Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Spotify Tries a Facebook. Smart.

Nope, it’s not Music Everywhere. If you want to listen to music on Spotify, you’ve still got to use Spotify’s software.

But if you do use Spotify, you’ll now have a lot of new bells and whistles to play with, courtesy of outside developers the music service has invited onto its platform, using a new Facebook-like strategy it unveiled this afternoon.

(Let’s get this out of the way: The WSJ’s Ethan Smith got this right last night. I got it wrong on Monday, when I predicted that the company would open its music to developers who wanted to play its songs on their own outside apps. I could note that I hedged my theory up the wazoo, or argue that I’m “directionally correct,” because Spotify seems to be headed that way eventually. But for now, those are just synonyms for “not right.” My apologies.)

This is a smart move by CEO Daniel Ek, for the same reason that most platforms are theoretically smart moves — it lets Spotify improve its product without having to do the work itself. Instead, outsiders add cool new features that keep current users happy. They may also generate a bit of extra revenue while they’re at it, and they’ll share some of that with Ek.

And Spotify can use the help, as Ek admitted onstage. For instance, while Spotify is a great place to find music you want, it’s not very good at all about helping you find music you didn’t know you want. So curation apps from the likes of CBS’s and Rolling Stone magazine can help with that. (Meanwhile, we should note that neither Apple nor Amazon, the two biggest players in digital music, are good at this, either).

Ek, who shares backers and advisers with Facebook, wore a Zuckerbergian hoodie to unveil his “new direction” today. And a revamped version of his software now looks a bit more Facebookian, too, with an activity feed/ticker along the right side of the page.

And, like the Facebook platform, the Spotify plan may help keep users on the service that much longer — so they can see more ads, or eventually decide that they’d like to pay a monthly fee to not see ads, or to make the music portable.

But I don’t think the new features will bring Spotify any more users. One way to do that would be to let developers play Spotify’s tunes on their own apps — so that, say, someone who uses Soundtracking to tell friends about cool new music could let them hear an entire track, instead of a 30-second sample.

And developers I’ve talked to think Spotify is indeed going to try to pull that off. But that will likely take some more haggling with the music labels, among other sticky hurdles. So I wouldn’t expect it anytime soon.

For now, this is a good way to make a service that 10 million people seem to enjoy that much better.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus