Wednesday, October 12, 2011

From Napster to Spotify: Music Online

A few weeks ago my buddy Chris emailed me an invitation to something called Spotify, an online music service.  He's also the one who got me started on Pandora, so I paid attention to the email, but I've been too busy to check it out.

Yesterday I saw an article in Forbes magazine about Sean Parker, the guy behind Napster, who also worked with Facebook in their formative years.  (By the way, Napster remains in business as a Best Buy company that offers various monthly subscription plans for music for your computer and phone.  Honestly, I didn't know they still existed.) 

The Forbes article mentioned that Parker is now an investor in two companies--Spotify and Airtime.  And I thought, "Spotify? Where have I heard that name lately?"

I hit the Spotify site for a look at its features.  You can search its collection for music you like, then listen to it live from the Internet via your computer, phone or home stereo.  Since the music plays live, you're not using up storage on your hard drive.  Customers can create playlists, build their own libraries, and synchronize their devices--like computer to cellular telephone.

Like Pandora, the basic service is free, but the upgrade costs.  In the case of Spotify, the Premium Service is $9.99 USD per month.  Their pitch is that instead of buying one album a month, you have access to a huge collection of music, but you don't really own it, do you? However, the Premium Service does let you store to your hard drive and listen when you're offline.

The main thing that may set Spotify apart from the other music services is its partnership with Facebook.  Spotify wants to make sharing music a social event, and since Parker has worked previously with Facebook, the effort makes sense.  The Spotify site also asks wouldn't you rather get music recommendations from friends rather than a machine? This is a swipe at Pandora, which uses an algorithm to generate song suggestions based on music you've told it you like.  Personally, I find the Pandora system works well most of the time, with an occasional freakout that throws out an inexplicable song.

As for Airtime, it's reported to be a new social video platform, where I imagine you will be able to share your videos like on YouTube or Vimeo.  The Airtime site itself gives no clue, other than the fact that they're hiring software engineers. 

So Spotify is for music and Airtime is for video.  The key component they share is the social aspect, which Sean Parker has a lot of expertise in.  It will be interesting to see if this aspect is enough to set these two new services apart from their existing competitors.

(The Forbes magazine article is titled "Agent of Disruption" by Steven Bertoni in the 10 October 2011 issue.  The article on Airtime is in The Register, and is titled "The Napster Boys are back with Airtime," by Natalie Apostolou.  The pic is from of Rush, which is one of the best rock and roll bands ever.)

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