LetsListen: Turntable.FM + Video Chat = Dance Party?

There’s a feature war brewing in the synchronous listening space. Turntable.FM-competitor LetsListen today added video chat to its music locker web app so you can listen to a song at the same time as a friend, but also chat with them via text, audio, or video.

It’s a more intimate shared experience than just watching avatars dance around, but will video chat convince you to spend all day staring at your music player?

Here’s how I see LetsListen, Turntable.FM, and Facebook tackling synchronous listening from different angles.

  • LetsListen – A primary experience where you actively video chat with friends as you play songs for each other, as well as a music locker where you can store, manage, and access MP3s.
  • Facebook’s “Listen With” – a passive experience seamlessly integrated into Facebook’s Chat feature and music partner apps like Spotify, with notifications and its unified message product making it easy to leave on in the background and just check in when friends are talking.
  • Turntable.FM – Somewhere in between, where public rooms fill with head-nodding avatars to grab your attention but you don’t see your friends’ faces. If you’re not looking you might miss chat messages.

When I spoke at Social Media Week with Turntable.FM founder Seth Goldstein about the future of music. I asked whether he thought of his product as a primary or passive experience. RadioSurvivor transcribed how Goldstein lamented,

“I wish it was more background. I think there are a lot of passive services that aim to be more engaging. We have the opposite problem. It’s really engaging for a small community. You go in and you get addicted, and spend four days of your life not doing much of anything else. And then you say, ‘I just can’t do this any more. I’ve got to get back to my life.’”

I worry LetsListen could have the same problem. Video chat is fun to play with occasionally, but the service needs to work great without me looking at it to become something I use all day, everyday. Turntable.FM’s first-mover advantage means it could overshadow LetsListen by adding its own video chat.

If LetsListen is going to win this war, it needs to marry the passive and primary experiences. Most critically, it should add browser tab notifications to show when you’ve received chat messages or a friend starts video chatting with you. The existing audible notifications annoyingly interrupt the music. Then I can passively groove with LetsListen, but pop back in when friends are throwing me Ozzy Osbourne devil-horns over video chat.