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.

——————–

Interesting?

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.

————–

Interesting? 

Product vs. Platform… App.net

I leave tomorrow for 3 Days in Las Vegas (woohooo I hate las vegas!!!….Seriously. Scroll past the article, I’ll explain) but I wanted to churn out this post before I left. By the time I return, App.net‘s funding campaign will have concluded. At that point, we will know whether or not Dalton Caldwell’s brilliant proposal will have succeeded or failed. I have personally supported the project and believe in its values. I also believe in Dalton (without personally knowing him) as he spent many years trying to bring innovation into the music business (which I care deeply about) in the form of Imeem. Twitter’s Platform decisions have been written about all over the web, by people more intelligent than me. Still, I wanted to chime in with my own opinions before the funding deadline is reached.

The Twitter Phenomena… A Live Social Stream Is So Important

Here’s the backstory: Many prominent social platforms (twitter, facebook, etc) deliver tremendous value to their user’s through 3rd party access to their APIs. Essentially, external developers can build on top of these platforms in the form of games (think farmville), applications (spotify), and other constructs. What this does for the user is create a much richer online experience. An open API also brings value to the actual platform developers, as so much more content is delivered to their users without additional expense. Innovation can happen at a much greater rate when the platform is open. Everybody wins.

Once attaining a critical mass, these Social Platforms naturally begin to think about money and profitability. So, they turn towards the only established model of income for such ventures: an ad-based revenue model. Now, in an ad-based revenue model, success is predicated on the # of page-views. This directly conflicts with having an open API and platform, as many of the 3rd party applications built upon these social platforms direct views away the platform to the outside sources. So, instead of having 3rd party developers built on the social network’s platform, keeping development in-house keeps page views on the platform. Then, the shutdowns begin. Facebook’s API became more restricted. As did Twitter’s. These restrictions threaten the entire 3rd party development ecosystems that the platforms support.

Dalton Caldwell has proposed a whole different system for funding social platforms. Instead of using an ad-based revenue model. He proposed straight charging users for entry, as well as charging developers to build application on the platform. This kind of premium live social stream has its pluses and minuses. The downside (and what many credit with what will be a failed fundraising period) is that users have to pay to gain access/membership. The upside (and the part I STRONGLY agree with) is that charging users and developers will allow the platform to retain its integrity! It will not shut out 3rd party developers who threaten page views and it will not become an ad-riden experience as Facebook has.

Yes, it will cost us users money. But what fantastic experience doesn’t?!?!?! I enjoy paying for Spotify Premium. I like having an ad-free experience.

The consumer internet is still relatively young, and it is definitely still evolving. I believe the initial push-back from consumers against online services that required membership fees was because they weren’t receiving enough value in exchange. Also, many of the physical services were overpriced before the Internet (CD’s and Music). So when the option for free digital versions arose, consumers leapt at the opportunity.

Free, ad driven models have become the norm. But, people will pay for greatness. People will pay for great services. Hell, look at HBO. Sure, Youtube offers free video content. And, HBO is disrupting the hell out of mediocre television. But, people are more than willing to pay for HBO’s additional content. The free option of Youtube entertainment hasn’t touched HBO. Thus is the power of premium experiences.

App.net is striving to create a premium experience of a social streaming platform. One with integrity. One that will not go back on its promises once it attains critical mass. The business plan allows for this. So take a leap of faith. Donate.

Screenshot of my App.net

They’re so close. Be a part of the future, for even though free is the present model, it delivers shitty products. Instead, lets move toward the future. Where premium costs deliver premium content.
——————-
Vegas Post Script Haiku:

I Hate Las Vegas
Gambling, Stress. Drinking, Stress.
Free Trip, So I Go. 🙂

——————-
If you like what you read, you should follow me 🙂

Playlists Are(n’t) The New Album

Sean Parker is very fond of saying, “Playlists are the New Album.” He’s a tremendous salesman and one of his products, Spotify is in the business of playlists. However, as much as I love Spotify as a tool for music discovery and consumption, I do not love it as a tool for music curation. The reason? Playlists are too much work.

The renowned Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson is a believer in the power of curation. He states, “I’ve got a few simple frameworks for thinking about things. In social media, one of my main ones is the tenet that 1% of the users will create content, 10% will curate it, and the rest will consume it.” In the above linked article, he is making the case that the inclusion of the simple “like” button in Foursquare’s newly redesigned mobile application will allow users to better curate social content, which is vital to the success of the platform. Ease of curation for the user is incredibly important for any content-based platform.

