How can we learn from early online music platforms like MySpace and Last.fm? Bas Grasmayer looks at how those services addressed particular behaviours more effectively than their current equivalents.
One of the keys to success for startups is to identify a particular behaviour, create a solution that improves that behaviour, and then monopolize it.
- Google has monopolized online search behaviour. We refer to the behaviour as Googling, not as Binging nor as Yahooing. Even Facebook tried to get in on the action, by offering web search from Facebook through a partnership with Bing, but they gave up that fight 2.5 years ago.
- Shazam has monopolized song playback identification.
- Snapchat, for a while, monopolized a very specific type of video sharing. Vine monopolized another.
When looking back at the online music landscape, you may see particular behaviours that were at one point in time much better addressed than now. I recently wrote about the fall of MySpace, the rise of Facebook, Spotify, and Soundcloud, and the return to another ‘MySpace moment’ where those platforms are reaching maturity or are simply struggling and unable to continue serving their early adopter audiences as well as they have been.
Music & identity expression
An obvious behaviour that is not well-addressed by any major service at the moment, is the use of music to express one’s identity. This spells opportunity.
For the uninitiated: on MySpace, people would add long lists of bands to their profiles in order to show what bands they were into. These lists would offer a way for strangers and friends to strike up conversations. This was pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook — MySpace was the most important social network in the world, and people would connect to each other on the base of tastes in music. Later, users could add a favourite song to their profiles.
Facebook, early on, mimicked this lists feature and still does: when you go to the ‘About’ section on a user profile, you can see all the artists they like, but people actually rarely visit those sections, let alone strike up conversations because of it.
Last.fm was another way in which users could connect to each other on the basis of music taste — you could see exactly how much someone listened to that artist you love/hate.
That all fragmented.
The behaviours still exist, even in some of the same places, but not at the scale that it used to. Now, we can share video of concerts on Snapchat and Instagram, or even via livestream on Facebook. We playback or dance to our favourite songs on Musically. We show off our awkward Shazams in the app’s social feed. Or we spam hashtags by being part of artist fan hordes on Twitter #BELIEBERS2017.
However, nothing quite allows us to show off our identities through music like those early platforms did. Has the web changed? Has music’s role in our societies changed? Sure, but has is changed that much?
Shazam is kind of close to getting it right, but the behaviour that drives their app, song identification, is actually something people are often shy about: it reveals their ignorance. Tinder, and other dating apps like Happn, are close to getting it right too, but for a specific purpose.
The sweet spot lies somewhere in between the social feed of Shazam, the ability to feature songs on your profile like on Tinder and Happn, and the dynamic and fun interactivity of apps like Snapchat and Musically.
There’s a big opportunity there if someone manages to crack it — but it needs a trojan horse: another behaviour that drives people into the app. Perhaps competing for the attention of their favourite artists.
Understanding your data
Last.fm made it really rewarding to share all your music playback data with the company (called ‘scrobbling’). I still do so to this day, but most of the social connections I had on the platform at the time seem to have disappeared.
Being able to see your data, your top artists, with cool analyses was great. Connecting to other users was great. But the big reward was in the fact that the more you played, the more feedback you gave the system in the form of ratings and tags, the more accurate and personalized their radio stations became. Then they put up a paywall for most of the world.
Spotify, where a number of staff from Last.fm’s heyday work, does offer their users some feedback about their listening habits, but not to the extent that Last.fm does. Instead, its algorithms and resulting recommendations remain somewhat mysterious.
Now that Spotify is starting to focus on audiences beyond the early adopters, there’s a small but growing opportunity to do something cool with providing users insight into their playback data. Not through “best of 2016” playlists, not through Daily Mix, Release Radar, or Discover Weekly, but by actually building beautiful user profiles (like Last.fm’s listening reports).
Again, it needs a trojan horse. The fact that Last.fm is not huge right now, despite their integration in Spotify, shows that just providing listening reports is not enough. Another problem is that it may be hard to collect playback data, unless you integrate with Spotify and / or Last.fm’s APIs, which means you can’t offer competing experiences.
There are other things you can count and track: time spent engaging with an artist’s social feeds, with other fans of the same artist, number of contributions to an artist’s wiki. You can tie that to a score system, like Genius does, then give users a compelling reason to dive back into their data.
These are not trends
These are things that run counter to the trends: the way the online music landscape has evolved has led us away from this. But gaps are emerging to do new things, to revive ideas that came too early, and to get it right this time in the context of engaging, mobile experiences.
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