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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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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App.net Fundraising = Success

Just wanted to quickly share how thrilled and enthused I am by APP.net’s funding!!! I truly believe this is just the beginning. Premium consumer internet services should not be ad-supported. Simply put, having an ad-supported product misaligns the motivations of the company and the desires of their users. The reason? Because the company’s clients become advertisers, NOT USERS. When users are the client, NOT THE PRODUCT, user experience becomes the top priority. And in consumer Internet, that’s the way it should be. 

https://join.app.net/

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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.

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Mobile Add Ons

I love the concept and execution of Square. A free, convenient, physical add-on to smartphones that provides a mobile payment SOLUTION FOR CONSUMERS.  The true genius of Square is that consumers can attain it for free. The reason for this is that as a mobile payment solution, Square inc. can (and does) simply charge a percentage off the transactions they process. By doing this, they have removed the barrier of an initial payment for their service.

So slick. So great. SOLVE A PROBLEM AND THE PUBLIC WILL EMBRACE

This leads to the question: what other physical add-ons are coming for smartphones? And, will they too be able to come up with the alternative business model required for free distribution of the physical product?

Just Another Brick…

I miss my Facebook wall.  Timeline is a fascinating and impressive function. I like having two profile pictures, especially the huge new one (the more of me, the better!).  But, what problems does Timeline really solve? I liked having one centralized place where people could write on my profile.  That still exists, but it is convoluted and doesn’t load instantly as I scroll down my FB.  Searching for past posts is difficult, and I liked having a clean interface between different sections of content on my profile.
Timeline is well built (the timeline function anyway), a cool concept, and I believe it would make an outstanding additional function to a user profile.

However, no one I speak to uses Timeline for it’s actual purpose….looking at their friends historical Facebook presence. People only use timeline as an augmented wall (or as a stalker tool),  and rarely scroll downward past the first section.  I would wager a bet that posting and interaction between users is down since the introduction of Timeline, as Timeline’s build simply does not user promote interaction like the wall.

The recording of history is an important aspect of Facebook. But, despite the fact that “Twitter is where news breaks; Facebook is where news goes,” (John Herman-Buzzfeed), it can’t be ignored that Facebook is still a marvelous tool for social interaction, and that should be where the emphasis of the service lies.

Bottom line: I don’t care nearly as much about my online past as I do about the present.  Timeline makes my online life harder, not easier. More work for me as the user=worse product. Doesn’t matter how cool of a feature it is.

P.S. My birthday was last week, and timeline combined all of the birthday posts I received into one small timeline box.  Maybe I am more insecure than most, but I LOVED having my Facebook wall plastered in birthday messages. It felt good. It was a fun way to show off online (what we all want from Facebook anyway) without putting in any effort. Having my congratulatory messages minimized and shunned to preserve a balanced timeline sucks, and does not play to what I as a user want my Facebook presence to be.

John Herman Article Link: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jwherrman/how-twitter-beat-facebook-at-its-own-story

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