Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Rhapsody DJ

I've been using Rhapsody now for almost three years. I love the service and have grown quite accustomed to the subscription-based music model. It helps that I spend a lot of time each day in front of a PC as it gives me lots of time to appreciate the all-you-can-listen service. I haven't yet tried the extended service which would enable me to download tracks to an mp3 player as the player models that work with the service are still too limited. For example, I would love to download the tracks to my Audivox Smartphone but the Windows Mobile operating system on the phone is not compatible with the requirements of Microsoft's Play For Sure DRM.

I've especially liked some of the newer features that Rhapsody has added over the last year, especially the ability to post and download playlists through Rhapsody's "Playlist Central". Through this feature, I can access thousands of other playlists generated by users all over the world. The search functionality is lacking, though, as it can be quite difficult to search playlists for a particular track or artist or find similar playlists to one you might particularly like. It's also a bit difficult to gauge the quality of each playlist, even though users have the ability to rate each list on a scale of 1 to 5.

It can be a bit aggravating knowing that there are some great playlists out there and users putting a lot of thought into them, but being unable to easily locate them. In addition, even the great playlists lack much personality as users have very few ways to personalize the lists other than to add a catchy title and short description. Users do have the ability to add text descriptions for each track, although the feature seems to be used only sporadically.

This whole thing comes down to another company not taking advantage of the social network that has developed around the site. Here we have thousands of users who all have access to hundreds of thousands of songs but very limited means for sharing what they find as well as locating other users who share similar musical interests. Whenever a site has a large following but lacks the tools to enable users to communicate with each other, other sites develop to serve this need. In this case, there are a few decent Rhapsody playlist-sharing sites out there. But most of these are edited by a small group of users who push their playlist selections out to the masses. In other words, there is still only limited interaction. But users search out these sites simply to find some guidance to help sort through Rhapsody's massive musical library.

So, when Rhapsody starts working on Rhapsody 3.0 they should strongly consider adding some improved social networking and sharing features to the site. Just a few unique tools should greatly improve the usability and functionality and help Rhapsody challenge iTunes a little more. Here's what I'd like to see...

1. Improved Playlist Functionality. -- First off, give users better tools for searching existing playlists. If I find a particular playlist to be good, give me the ability to easily find other playlists by the same author as well as notification tools to let me know when they release a new playlist (RSS!!).

2. Rhapsody DJ -- I'd also really like to see some tools that would enable the author to DJ their own playlists by adding audio commentary between tracks. It would be very cool to enable Rhapsody users to run their own radio shows. Just enable users to record audio commentaries that could then be uploaded to the site and placed between playlist tracks. You could even let listeners decide whether or not they want to hear the commentary using the same skip controls they use to navigate tunes through the site. I think this would really help personify some of the playlists as well as encourage users to extend their use of the playlist functionality. Just look at the popularity of some of the sites that offer this kind of functionality like live365. Again, RSS could be used to inform listeners of new shows.

3. Expose the Tail -- One of the reasons that Pandora is so popular is that it introduces users to music that they would probably have never found by themselves. Based on the user's feedback, Pandora mixes in both popular songs as well as songs by bands that don't have anywhere near the same reach as the big, popular bands. But Pandora's unique recommendation system recommends songs with similar musical characteristics as those the user likes regardless of their popularity. Rhapsody should take advantage of its huge library to offer similar services to its listeners. Rhapsody users have the added ability to bookmark these songs or create their own playlists from their favorites as they hear them.

There is quite a lot of potential stored up in Rhapsody. New API services that enable developers to integrate Rhapsody song searches and other features may help to push the boundaries of the existing Rhapsody service. Hopefully, Rhapsody will push these features even further into the social networking realm which can only be an improvement.

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