and condensed them into to three, continuous stages: Objectives – Discovery – Delivery (Fig. 3).

 

Fig. 3 – Continuous Discovery and Delivery – Taken from: Marty Cagan, Process vs Model, https://svpg.com/process-vs-model/, 7 August 2017

 

Ultimately, this process enables you to to get answers to four critical questions:

  1. Will the user buy this (or choose to use this)?
  2. Can the user figure out how to use this?
  3. Can our engineer build this?
  4. Can our stakeholders support this?

Apart from these four critical questions, I like the emphasis Cagan puts on business context over a traditional product roadmap. In the book, Cagan covers two main components that provide this business context:

  1. The product vision and strategy
  2. The business objectives

The “risk” aspect feels like a crucial one to me, and thinking about ways to identify and mitigate risks early and often. For example, I’ve found the pre-mortem technique to be a great  way to unearth key risks right at the outset. Cagan describes some common risks to consider:

  • Financial risk – Can we afford this solution?
  • Business development risk – Does this solution work for our partners?
  • Marketing risk – Is this solution consistent with our brand?
  • Sales risk – Is this solution something our sales staff is equipped to sell?
  • Legal risk – Is this something we can do from a legal or compliance perspective?
  • Ethical risk – Is this solution something we should do?

Cagan then goes on to describe three of his favourite discovery framing techniques:

1. Opportunity Assessment

The idea is to answer four key questions about the discovery work you’re about to undertake:

  1. Objective – What business objective is this work intended to address?
  2. Key results – How will you know if you’ve succeeded?
  3. Customer problem – What problem will this solve for our customers?
  4. Target market – What type of customer are we focused on?

2. Customer Letter

Cagan refers to Amazon and their working backward process, where you start the product effort with a fictitious press release.

3. Startup Canvas

The “Startup Canvas” is particularly useful when you work at an early stage startup and are staring from scratch, both with the business and your product or service. There are lots of these canvases around for you to have a closer look at; I’d suggest having a look at the Business Model Canvas (by Alex Osterwalder) and the Lean Canvas (by Ash Maurya; Fig. 4).

Fig. 4 – Ash Maurya’s “Lean Canvas” – Taken from Ash Maurya, “Running Lean”: 

Cagan explains how you can use a canvas for any product change, no matter the size, but you would likely quickly find a risk of duplication once you’ve got an existing business and product. I agree that the law of diminishing returns kicks in once you’ve already established your business and products, since you’ll have already figured out things like your cost structure or distribution strategy.

Finally, Cagan explains about “testing value” as a key thing to consider when planning your customer discovery. The main thing here, Cagan stresses, is to learn whether customers perceive your product to be substantially better than the competition. So many companies and product teams think all they need to do is match the features of the competitive alternatives. This idea of “feature parity” being enough to woo customers has proven to be a false one. The reality is that for customers to switch from an existing product, they need to  perceive the new product as a much better alternative.

For example, sometimes it’s not clear whether customer want what it is that we’re going to build and it can be very risky to simply think “we’ll build it and customers will come.” In the book, Cagan talks about how you can quickly and cheaply test whether there’s demand for instance through launching just a landing page. On the landing page, we describe the new offering exactly as we would if we were really launching the service. The difference is that if the user clicks the call to action, rather than getting the expected outcome, the users sees a message that explains that you’re thinking of launching the new service and that you’d love to get initial input from the user. It all falls under the mantra “Do Things that Don’t Scale”, first introduced by Y Combinator Founder Paul Graham. A good example is this one from Buffer:

Fig. 5 – Buffer example of a ‘smoke and mirrors’ landing page – Taken from: Christopher Bank, 15 ways to test your minimum viable product, https://thenextweb.com/dd/2014/11/12/15-ways-test-minimum-viable-product/, 12 November 2014

Main learning point: Marty Cagan has written a great followup to his first edition of “Inspired”. In this edition, he offers valuable tips and examples in relation to important themes as product discovery and delivery. Whether you’re new to product management or have got some good product management experience under your belt, “Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love” is a great and valuable read.

Learning about how Spotify builds products

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:

  1. “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.
  2. “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).
  3. “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:

  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. “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.
  4. “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/

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 11.05.47.png

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://blog.crisp.se/2013/01/13/henrikkniberg/how-spotify-builds-products
  2. http://www.spotify.com/se/blog/archives/2012/12/06/discover/
  3. http://www.svproduct.com/assessing-product-opportunities/
  4. http://www.theverge.com/2013/3/11/4080130/can-anyone-turn-streaming-music-into-a-real-business
  5. https://labs.spotify.com/2014/03/27/spotify-engineering-culture-part-1/
  6. http://techcrunch.com/2012/11/17/heres-how-spotify-scales-up-and-stays-agile-it-runs-squads-like-lean-startups/

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/

What’s happening with Spotify?

It has been a big week for Spotify. At a special event last Wednesday the online music company announced its shift from being ‘just’ a provider of music online to a ‘music platform’ that ties in with third party applications. In short, this means that Spotify will turn its service into a platform for developers, who can then build HTML5 apps based on this platform. The aim is that all these third party apps will be truly integrated with Spotify and that they will all contained within the Spotify Player which both free and paid customers will have access to.

