Time to Tune Out iTunes. Turntable.fm is Here.

By Wednesday August 31st, 2011

Turntable.fm is the newest social networking site you’ve probably never heard of. The concept is simple: play music for you and your friends for free. Like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, Turntable has that "it" factor that will allow it to succeed as a company, a music player, and a social network.

What is it?
Turntable.fm is the newest social networking site you’ve probably never heard of. The concept is simple: play music for you and your friends for free. Since its launch in June, hundreds of thousands of music geeks and early adopters alike have flocked to Turntable to share, discover, and chat in what’s turning out to be a fresh new spin on social music.

Turntable.fm originally started as Stickybits, a QR code scanning, geotagging, hodgepodge of a tech start up. They raised $2 million in initial funding. When Stickybits didn’t take off, they pivoted their business and transformed into Turntable.fm, using their remaining money and resources to launch the product into its current state.

Turntable.fm Screenshot

How does it work?
Users can create or join rooms. In each room, there are five DJs at any one time and up to two hundred other users who sit and listen.  DJs can then search for songs through the Turntable system or upload their own. The rooms then cycle through the DJs one song at a time while the rest of the crowd listens and “awesomes” or “lames” the song. If a song gets enough “lames,” it gets skipped. The DJs have incentive to play popular songs in order to collect “awesomes,” which unlock bigger and better avatars. This gamification makes Turntable “fun and engaging” for users and gives it a leg up on the competition.

Why is Turntable special?
Because people are far better curators than any algorithm. This is social music. People love music and they love sharing it. There are still some major hurdles for them to overcome, but Turntable has that “it” factor that Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare all respectively have shared since their launch into the world of social media.

Record labels and their attitudes on copyright laws present the last major hurdle for Turntable. Currently, all of their music is licensed through Medianet, a digital content provider, employing the protection of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Turntable, just like Pandora, claims to be a “non-interactive radio service,” which allows it to work under the DMCA. They pay a flat fee to the music owners for each song played. But there are several grey areas within the DMCA that need to get ironed out before Turntable can fixate itself within the social media landscape.

Where is Turntable going?
In the Brolik office, Turntable.fm has replaced iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Hypem and the other numerous music services we previously used. Although Turntable is still rather young, it has some serious potential. We’ve set up a Brolik Turntable room for the office, and anyone can come in and play a song for themselves and our office via our wireless speakers (fair warning, we’re not always in there).

Once you start thinking about other businesses that can employ it, some real possibilities emerge. Imagine if you could go to your local bar and DJ with other regulars (and a few staff members to keep it organized). Or before you head off to the gym, you jump into your gym’s Turntable room and line up a playlist for the next hour. A few artists such as Ra Ra Riot and Talib Kweli have even started using Turntable.fm to showcase new songs and connect with fans first hand.

Turntable.fm is special. No other site has brought together social networking and music in such a successful blend. Let’s hope that the record companies see it as a beneficial tool that they can use and don’t thwart it before it can grow and evolve. At this point, all that we can do is sit back and watch this small start up begin to address the hurdles that still remain. But for now, we sit, wait, and keep listening.

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About the Author

Alex is the Creative Director for Brolik, a Philadelphia-based digital agency, where he has been the arbiter of great user experience and visual design since he joined the team in 2008. Alex believes bold, beautiful design should go hand-in-hand with human psychology and good usability principles to make sites that are both awe-inspiring and easy to use.

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