On the Magic of Turntable.fm, Needed Features, and Potential Startup Spinoffs

This week I discovered Turntable.fm which is a great new music discovery site  and had an epiphany of sorts regarding its functionality. First off here’s a snippet about the service from a great post by Adam D’Augelli on the service over at Life in Beta:

For background, Turntable.fm is a social music discovery platform. Arrive on the site, choose a room to enter based on your musical interest and find yourself in a virtual club – with DJs on stage and other users milling about listening to the tunes. Everyone in the room has an avatar and can chat with each other. Users create their own playlist and then can get up on the DJ table to play their tracks.

You can read the full post titled “The Magic of Turntable.fm (or the real Social Web)“. What’s interesting is that Adam also saw the magic and potential of the service from a higher level view as did I and wrote about it. He goes on to say “Turntable.fm creates a very unique social experience that I think points to the next generation of the social web”. I suspect others will as well and Turntable.fm may end up being the catalyst to fuel a new range of services modeled after it. Let me explain this further.

Rockin' out in the Coding Soundtrack room on Turntable.fm

While the concept seems fairly simple on the surface, it provides one of those unique online experiences that makes you take notice. At a high level I think the magic that Turntable.fm provides lies in providing a unique and rich real-time synchronous experience around a given object. The basic premise of interacting with other users live using chat has been one of the most powerful experiences since the beginning of online communication. Whether it was the multi-channel BBS’s back in the day, or chat rooms on Compuserve and AOL, or even later channels on IRC. These all provided a tribal experience that always felt exciting and real. On Twitter we now join conversations around hashtags. On uStream, Livestream and other live video sites we may chat around a given broadcast. Even MMORPG’s provide a free-form way to interact online with friends. But I feel there are still opportunities around creating innovation around a guided experience for users to interact online.

With all the powerful tools and functionality at our disposal we really haven’t seen much innovation around this area on the web. In my few days of playing with Turntable.fm it has opened my mind to the possibilities of creating real-time user experiences around guided functionality. Thinking of how to improve Turntable.fm made me consider even broader methods of building a platform to launch sites using the underlying functionality to power other ideas. One idea I had was to create a site to provide a real-time mashup of Tumblr and an Ignite talk. Imagine taking one of the open spots on the stage and then queuing up an object just like you would by creating a post on Tumblr. So in this case, instead of adding a song you would be adding an object which could be a song, video, photo, or other item you could upload or link to online. You would then have 5 minutes to both talk and interact with the audience around a discussion about the object. Think of it as a powerful online version of show and tell. I have other ideas around building such a platform but I’ll leave those for another day and I’m sure folks can come up with plenty more.

So lets return back to Turntable.fm for a little. Another interesting aspect of the service is how it crosses generations which isn’t easy to do on the social web. Music is a pretty easy way to achieve this and on Friday I hung out with Kevin Marks and his teenage son in a room. I then showed my son who also joined the service and has stopped playing video games this weekend to focus on spinning tunes and accumulating points for the upgraded avatars on the service. I’ve had tons of ideas around features and functionality to greatly improve the site and ultimately could be used to improve future ideas like the one I discuss above. So here’s a bulleted brain dump of them:

  • Create more audience involvement. The rooms can feel like a dictatorship with only 5 people deciding what music to play.
  • Let the users participate by voting for songs the DJ’s have in their playlist. This would have the DJ’s competing against each other for audience attention.
  • Add ability for audience voting to skip a song and set a threshold for it.
  • Set time / track limits for DJ’s so they can’t hog the stage.
  • Ability to have visuals for the songs (blip.fm also shows videos, last.fm provides artist photo slideshow)
  • Provide artist details in a separate pane or link
  • Ability for DJ’s to share their tracklists (XPSF export)
  • Ability for DJ’s to have multiple track lists
  • More gestures besides voting songs “lame” or “awesome” to earn points. Could be associated to providing audience members voting privileges a way to achieve points.
  • Create other unique achievements. Unlocking features and functionality seems like a good idea so that rooms can have added features based on DJ’s level of experience
  • These are just a few for now…
Achievements on all other services pale in comparison to earning the Turntable.fm Deadmau5 avatar

Anyways, I urge you to check out the service as I think you’ll find it to be pretty fun. All you need to get in is be friends on Facebook with someone already on the service. I have a feeling that the site is going to get a surge of users over the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to continuing using it and watching it evolve. I also hope to see other startups built off the same model in the future as well.

