Apple Music - Or Some Streaming Service - Needs To Steal Discovery From Napster

There’s been a lot of talk lately about streaming music services, and while many smart companies are doing many cool things — including Apple — everyone is missing the boat.

The successful streaming music service will master the process of discovery — that is helping its users discover new music to listen to. Apple is doing this with a new take on the old-school radio station with Beats 1, but I think that’s only half of it.

Apple Music, Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody and NapsterTo truly unlock discovery a service’s users need to be able to learn from each other. The world is full of stories where like-minded-yet-anonymous people have tipped one another to the next great band.

The experience that needs to be replicated in digital, social form is this: When I go to a concert and sit in my seat before the show, the person next to me (assuming I didn’t arrive with them) is likely someone I don’t know. But we both know that one thing we have in common is that band that will soon be playing up there on the stage.

With that, a conversation about music almost always ensues. Initially it begins by talking about the very band we’re about to see. Soon, though, it spiders out into discussion about other, related bands — or perhaps about bands that one or the other of us has also recently seen or listened to. Invariably one person winds up suggesting some band the other has yet to experience, and the magic of relevant discovery happens.

At the end of the show you wave goodbye and likely never see each other again. But that encounter you had was an anonymous-yet-valuable interaction where you learned about something new. 

Why has no one created this sort of social interaction when it comes to online music? If I’m listening to Galactic why can’t I be offered the possibility of talking to other people who are simultaneously doing the same thing? Or why can’t I, at the very least, be able to look into the libraries — anonymously — of the people who have Galactic in theirs?

Napster was the only online music service to begin to solve this problem. If I found someone because they had a song I wanted to download, I could then browse their entire shared library to see what else they had. This was huge. Yes, Napster was based on a potentially-illegal premise that eventually crushed them, but they had the social aspect down better than anyone who has come since.

It’s fine to see Apple entering this market, but given Apple’s focus on privacy and lack of success with anything social in the past, I don’t expect them to even try to solve this problem this way now. But someone needs to, and frankly at least one of Spotify’s board members should already be thinking this way.

What do you think it takes to solve the discovery problem?