Spotify is inherently different from Foursqaure. It is not a social media platform. It is most fundamentally a music listening service. However, there is a major disconnect in Spotify’s interface between all the content (millions and millions of songs) and the listener. The disconnect, simply put, is that it is hard to discover from and organize all that music into a format I want to listen to.

I am lazy with music. I do not like to take the time to build or curate playlists. Sure, I subscribe to some playlists which are good for music discovery, but the makeup of these playlists is not foolproof. Instead, I am forced to haphazardly toss music randomly into playlists in a disorganized format just to hold onto artists/albums/songs I like. There is not even a basic Itunesesque library function to hold all the music I want to remember from Spotify’s vast libraries.

This disconnect creates a tremendous amount of work for me, the user. It makes curation of my “library” extremely difficult. In addition, it is difficult to navigate within playlists. There is no easy search/sort feature that spans all playlists like in Itunes. I am instead forced to scroll for days. Searching for music is too much work.

The Search Bar Doesn’t Even Function Within Playlists

Sean Parker states that the Playlist is the new Album. He wants to believe it. But in Spotify’s current form, playlists are too difficult. They create too much work. They are difficult to curate, and they cause me, the user (a premium user, at that!) stress and anger. If I, the user, am going to pay for the ability to consume a service’s content, I want the curation to be straightforward and easy.

——————-
If you like what you read, you should follow me 🙂

5 Things I Wish Were Improved In Spotify

I love Spotify. I have used it since it first became available in the US. I’m a premium member, and consume most of my music through Spotify. However, there are several issues I have with the service that I would love to see improved.

1)   Playlists– I am a consumenivor (as Nick Bilton would say). I consume content online, all day, in a variety of ways.  I do not have the time or the desire for playlists. Plus, I am an unorganized person.  I want two things in my virtual music collection. One is a basic library format containing all the music I like/want/could ever dream of. The second is an easy-to-use metadata based search function (think iTunes) to navigate said library. In its current state, my Spotify music library is a bit of an unorganized mess, as I get lost in all my different playlists.

2)   The Mobile App– Just got the latest update…

Still unimpressed. I want the ability to access my play history! Plus, I want the play history to be synced between the computer and the mobile device. How else can I remember music as I discover it?  Take the time and hassle to organize it into playlists… while on my phone?!? Not happening. Also, the process of searching for and playing music while on a mobile device is arduous. This App will only serve you well if you are a playlist person.

3)   Sharing– With the latest Spotify update, I have a huge column on the right side of my screen. It is supposed to be filled with people who are my “favorites.” So far, it is empty. Yet, I can’t minimize it!. This “favorites” column is taking up 1/5 of my window and is empty. Yikes. Stop trying to make me share through your service, or at least build a less intrusive function.

Look at all that wasted screen space!!…Plus, I really struggled over what music was in the background…I want to seem cool (see #4)

4)   Facebook Integration– Not everything I listen to is cool and hip. I am not very cool or hip. Facebook is all about presenting a finely honed version of yourself to your online community. Unless out of sarcasm, no one wants to look foolish on Facebook. The audience is too large.  But, when my listening habits are broadcast to the world through FB, I feel an uncomfortable pressure to only play what other people will not judge me for.  That is extremely hard, as everyone’s musical tastes are different. Just another barrier between Spotify’s paradigm and an at-ease listening environment.

5)   The Vibe of Its Updates– Every time I download an updated version of Spotify, it feels as if the service is moving further and further away from what I as a fan and as a music consumer want.  The core advantage over alternative music-consumption methods, cheap access to quality streams of most artists’ catalogs, remains strong. However, many of the ancillary features feel as if they are advancing the value of Spotify, rather than my consumption experience. (Example: Facebook integration. I feel my privacy is being violated. They gain huge amounts of exposure to untapped music consumers).

6)   Lack of Integration With Services I Use– I know I said 5, but this one just came to me. Why can’t every song I Shazam be instantly added to a “Shazam” playlist??

I just tweeted #6 one at Daniel Ek. Maybe he’ll use it.

P.S. I love Spotify, and use it incessantly. But, that is not because it is an unbelievable product, but because it is simply the best that currently exists.