Quick Thought: Promoted Posts in Spotify

It’s common knowledge that Spotify isn’t exactly profitable. As avid user, I’ve really liked their latest product introductions: Discover (suggested content from Spotify), Activity (what your friends are listening to), & Direct Artist Following.  With those features and Spotify’s financial struggles in mind, one revenue generating product seems obvious: sponsored content and placements. As we’ve seen with Facebook, it’s much easier to sell advertising inside an algorithmically generated content feed. And with Discover, Spotify has built just that.

Spotify builds a complex profile of your music tastes.  They get the data for that profile from a combination of places: what you listen to, what you add to playlists, what you “like” on Spotify Radio, what your friends and people you follow listen to, etc. So, let’s say I “follow” Justin Timberlake. And listen to his music. And add him to playlists. And on and on. Why doesn’t Spotify sell a placement in my Discover or Activity feed to a similar artist? Preferably, it would be an artist that Spotify’s data shows I will probably like. Or, like Facebook, Spotify should start charging Justin Timberlake to alert me inside Spotify and by email when he releases a new album. That kind of targeted email marketing is incredibly valuable to artists of any stature.

The cherry on top: if done in a clean enough way, promoted/suggested wouldn’t even intrude on user experience. In fact, it could be a genuine value add.

Seems like a layup to me….

P.S. This ad product also allow Spotify to further monetize premium subscribers. It wouldn’t be limited to “free” users.

*** Apologies for grammar, it was a quick thought. I’ll clean it up later***

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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Interesting?

Curation is the Future

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the need for curation services online. The amount of content we are exposed to daily is out of control. Outside of personal communication content (email, text, photos, instagrams, facebook posts and messages, etc) we consume an amazing amount of content daily online. Sorting through all the content at our fingertips is at worst impossible and at best overwhelming.

The amount of content served to us online is ridiculous!

The amount of content served to us online is ridiculous!

One set of curation tools is our personal network. Links are recommended via email. Videos are posted to facebook. Articles are tweeted. Some content is specifically recommended for us, and some is blasted out indiscriminately. These are all sources for content, but what truly excites me is the emergence of standalone curation services. By that, I mean services that are built for curation, not a friend emailing you a link to a funny video.

Several standalone content curation services already impress me. The first is the app Prismatic, an outstanding app that surfaces content (mostly print articles) based off your social presence online. I check in with Prismatic a few times a day and am ALWAYS met with interesting articles. Another tool I love is Devour, which hand picks the best new video content. Devour’s content is edgy, and shows how human led curation remains far better than algorithms. These two services use very different strategies to successfully recommend content. While Prismatic bases their recommendations off my tastes, Devour’s curation is based of their tastes.

Some content farms have in-house curation tools. My NYTimes digital front page is different from yours, tailored to my past clicks and interests. The same can be said for my youtube homepage. However, the intention of any in-house curation tools is to keep you in-network, maximizing your time spent on THEIR site. That is why I love content curation services that are unaffiliated from content farms. They are selfless. They are exciting. They serve me with personalized content, which I sure do love to consume.

Everyone loves to consumer online

Everyone loves to consumer online

The emergence of these tools will have a variety of effects. For the consumer, it offers a promise of premium content. However, as these tools further democratize the net, curation services will put additional pressure on established producers to create GREAT content. With so much noise, good just won’t cut through anymore.

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Interesting? 

The Death of Banner Ads

As long as I’ve been online, the Internet has been packed with advertisements. The majority of these ads are banner advertisements, the simple display ads that populate every site from ESPN to Gmail. Thankfully, the old, boring banner advertisement is slowly dying. In the past, everyone who visited a webpage in a set period of time was served the same banner advertisement.  Since their inception, banner ads have employed very basic, unimpressive technology that does little to optimize the dollars spent on the ad. This is changing as ads become tailored to the unique visitor. The evolution of online advertising from the basic banner ad benefits all parties: users (who probably prefer consuming higher quality advertisements), the advertising party (who is producing more effective advertising), and the company selling the ad space (with higher conversion rates come larger revenues).

Everything in red is advertisements. These panels take up most of the screen!!

One of the more exciting advertising innovations can be found in social. Because social media and search firms have enormous amounts of data regarding users’ individual interests, they tailor advertisements to the specific user (social or local optimization: i.e., what a users friends like, and what is geographically relevant to the user). More recently however, even tailored advertising seems flawed, as smaller screens (mobile) do not have the space to waste on additional panels. In response, both Facebook and Twitter have introduced native ads, which are placed directly into their users’ respective feeds. By placing native ads directly into a stream, there isn’t any wasted screen space, which must be used sparingly on mobile devices.

Banner ads are generally considered a waste of screen space.  However, as native ads have emerged, firms have begun producing advertisements more appropriate to online consumption. Funny videos or deals that can be easily shared and spread through the social web are becoming commonplace. Essentially, online ads aren’t total crap anymore, and when tailored for a specific audience, they can be much more effective.