These are the main things I learned about Spotify’s new approach:

  1. Making the most of its catalogue  – I guess Spotify is widely known for offering an impressive catalogue of online music. Things like radio (which Last.fm did so successfully), expert recommendations and a better use of the ‘genre’ tag are currently non-existent or lacking at best. There definitely is room to do more with the Spotify catalogue.
  2. Need to engage users more – Spotify is great for people who know what they want to listen to, but there is a risk of users dropping off one they’ve exhausted the music that they are aware or interested in. There’s no community around the music on Spotify and limited ways for Spotify to engage with it users.
  3. Reinforcing the brand – Many others before Spotify discovered that creating an ‘ecosystem’ around content can be a very effective way to keep customers ‘locked in’ and to spread the word around a service. Apple and Amazon are great examples of this strategy but also players like Netflix and my employer, 7digital are good cases in point of business being successful in opening up their API and reaching out to the developer community.
  4. Music anywhere everywhere – At the launch event, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek explained: “we want music to be like water: available everywhere and shareable seamlessly”. This idea of ‘total ubiquity’ is becoming increasingly apparent in a lot of digital strategies; providing content in the car, at home or on the go.
  5. First examples of third party apps using Spotify – One of my favourite online tools, Songkick, will launch a new Concerts app for Spotify which will allow users to discover and buy tickets for nearby shows by the bands they’re listening to on Spotify. Similarly, the Rolling Stone Recommends app will function as a discovery tool for Spotify users to browse album and song reviews, as well as curated playlists, while simultaneously streaming the music.
Main learning point: the idea of creating an ecosystem around content is not a new one but definitely one to really take off over the next few years. With giants like Apple and Amazon have centred their strategies around keeping customers locked in, it’s only logical that aspiring giants like Spotify are now looking to do exactly the same thing (and be just as successful at it).
Related links for further learning:

http://www.spotify.com/uk/about-us/press/spotify-a-perfect-platform-for-apps/

http://techcrunch.com/2011/11/30/spotify-platform/

http://www.zdnet.co.uk/news/application-development/2011/12/01/spotify-eyes-app-ecosystem-by-embracing-developers-40094550/

http://thenextweb.com/apps/2011/11/30/heres-how-to-get-spotifys-new-apps-right-now/

http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/permalink/2011/111130spotify#az-8ZmCNSKaRPIZwh2OUwQ

http://developer.spotify.com/download/spotify-apps-api/guidelines/03_ui-guidelines.html

http://mashable.com/2011/01/04/brand-open-api-developers/

http://www.spotify.com/se/download/previews/ 

Facebook’s new music platform – what will happen tomorrow?

Interesting times for online music. A few months ago I wrote about the likes of Rdio and 7digital, where I work, stepping in to offer serious competition to iTunes. A few months later, in July, Spotify launched in the US and the picture of online music looked complete.

It now turns out that this observation was way too premature, particularly given the events over the last few weeks with both Rdio and Mog offering free music services. Rdio’s free music-streaming service won’t come with advertising whereas MOG’s “FreePlay” option will (exactly like the ‘freemium’ business model which Spotify introduced a few years ago).

Things will get really interesting when – if we can rely on persistent rumours – Facebook will launch its own music platform tomorrow. This platform is likely to enable Facebook users to easily share their favourite music as well as television shows and films, effectively turning a user’s profile page into its personalised entertainment hub.

I know these are still rumours (at the moment anyway) but these are the main things I learned about Facebook’s upcoming venture into (online) music:

  1. Facebook isn’t doing it alone – With the likes of MOG, Spotify, Rdio, SoundCloud and Deezer all rumoured to be announced as launch partners tomorrow, it’s clear that Facebook won’t be going this one alone. According to the media and technology executives, who claim to be close to the related deals, Facebook has made agreements with a number of media companies to develop a way for a user’s profile page to display whatever entertainment he is consuming on those external services.
  2. This could be very powerful – Given the audience that Facebook currently has (estimated at more than 700m users) facilitating personal entertainment ‘hubs’ could have a massive impact on the way we consume content and on the positioning of the content industry. Similarly, links that appear on a widget or tab, or as part of a user’s news feed, would point a curious friend directly to the content. Again, it will be interesting to see how this will impact the way in which we consume content (do we end up paying even less for content than a lot of us are doing already?).

Main learning point: will people in the music industry look forward to tomorrow with trepidation, trying to predict what the shape and impact of Facebook’s new music platform is going to be? Facebook’s annual developer conference is always one to appear on may people’s calendars and this year’s “F8” is no exception. I feel, however, that the rumours around the introduction of a new music platform do give the conference an extra dimension and that tomorrow could potentially form the start of a new saga in ‘content land’.

Related links for further learning: 

http://www.tomsguide.com/us/MOG-Spotify-Rdio-Music-Streaming-FreePlay,news-12574.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/19/business/media/facebook-is-expected-to-unveil-media-sharing-service.html

http://gigaom.com/2011/09/15/music-wars-heat-up-but-is-free-really-the-future/

http://musically.com/blog/2011/09/19/soundcloud-deezer-rhapsody-and-vevo-added-to-facebook-music-rumours/