Putting the Crowd in the Cloud

[Please note that this post first appeared on the Forrester Consumer Product Strategy blog.  Over the coming month or so I will be migrating all of my activity there.  I will soon be posting new information here for you to amend your feeds and subscriptions. Thanks]

Mark Mulligan

[Posted by Mark Mulligan]

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I have a favour to ask of you: I have the germ of an idea which I am developing for a forthcoming report and I want try it on you.  So please let me know your thoughts.

Apart from the persistent pressure of free, two of the recurring trends that look set to shape the future of digital music are:

  1. The Cloud
  2. Social

First a few thoughts on the cloud….

The cloud is of course is already with us, but largely as a collection of disparate connected music experiences (e.g. Pandora, Spotify, Comes With Music) rather than as something more all-encompassing.  I’m skeptical of the truly ubiquitous experience happening anytime soon.  Indeed, the practical limitations on ubiquitous connectivity mean that connectivity will in fact fall short of ubiquity for some time (more on that from my colleague Ian Fogg later this year).  But it is clear that over the next few years more of the dots will be joined.  And sometimes the dots will be joined by innovative workarounds, such as Spotify’s ‘offline’ streaming solution.

And a few thoughts on social…

Readers of my Music Product Manifesto will know that I’m a stronger believer in the near term potential of social in music experiences than I am of the cloud.  In order to effectively compete against free music products need to create new, unique music experiences and social interactivity is a key means of achieving this.  If you put a $0.99 iTunes download against a $0.50 Amazon download against a BitTorrent $0.00 download the BitTorrent download will always win.  Future music products need to do more. Formally layering social functionality into the experience is key here, both to add a connected element but also for discovery.  With so much noise online, trusted taste makers (or ‘curators’ as Nettwerk Music’s Tony McBride calls them) are key.  And who do we trust most for recommendations?  People we know and connect with.

My thesis is that these two dynamics not only don’t have to be, dare I say it, disconnected, but that they should be inextricably linked. Their paths should be moulded together.

The likes of Last.FM (Audio Scrobbler) and Apple (Genius) have started to demonstrated the power of ‘Crowd Sourcing’ in the music discovery journey.  Spotify and YouTube and many others are showing the way for cloud based music experiences.

The time has come to be the crowd in the cloud.

Crowd in the Cloud

Social tools and media are of course already inherently connected and inherently cloud based, whether it be Facebook, Twitter or MySpace.  When woven into the fabric of a digital music offering they bring that experience to life.  In a connected music experience that exists across multiple devices and multiple platforms, social connectivity is more important than ever. Social connectivity turns a bored 10 minutes waiting for a train into a connected a fun engaged interaction with a friend, sharing playlists on MySpace. It transforms looking for something new to listen to on your iPhone into a social discovery journey.

This idea’s still taking shape, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I’ll post further on the concept as it evolves.

9 thoughts on “Putting the Crowd in the Cloud

  1. I completely and wholeheartedly agree with you. It’s a concept I’ve been obsessively mulling over. Especially as a music blogger. I see it and understand it. Thanks to technology and the Internet, it’s become easier than ever for musicians to ‘get in the game’ but harder than ever to be heard. Curators and tastemakers of music’s vast array of splintered interest groups will become more and more prevalent to help fans navigate the sea of choice. How the cloud and social web will converge and be ‘productized’ effectively is yet to be seen.

  2. I think the connectivity required for streaming is a red herring. Cloud music doesn’t necessitate streaming music as you listen to it, it just means that music can be streamed, and that if music is moved between devices it will happen transparently to the user.

    I’ve written more about why downloading vs. streaming is a false dichotomy here.

  3. Tim – the importance of connectivity isn’t just for streaming (as in fact I inferred in the post by referencing Spotify’s offline ‘streaming’). Instead persistent ubiquitous connectivity is key for all aspects of a seamless cloud experience. What if you want to switch from one device to another when non connection is present? or if you are in the midst of a social conversation? or if you want to click to find more tracks by an artist and you don’t have those native on your current device? or if your service needs to run a routine license verification? etc etc. Seamless streaming is just part of the reason why ubiquitous connectivity is so important to the cloud experience.

  4. Julie – I completely agree that the clutter and noise of wannabe curators is a problem and will grow. What is needed is sophisticated enough services that enable the crowd to coalesce around those that add real value

  5. I think it’s important to note that the social networks (i.e. Facebook) are few & far between. If you find one in 2010, it will be a niche market that is looking for a way to connect.

    I think it’s important to note that social networking needs to be a feature within the destination. It can’t be the focal point itself.

    “With so much noise online, trusted taste makers are key. ”
    Mark, you’re speaking about http://GoRankEm.com 🙂
    Who knows each artist’s best material better than each artist’s own fans? We’ve created the platform for the fans to rank their favorite songs from all their favorite artists.

    -adam w.

  6. At MOG, we’re passionate about the social music experience and we believe that linking it to a music service in the cloud in an effective and compelling manner is closer than you might think.


  7. You’re right that intermittent connectivity will always degrade the experience. But a cloud service that synchronises your playlists between devices, and transfers tracks on those playlists (and tracks that you play regularly) in the bursts of available connectivity will get 90% of the benefit of a truly ubiquitous cloud experience.

  8. For me access to the music you have is only part of the cloud story. A truly compelling cloud service *must* actively drive discovery. Syncing playlists is table stakes, immersive discovery is what is needed to drive a paradigm shift.

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