“I’m flattered Facebook was inspired by turntable.fm and created a listen together feature” says co-founder Billy Chasen about Facebook’s new synchronous music listening and chat feature Listen With. Chasen tells me “I look forward to seeing how they interpret what social music means as we seem to have different core philosophies about it (such as the importance of discovering new music from strangers and not just friends).” Chasen seems to think that only listening to what your friends enjoy won’t provide discovery as adventurous as Turntable.fm’s public rooms.
When Turntable.fm first started in January 2011 (or even when it started rolling out in May), it probably didn’t see Facebook at a competitor. At the time Facebook had no official music partnerships. Turntable.fm’s approach facilitated both private listening amongst friends and big public rooms of strangers exposing each other to new artists.
At f8, though, Facebook launched music partnerships with Spotify, Rdio, and other services to share their users’ listening activity with friends. Turntable.fm began looking dangerously close to the synchronous listening experience many speculated Facebook would launch, and today they were proved right. Suddenly, there’s a much easier way to listen with friends through the ubiquitous Facebook’s ever-present Chat. Listen With’s integration with on-demand music streaming services mean users can not only discover songs through friends, but go back and play them on their own.
Listen With only works with friends, though, leaving an opportunity for Turntable.fm. Your friends may have music tastes too similar to your own to help you find truly new music. That’s surely what Turntable.fm is hoping. However, I think close friends can still have relatively diverse tastes, or at least know about musicians you’ve never heard of from within your favorite genres. Additionally, Listen With offers more intimate chat rooms that trigger notifications. These make it easy to discuss new music with the person introducing it to you, thereby providing a richer experience.
Turntable.fm will still be able to trade on its gamification, where users earn points to spend on cooler avatars when people think their song choices are ‘awesome’. It doesn’t require a complicated signup and is entirely browser-based, streamlining the onboarding process. Also, the slick graphics make it more fun as a primary experience.
Still, when it comes to sustained use in the background, those elements don’t matter much. Facebook’s Listen With lives where people and their friends already spend their time, so I don’t think Turntable.fm will be able to compete on social listening.
If discovering new music from strangers is Chasen’s philosophy, Turntable.fm will need to ramp up features to support it. That means courting celebrity DJs and charity DJ battles. Also, improving how users browse and select a public room to enter. It could ask users to categorize their rooms by genre or mood, or detect a room’s beats per minute average. That way those bored of their friends’ music and seeking something really fresh to listen to will make Turntable.fm their destination.