Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Twitter’s Music App Will Let You Watch, Too, With Help From Vevo

If you want a very good idea of what Twitter’s music app will look like, you should check out Casey Newton’s detailed report at CNET.

Back? Okay. Here are a few more details I’ve gleaned from people familiar with Twitter’s plans for the app:

  • SoundCloud and iTunes won’t be the only third-party services integrating into the app. Twitter would like multiple companies to participate, and has signed on at least one: Music video service Vevo will display its clips on the app, using a Twitter-built player.
  • Those Vevo videos are also likely to be the only way you can hear full songs from acts you’ve heard of when you use the app. SoundCloud has the ability to play lots of music, but for the most part it can’t play songs owned by the big music labels and publishers; Apple can only offer up partial clips of the songs in its music stores. And music-only services that do have licenses for complete songs, like Spotify, generally don’t have the ability to play them on third-party apps.* So for now, at least, the emphasis on the app will be about sampling.
  • While Twitter purchased music discovery startup We Are Hunted to design the app, this isn’t like Vine, where Twitter bought an existing product and added it to its portfolio. This one has been spearheaded internally by Kevin Thau, Twitter’s first business development head. Thau’s Twitter profile no longer identifies his job at the company, and he no longer has a LinkedIn listing, either. But I’m told he’s been running a sort-of-secret “skunkworks” for Twitter for some time, and this project is either the result or part of it.

Now let’s zoom out and look at the big picture. Why exactly is Twitter building its own music app?

Perhaps because it agrees with Facebook: There’s a benefit in breaking up the feed.

That’s what Mark Zuckerberg and company did last week, when they offered users a chance to look at everything Facebook had to offer, or to slice it up into smaller streams. Now you can go to the site and just look at your friends’ pictures, or just check out what games they’re playing, or just find out what music they like.

When the music app launches, Twitter will be offering its own take on the idea. You’ll still be able see what music your friends talk about on the main service. But if you want your music recommendations without Pope jokes, Google Reader obituaries or whatever else is filling up your stream, you can use the app.

The analogy isn’t perfect, because the Twitter music app won’t just be what your friends care about, but what other people on Twitter are listening to as well. That’s where We Are Hunted’s design skills and discovery algorithms come in. But close enough.

It’s possible that Twitter thinks the app may help it round up eyeballs it wasn’t reaching before, but my gut is that if the app works, it’s simply going to segment Twitter’s existing audience into multiple containers.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, businesswise. You can imagine all sorts of advertisers that would be interested in participating in a music-only app. Like Pepsi, which did a big music promotion with Twitter last summer.

And if that works with music, why not carve up the feed into other strips? Easy enough to imagine all sorts of takes on the idea — either by medium (TV, movies, photos) or topics (politics, sports, gossip).

Or maybe Twitter will be resistant to atomizing its audience, and will only want to do this a few different ways. It would be great to get some comment from Twitter itself, but they’re profoundly uninterested in providing one. So for now, speculate away, and we’ll come back when we have more.

*Note that when you want to hear a Spotify song via Facebook, for instance, you still have to open the Spotify client on your desktop before you can listen.


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