Update 6/9/11: Here’s a great post from Ryan Hoover who along with many other folks seems to also see how the service seems to have captured lighting in a bottle and he provides thoughts on how the service can expand into other areas. Here’s a post by Peter Kafka at All Things Digital on the Legality issues.

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This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Looking foward to seeing you on turntable.fm again soon. Great post!

  2. It’s already managed to leave a sour taste in my mouth.

    I tried logging in with my Facebook account since I have a friend who is on there and, according to their website, if you know someone who already has access, you can get right in. Nope, didn’t work.

    So I tried signing up for the invite list. All I get is an error message. Not sure if it just doesn’t like my answer in response to the “Lemmy vs. God” thing or what. I tried it with several different variations (caps, punctuation, etc.) and nothing worked.

    So….no thanks.

  3. Great post, Mark.

    I’ve also been thinking about how this real-time social experience could be expanded to other forms of media.  Most of our online social interactions remain asynchronous and lately there’s been little innovation in bringing people together to create a digital experience more similar to the real world.

    The guys at Turntable.fm have tapped into something truly amazing and it certainly isn’t limited to music.  I wonder how this could be applied to mobile/location-based social gaming. 😉

  4. Sorry to hear about your problems April. They seem to be having growing pains and I think your timing may have been when they had some outages. They’re trying to scale to meet demand so give them another chance.

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  6. Hey nice article.

    As a start-up developer, I would offer a couple of counter points : 

    An early-stage startup needs feature suggestions like they need a bullet to the head.    This is still closed beta, 
    they need to focus on scaling up and handling the viral explosion that is already under way (user adoption is doubling every day.)   And getting their b*ll’s sued off by the music industry.  And fixing bugs already surfacing.

    A steady hand on the wheel.    Whenever new software is rolled out, people who look at it start suggesting features.   Successful companies thank you politely and stay the course.

    Incidentally, some of your suggestions are already present :   If enough people ‘Lame’ the song, it *will* be skipped for everyone.   Allowing a single user to skip a song puts the whole room out of synch, which ruins the shared social experience (and breaks the voting mechanism.)

    These guys shouldn’t touch a thing for now.    

    Btw, @AprilTara:disqus , there is a known glitch to the sign-on.   Here’s how to get around it : ask your facebook/turntable friend to log off turntable and log back in.    Now you should be able to log in yourself.

  7. Thanks for your perspective and thoughts from a startup point of view. I can appreciate all of your points and understand scaling is the primary concern of any hot startup who see’s hockey stick growth. But I think it’s still valuable to collect the feedback because once you stabilize iterating new features will become a necessity or you’ll lose the users who don’t make it past the honeymoon phase. How that gets baked into the overall timing and strategy I’m sure is dependant on many factors but I don’t think turning a blind eye is the right attitude either.

    Thanks for the info on the lame voting feature, I wasn’t aware of that. I’m not sure where I may have led you to think that giving a single user the ability to skip songs is a good idea but I don’t believe that is good. In fact I was in a room where the mod of the room was skipping everyone’s songs and I think that’s a great way to empty a room.

  8. There are a few sites like Turntable now. http://www.Lissn.com is like Turntable.fm but for conversations. Anyone tried it?

  9. There are a few sites like Turntable now. http://www.Lissn.com is like Turntable.fm but for conversations. Anyone tried it?

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Mark Krynsky

I created Lifestream Blog and hope you enjoy the site. I'm always looking for contributors so contact me if you're interested. You can follow the rest of what I like to write about at my personal site or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+
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