The Follow Button: Spotify’s Social Experience

I’ve written several times about how important curation is for good media consumption. When media companies pair content libraries with well built curation tools, it creates a magical experience for the consumer. Recently, Spotify (an enormous content library) made a major improvement to its music discovery tool.

Spotify eliminated the all inclusive discovery stream, replacing it with a Twitteresque “follow” model. Previously, the all inclusive stream displayed all the music being listened to by a user’s Facebook friends. This previous discovery model had several shortcomings. First and foremost, it ignored the simple fact that peoples music tastes are not homogenous. People have certain friends or tastemakers they look to for new music. Music taste is extremely personal, so assuming users are interested in ALL their friends tastes is a rash generalization.

Instead of a stream with all the music a user’s FB friends listen to, the right 1/5th of the Spotify window now contains a curated stream. Spotify users now elect which friends and artists to follow. Based on those choices, users see a stream with songs those specific friends listen to (and tracks/playlists artists recommend). This “follow” model is a proper reflection of social music exchange in real life: we’re only interested in certain peoples tastes. I believe this is the first in several product decisions Spotify will make to create a better social music expereience. This first change is focused on social discovery, and it has major product and revenue ramifications for Spotify:

  1. Privacy:

    As opposed to before, only users who specifically elect to follow me will see what I listen to. This makes me feel much more comfortable. I didn’t like that previously, seemingly the entire overlap of my Spotify-Facebook venn diagram could see my listens….. Not EVERYTHING I listen to I want broadcast out to the world. This “follow” model is much better for private listening.

  2. Better Music Recommendations: Curated Stream

    I now get to curate whose feed I see. Instead of wading through unwanted clutter, I can focus on the friends/musicians whose taste I respect. Plus, in the open graph model, I can follow anyone I wish.

  3. Advertising Value For Brands: Native Ads

    With a curated recommendation stream, Spotify can charge artists or brands to advertise their latest releases, playlists, etc. inside that stream. This creates an additional revenue source for Spotify that can even be included in premium subscriptions. The best part of native recommendation ads is that becuase they would be curated, they will genuinely add value for the end user.

I’m very excited about the most recent update to Spotify social, and am looking forward to what’s next.

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Competing vs Enabling

In recent years, eBay and Amazon are competing with one another more and more. As consumers, we experience the two online marketplaces quite differently. EBay is the place to hunt for a deal in an auction format, while Amazon is the site of choice for a hassle-free transaction. When John Donahoe joined eBay in 2008 as CEO, the company was struggling. EBay had stagnated. However, they have since engineered a major turnaround. EBay has reinvented itself away from the auction-based personal marketplace that made them famous. Instead, eBay is flourishing with a newfound emphasis on mobile retail and payments (PayPal).

One specific aspect of eBay’s strategy caught my eye. Unlike Amazon, who competes directly with traditional retailers, eBay is partnering with physical retailers, using their mobile platforms to help bring brands online. Traditional retailers are looking at eBay as a partner and at Amazon as a threat. This strategy fits with eBay’s history, as eBay has always been more about enabling individual sellers and facilitating transactions than developing eBay as an independent retailer.

With all their dominance and success, it is hard to doubt Amazon’s strategy. However, with <10% of worldwide consumer spending occurring online, there remains an enormous amount of value in aiding physical retail brands, rather than attacking them.

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This was inspired by a NYTimes Article.

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