Spotify: Free + Social = Game Changer

Spotify is a revolutionary streaming music service, but not for the reason everyone thinks. Sure, having access to just about any song ever recorded is incredible and has prompted breathless, gushing, over-the-top reviews, but it's not at all unique. Services like Napster, Rhapsody and Zune have been providing on-demand, streaming music services to huge catalogs for nearly a decade.

No, I'm afraid that in terms of its music catalog it is incredibly ordinary. In fact, when I first used it, I found it fairly underwhelming compared to other services I use. On top of being not that impressive upon first use, it has many other deficiencies, but upon further review all of this is overcome by two huge factors that make Spotify something every music fan should try.

Spotify fits in the professional, on-demand streaming area of the streaming vs. download chart (see Love Your Music book excerpt on streaming vs. downloading which further explains the chart). Here's an updated version with Spotify on it:

Streaming vs. Downloading

Spotify occupies a rather small segment of the chart when compared to its main competitors, Napster, Rhapsody and Zune. Unlike those other services, it only offers streaming tracks, you can't download any of them as rentals or purchases. That means you can't take them with you on an MP3 player or listen to them unless you have an internet connection.

There are no music discovery features in Spotify. These other services have some form of recommender where you are given suggestions for new music you might like based on what you are currently listening to. Spotify doesn't offer any suggestions at all.

In Spotify you can't browse the music catalog. You have to search. So, for instance, you can't just start looking through tracks by release year or genre. No, instead you have to search for an artist, album or track title. That's fine if you know exactly what you want to listen to, but isn't good at all when you just want to look around.

That is quite a few negatives, but I still enthusiastically recommend Spotify because of its two best qualities:

  1. Free -- Spotify's free version offers nearly all the same features as the paid version with only a couple of limitations. You can only listen to 20 hours of music per month and you can only use it on a computer, not a smart phone. No other on-demand streaming service offers a completely free option
  2. Social -- Spotify has integration with Facebook which lets you easily share music and playlists with friends. It is also really easy to share playlists with anyone, Facebook friend or not, with just a link.

These two properties of Spotify make it ideally positioned to be the music service going forward. No other service has this combination. Free is a game changer because it means there is no reason for someone not to use it. If everyone can use it, then the social features become that much more attractive to use. I have had a Napster account about seven years. I have never shared a playlist with a friend using Napster because so few friends use it and I don't know which ones have it. Even at just $5/month (Napster, Rhapsody and Zune plans all start at about $5/month), most people won't pay for a subscription music service. Already in just a couple weeks with Spotify, I have played friends' playlists. There is no reason to resist sharing playlists now. Everyone can listen, everyone can share.

There are also a bunch of cool websites that have sprung up around the Spotify platform for sharing playlists. Users can share, rate, browse and listen to playlists through these third party sites. A quick search on Google for "Spotify playlists" reveals a page full of these playlist sharing websites. I have just scratched the surface of these sites, but it seems they are hugely helpful and do a good job of making up for the lack music discovery features in Spotify itself.

The only fly in the ointment now is that in order to use the free version of Spotify, you have to be invited. The invites are limited and must come from Spotify itself (you can request an invite here, but it takes a while to come through) or from a friend who has a premium Spotify account.

Luckily for you all, I have a premium account and I will continue to give away invites. I will announce another promo with more Spotify invites later this week.

For those of you who already have Spotify, how are you using it? Have you tried any of the Spotify playlist sharing sites? For those of you who haven't tried it yet, what would you do? How would you use it? How do you see it fitting in with your existing MP3 collection and other music services that you use?

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