Last year, Hulu made a fascinating change to their advertising policy. Going forward, Hulu only charges advertisers for ads watched in their entirety. If a viewer does not watch an entire ad, the advertiser doesn’t pay. First, I doubt there has been much financial fallout from this, as on Hulu, ads are shown between segments of a show. Viewers either close out of a tab before advertisements begin or they wait until the show restarts, as in most cases they have already decided whether to continue watching.  In addition, Hulu must have had lots of data before making this policy change and deemed it worthy. Second, this generous policy allows Hulu to enforce a higher standard for ads on their platform. Premium ads stand out online, so the higher standard may in turn make users happier to consumer ads. Personally, I find the ad content on Hulu to be much better than Youtube, and 100x better than a basic banner advertisement. Hulu delivers outstanding content to me for free, so watching a few premium ads is hardly bothersome.I understand the necessity, and don’t feel taken advantage of.

There had been very little innovation in Internet advertising, but that has changed drastically over the past few years. Tablets and high-definition screens create opportunities for more immersive, full-page ads. Social and local optimization generates more useful content for users. As conversion rates improve, so will the economic strength of the entire digital media ecosystem who depend on advertising for revenues. It’s an exciting prospect.

Jeff Bezos on Charlie Rose

Just watched the Charlie Rose interview with Jeff Bezos. Twas very interesting. Bezos is an extremely passionate guy, a trait I find fascinating after running Amazon for 18 years. The interview left me with several thoughts I wanted to share:

  • Inventors, Not Disruptors: Bezos kept harping on how Amazon focuses on inventing, not necessarily disrupting. He views disruption as a byproduct, even a consequence of great invention.
  • Customer Focus Above All Else: The other central component of Amazon’s identity is being customer focused. They are constantly asking themselves “What do the customers want?” “What will they love?” “What do customers need and how can we make getting it easier/cheaper/better?”
  • The Internet is still in its infancy: Bezos believes that the societal reinvention brought on by the Internet is very young. he believes we are still in Day 1, as things are moving faster than ever. When it begins to slow, he says, we are in Day 2.
  • Brick and Mortar is not in Amazon’s immediate plans: Again, Bezos is focused on invention. He is only interested in getting in brick and mortar if Amazon can bring something new to the table. He is not interested in a “me to” approach to retail. All about invention.
  • He’s an optimist, and has a hearty laugh.

Watching the interview gives two clues as to why Amazon has persisted and flourished for so long. First, as Bezos states, there was an incredible demand for such a company. They filled a clear gap in the market. Bezos says that the hardest times for Amazon was the process of raising money to found it. Success was almost instantaneous.

The other clue is Bezos himself. He has an incredibly impressive eagle’s view of the Internet/Ecommerce/Technology industry, and approaches every decision through the lenses of customer focus, invention, and teamwork. Listening to Jeff makes the staying power of Amazon much less mysterious. He has incredible vision.

What a fascinating guy.

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Interesting? 

A Conversation About Facebook With An Old Person

I sat down with my writing Professor today. He’s a great guy, worked at Newsweek for many years. Our talk eventually turned to Facebook.  I was shocked to hear that he first joined about 3 years ago… and LOVED it.

My prof spoke about how easy it was to use and how fun it was connecting and reconnecting with people.  However, he deleted his account about 6 months ago. When I asked him why, all he said was, “too much crap!”

The Facebook experience is too crowded. Yes, I still check it daily, but that is only because I want to see if friends have contacted me (yes, FB still has potent network effects). However, I never post anymore. The reason is because spending time on the service is becoming rather obnoxious. I am constantly getting notifications for things I do not care about. Most of my newsfeed is stuff I simply do not wish to read.

Twitter and Prismatic. Those deliver great content directly to me. It’s all curated. Facebook is a mess.

A Necessary Partnership: Spotify & Shazam

School has started, and I’ve never been so busy. In the first week of class I’ve spent more time in the library than any week previously in College (including finals). Even so, I’m having a ton of fun! I love my classes for the first time in a long time. They are demanding AND fulfilling. I have good teachers. Damn, does that make all the difference.

Despite being quite overwhelmed in school, I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had about Shazam, an app that I love use a ton. In fact, as a cheap, poor college student, it’s one of three apps I’ve ever purchased (The others were KCRWs Radio App and Call Recorder, which I use to record interviews). There’s nothing new about Shazam, it’s been out and successful for years now. It seems to work like magic :), which is the best kind of app.

However, there is a major disconnect when it comes to Shazam’s interface with music listening services.

Shazam

I am constantly using Shazam to gather information about new songs I want to listen to, but to do that listening I must go back into Shazam once I am home, and individually search for the songs on Spotify/Grooveshark/Whatever. That is a lot of work!

The missing, essential function of Shazam is an automated “deposit” tool, that creates a playlist in my Shazam playlist in my Spotify account and automatically creates a playlist based off of my tags. This would cut out an enormous amount of work for the user. It would make also the entire music discovery/listening experience much more circular.

Just some food for thought.

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Interesting? 

30-Second Rewind Button Update: Hulu Redesign

Apparently, media/technology industry higher-ups read my blog. Yay.

Last week, Hulu released a major redesign. I quite enjoy it. The redesign is slick and relatively easy to navigate.

