Turntable.fm Gets Social Network Building Right

I’ve written about the challenges of social network building and the pitfalls of beta-testing recently, but I also want to highlight a site that I think is doing a lot of things right, and ultimately has the chance to carve out a really strong place in the social media universe. Turntable.fm has put together a really strong offering that hits on several elements of personal behavior and psychology. They definitely are getting the buzz going, with Kanye West coming on board as an investor. I’ve identified seven areas where the platform is hitting the right notes from a user perspective:


1. Tapping into a activity that people are genuinely passionate about

Music transcends all barriers. Age, sex, income, political leaning, religion, nationality – all those get thrown out the window with music. I really think this is a key element to why some sites thrive and others fail. The successful site taps into a passion that you have offline, and gives value to you around that passion. This blog post from Sysomos echoes this sentiment, noting the importance of emotional connections in social media success.


2. Let’s you share your passion

In various ways, Spotify, Pandora and Turntable.fm all let your share with your social graph. This is critical as music is (or at least can be) such a social activity. One aspect of Turntable.fm I really like is the email alerts letting you know when a DJ you have become a fan of is now playing. That’s a great prompt to get people on the site in a meaningful way. You’ve probably become a fan of one of your friends, so it’s natural that you’d want to jump on when they are on.


Last night a DJ saved my online music experience.

3. Great user interface

Where Turntable.fm really excels is in the user interface. Where Spotify, Pandora, iTunes and Google Music all act as a sort of radio, Turntable.fm is a club. Five DJs are set up at the back of the room with the rest of the people in the “room” acting as the audience. At any one time there are dozens of these rooms, playing different types of music. Setting of the look of Turntable.fm this way would be fine even without the DJs, but that’s really the secret sauce of the site…

4. Appealing to the inner-music snob in all of us

Let’s face it, you have great taste in music. Better than all your friends. You’ve always known you could be a DJ, traveling to France, New York, Ibiza, all the places where the cool kids hang out. But unless your last name is Ronson, Turntable.fm is as close as you’re probably going to get. The brilliant part is that you do get that nervous feeling right before your song is played. Will the crowd like it? Will I get kicked off the stage? There is a very simply plus/minus type meter that let’s you know how the crowd feels. If it starts drifting towards the negative, you can feel the sweat trickling down your back.

5. Music selection

Turntable.fm, rather than counting on you to have a massive library of club bangers, allows you to search for titles, artists or albums in the cloud. Just search and add to your playlist and you are ready to go. A great feature that let’s you grab your all-time favorites, or poach the latest from Lady Gaga with just a couple of mouse clicks.

6. Purchase, transfer and other business opportunities.

Like a song the DJ is playing? Turntable.fm connects you to Amazon, iTunes, Last.fm, Spotify and rdio. This recent Ad Age article talks about online social music platform business models,and the New York Egotist also hits on the brands (and agencies) that have rushed to Turntable.fm.

Earn a harder, better, faster, stronger avatar.

7. Good use of game mechanics

Of course, what online experience today would be complete without game mechanics? But rather than going badge-crazy, Turntable.fm has kept it low key and relevant. Yes, you can earn points, but not through random, mindless clicking. You have to play music (engage with the platform) that people like (engage with other users).  Right now those points allow you to earn access to increasingly sophisticated avatars.  Can you enjoy Turntable.fm without using the game mechanics at all? Sure, just enjoy the tunes. But for those with egos or a competitive streak, your itch gets scratched as well.


That’s a lot of things being done right.  All in all I think it bodes well for Turntable.fm to create a viable business model for the platform in the future.

Lady Gaga, Farmville, Facebook and content distribution

Coming to a virtual farm near you.

Lady Gaga, the reigning queen of pop culture, has announced that singles from her new album will debut on…Farmville? At this point, if you are a marketer, you would be well within your right to throw up your arms and say, “I give up.”

I’ve written recently about a cultural singularity, when disparate aspects of pop culture come together, and how that contributes to, rather than alleviates, the struggles marketers are having. This is another case in point.


It’s possible that you saw Lady Gaga coming in 2008:

No slow burn, just a white hot rise.











And sure, it’s possible you knew Zynga’s social game was going to blow up in 2009:

Old McDonald had a farm, Z-Y-N-G-A













(It’s interesting to note that these two artifacts of culture seem to have come into the popular consciousness at almost the exact same time.)


But even if you were savvy enough to see them both coming, I doubt that you saw them coming together to give the world Gagaville.  Now, five years ago we would have spared a thought for the poor record companies. But they’re so dead we don’t even consider them anymore. Now we scratch our head and wonder how MTV.com, iTunes, Amazon, Pandora or maybe even Verizon let this get away from them. Any of those and we would have nodded and said, “Of course. Smart move by Gaga and Amazon.”

But Gaga and Zynga produces a different response. While we puzzle over those that missed this opportunity, we quietly go to our office and shut the door when we have to think about how Zynga landed this deal.  What does it mean when a game that lives inside Facebook built on the premise that people want to take care of imaginary farm animals does a deal with one fo the biggest names in music – and nobody says, “That’s crazy!” but rather,”Hmm, shrewd.”

If you try to create a Facebook ad targeting people in the United States who like both Lady Gaga and Farmville, do you know how many people you’d reach?  How does 14.5 million sound?  14.5 million people who have the opportunity to engage in a unique, exclusive, interactive, shared experience that combines two things they’ve already told you they are interested in.  Oh.

But this is bigger than Lady Gaga and Farmville (and that’s pretty big). This is about changing the rules.  This is about redefining what’s possible.

These “asymmetrical partnerships” are ones that are the most interesting. This one is particularly interesting because both parties are polarizing. People either love or hate both entities, and apparently several million love them both.  This will be one to keep an eye on.

Pandora for Content

This is an excerpt of a post I contributed to Jinal Shah’s excellent new site, Content Decoded. You can read the entire piece here.

I think one of the bigger trends of the last few years has been increasing ability for consumers to customize the content they receive. At first blush, this seems like a good thing. Being able to pull only the relevant content you want sounds great when there is an overwhelming amount of content out there.  This sort of filtering can work on both qualitative and quantitative levels. But what is often overlooked is what is lost with this sort of filtering, the serendipitous discovery of content.

When I flip through a magazine or newspaper invariably my eye will come across an article that piques my interest. Not something that I’m necessarily a huge fan of, but something close enough that my curiosity has now gotten the best of me. Let me give you an example. I remember seeing a review or interview or some sort of mention of the novel Netherland when it was first published. While critically acclaimed, this wasn’t the type of book that was going to generate Dan Brown-type hype. If I don’t flip by this story in the paper, I’m probably never going to know of its existence. I’ll come back to Netherland in a moment.

This idea of serendipity is important, especially to people working in creative industries. We need a wide base of knowledge and experiences, yet by subscribing to certain feeds, email alerts and newsletters we tend to shrink our knowledge base. But what if, rather than narrow our sources, technology could be used to widen them?

Pandora is a fantastic application for music lovers that helps them discover new music. Not completely alien music, but rather music that is somehow similar to music users already like. So, if say you are a fan of Belle & Sebastian, Pandora will recommend Kruder & Dorfmeister or perhaps Stereo MC’s. That’s cool, I like both of those groups too. But it will also give me Sofa Surfers, a group I’ve never heard of. But I feel comfortable checking them out because there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be in the same ballpark.

Go to Content Decoded for the rest of the idea.