However, I want to quickly point out a major addition to their core product, Hulu’s video player. Hulu has added a 10-second rewind button!!

I love the small, set-quantity rewind button. It makes viewing much easier, as in a slow or dull moment I can open Twitter, ESPN, or Gmail quickly, check for any urgent notifications, and switch back to the video. Then, I simply hit the rewind button if desired, and I haven’t missed a step! No more clicking blindly along the unmarked video timeline.

Thoughts going forward:

1) What other intelligent viewing features will be introduced? Maybe ones pertaining to advertisements?

Spotify is intelligent enough that if an advertisement is playing, and I (the user) mute my computer, the ad pauses. I am FORCED into listening. Annoying? Yes. Consumer experience sensitive? No. Smart business decision? Perhaps. I wonder if video players like Hulu will eventually be “intelligent” enough that it will sense when I switch tabs, pausing the commercial and forcing me to watch in entirety. Interesting possibility….

2) YouTube

Will YouTube introduce a similar product? I like what they’ve done recently with their transcription tool. It’s rough but very usable. Maybe we will see a set quantity rewind button in YouTube soon? I hope so. The feature seems especially fitting for a short form video platform like YouTube, where distraction is rampant and occurs often.

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User Interface Criticism: Xfinity (Comcast’s Online Streaming Service)

First off, Xfinity is an outstanding service. I love it. Xfinity, which I access through my friend’s Comcast account, allows me to view any and all television (sports, shows, movies packages, channels, HBO, etc) that my friend receives at his house. Think HBOGO but with non-HBOGO content. The site works great except for one thing, scrolling up and down is a COMPLETE pain.

No one under the age of 30 actually clicks the blue scroll bar on the right hand of a screen and pulls it downward. It takes too long, and is too much work. Personally, when I need to scroll, I employ the two-finger technique native to all Mac touchpads. Even people who still use mice use the scroll wheel between the left and right-click buttons.

On Xfinity’s site, I am forced to use the scroll bar on the right, simply because my cursor gets caught in all the content when I use the two-finger technique.

It’s too easy for my cursor to get “stuck” scrolling the rows sideways

Similar to Netflix’s website, Xfinity has horizontal rows of clickable thumbnails that will take me to view content. Whenever I try to scroll up or down to explore my viewing options, I get stuck in those rows. It’s content overload!

If I move to the gap on the left side of the screen, my dock pops up and gets in the way!

Damn dock! Get out of here!

I realize this flaw in Xfinity’s design is far from the end of the world. But, as an avid TV fan, it is a flaw I am constantly fighting.

Hey Comcast, you’ve shockingly built a content library I enjoy more than Netflix/Hulu/HBOGO (HBO’s content is included in Xfinity). Shocking as that is, get your act together! Stop creating work for me, the user, through your design. Reams of content are only valuable if the user can successfully navigate them!

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The 30-Second Rewind Button: A Story Of Love

I love multitasking online. Who doesn’t? Constantly distracted, I am always chasing links down virtual rabbit holes, only to resurface 20 minutes later possessing a surprising amount of knowledge about Vladimir Putin (substitute random interest).

It does not matter when something comes to mind, I will open a new tab to explore it. I could be watching a movie, reading an article, or scanning tweets. Once something pings my interest, I am off and running, exploring the depths of information available online. Slowly but surely I work my way back to the starting point.

I am part of a generation of multitaskers! We text in class. We Facebook while watching tv. We listen to music while doing anything and everything. Any tool that makes this multitasking easier is of great interest to me. That is why I LOVE the 30-second rewind button.

The 30-Second Rewind Button

The 30 Second Rewind Button

This button makes it incredibly easy to go back when I get distracted and miss a few seconds of action!…Which happens constantly.

Lately I have been watching videos through a friend’s Xfinity account, Comcast’s online tv system (which works great). I use the hell out of the 30-second button, as I am constantly opening up new tabs. On these fresh tabs I do anything from checking facebook/email/twitter/espn to researching the historical context for something I am watching. Heck, if I’m watching a comic book movie I might go read the Wikipedia page about the guy who first thought up Batman.

If this button is so convenient it does beg the question, why doesn’t YouTube have it? An excellent question, to which I have an inclination. As the most widely used viewing platform online, I am sure YouTube’s product teams has explored it, but found it to not be relevant. Also, I think it is more useful for a long-form content viewing platform like Xfinity (where I watch tv shows and movies) rather than a short-form platform like YouTube (where I watch mostly clips). YouTube has also gone through many iterations, perhaps the 30-second rewind button existed in a previous one.

SIDENOTE: I also wanted to comment on a new feature that YouTube is testing now. On some of their videos, a new button will appear. Just below the video is a transcription button. It displays an interactive script of the clip.

The Transcription button is under his hand next to the flag. Btw, watch the clip, actually quite hilarious “Louis CK – Single People”

I love the feature, despite the moderate level of mistakes in the transcription. However, fine tuning to perfection a blanket speech software for a content library as large and diverse as YouTube’s would be a near impossible feat.

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I am reaching out to people from YouTube to see if I can get a comment about the 30-second rewind and if they ever considered including it in their product. Will update if I hear.
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