Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas iLike, Gcast, and GarageBand users and other music lovers (i.e future users). Actually, Christmas came a little early this year. On December 20th, 2006 iLike closed a $13.3 million dollar investment from TicketMaster! It is a high point in a way, but more importantly it is a launching pad for far greater landing on the Moon on the way to Mars. We just had an offsite to plan our trajectory (shh, it's a secret) but I thought it would be interesting to survey what other people think we will or should do:
  • Michael Arrington at Techcrunch is almost protective in his requests for restraint, which feels great since Techcrunch was one of our hardest to win over critics early on.
  • On the other hand we've still got some more work to do with the crew at Idolator. They clearly chafe at Tickmaster's dominance of their space, they think our plug-in is bloated, and they think the deal is, uh (and I think they are being polite here), "curious".
  • Paul Lamere does the math and arrives at a user base goal that is on the modest side of our aspirations: 1.4 million people.
  • And last but not least my favorite, Rick Munarriz at the Motley Fool gives a brief history lesson on our trip to the Moon and recognizes the implication of that trip our launching pad for the stars.
Well, with $13.3 million in the bank and a great team on the ground, we hope to give y'all lots more to talk about in 2007, and even better stuff to listen to :)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Seems like everthing is going John (Doe, rhymes with video), these days:

On the other hand, the scope is now mostly confined to the "long-tail" aspect of the equation. Of course, the line is increasingly blurry, but what I used to generically refer to as the "long-term", I'm increasingly convinced is represented by the "long tail".

Monday, November 13, 2006

Okay, so I know I've been a little heavy on the boosterism lately, but come on, can you blame me? We've really been rocking it recently. We have the pictures and video to prove it. (That's me in the hat)

Here's another example. This blog was noticeably silent on GooTube. But that doesn't mean I wasn't thinking about it. I was thinking about it a lot, like starting to lose sleep over it. I hadn't written my thoughts here because that would reveal key strategic concerns for my companies. But here a month later, I am able to share them with you? Yep, because the team in Seattle has already acted on them. How cool is that?!

It's not worth me getting into a general discussion of GooTube: I largely agree with Mark Cuban's (emerging) take on the deal, so rather I'll link to him for general analysis. Instead let me share with you an excerpt from an internal email on the subject I sent on October 19.

I think it's pretty clear that the recent GooTube deals with the record labels significantly changes the landscape for the music industry for the immediate future. They essentially did something I'd been suggesting would be the best strategy for someone trying to compete with Apple: get the freedom to remove DRM by prebuying music just like a physical distributor. (Quick note on why this makes the difference: it shifts the risk to the retailer and gives them pricing freedom)

Today's post by Mark Cuban made me realize that GooTube has essentially done this *and* chosen to make the marginal cost to consumers zero (vs $2 on iTunes). Wow!

What this means is that for the time being (the term of their deals with the labels) we have a grand playground for experimenting with a world in which music content (videos at least) is "free".

My recommendation is immediately expand the "free download" functionality on iLike to encompass mainstream music by:

A) adding support for YouTube music videos to pages

B) adding a "convert for iPod" function to the sidebar or icast (assuming there is manageable copyright liability).

I think the YouTube support on gives us a leg up on MySpace and from his post I infer Mark thinks the iPod function one ups Apple
Two weeks later on November 2, I get word from Hadi that's he's figured out how to accomplish suggestion A. You should really read the post Steve made on the team blog for the whole story, but lets excerpt a bit of it here:

It started on Thursday. After scooting into work I walked upstairs to the office. I was preparing myself for the day, planning to fix a few bugs and get ready for a new feature Josh and I were about to start working on. As soon as I walked into the room I knew something was up. I got that 6th sense feeling of a new idea about to hatch. Sure enough, I saw Hadi waving his hands over in Josh and Gabe's corner of the room going on about something (our "office" is an open floorplan that is just barely, but not quite, big enough for all of us).

"Not just music clips", Hadi was explaining, "but music videos!". I got his drift, and sat down to mock something up. It should be noted that Josh and Nat had been talking about something similar months back, but neither of them were *this* enthusiastic about it. In his typical eager fashion Hadi had mentioned it was only a "3-hour project", so the challenge was on!

They shipped it on November 7.

Let me pause to bring special attention to something in Steve's post. My story starts from an email I sent in October, but "Josh and Nat had been talking about something similar a month back". To clarify, I do not claim that we are the originators of this idea (and also that I was not the first person in the company to suggest it). I know of three sites that already did something similar:,, To wit: the idea isn't that remarkable.

What is remarkable is our timing and execution. This idea had been out there for months, at least. Then GooTube happened. We quickly analyzed the strategic implications and identified the resulting opportunity, had the technical intuition to anticipate a user need, and shipped the feature in less than one month after the precipitating event. No less than 5 people were invloved in the chain each one adding tremendous value.

Yes, existing users love the new feature. Yes, we saw a spike in traffic. Yes, other companies are left scratching their heads. We're on a roll and I'm loving the ride. So please indulge me for a moment while I bask in the warmth of a more flattering followup article in Techcrunch that anticipates my suggestion B. I've already added a wireless video iPod to my Chirstmas list so I can enjoy all the videos of my favorite songs automatically found and loaded.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

What's the difference between the best music you've never heard and the best music you have heard? Apparently the answer to that question is not obvious, as evidenced by the recent article by Techcrunch writer, Marshall Kirkpatrick.

Quote Marshall:
"while many of us may be interested in discovering new music similar to our existing tastes - the lower production quality and lack of familiarty [sic] with independent music makes it less popular for more reasons than just limited distribution. Most “independent music” is not very good."


"I find that the sheer majority of so called “indie bands” just aren’t very good."


"On musical tastes, the new features are all about indy (sic, lol) music, which I am too often disappointed in."
The fallacy of these statements is that you can remove the word indie or indy [sic] from any of them and they are still true. Only 3% of artists reach a modicum of successful record sales and even fewer are profitable franchises. Given these statistics, the word "indie" as used by Marshall is completely empty. Even U2 was once an "indie" band that famously didn't know how to play their their instruments and couldn't get most people to listen to their music. Sir George Martin, who discovered the Beatles, recognizes that the next worldwide hit band is right now a nobody in a garage. That's why he supports Well that and he doesn't think the traditional ways of discovering music are going to be successful at finding them. Yes, Marshall, most music is "in progress", and "indie" until enough people find it to be enjoyable that it's no longer "indie".

And that's what's really at issue here, Marshall seems to prefer the erudite opinions of aspiring "music critics" at HypeMachine to any sort of analytical system of making recommendations. He disagrees with George Martin and the millions of people using and He believes ultimately that music should be chosen by "experts".

If I'm I'm misconstruing his position, it is only because I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. I'm assuming that his reasons for liking HypeMachine are exclusive of characteristics shared with iLike/GarageBand. For instance, it can't be because Hype Machine reviewers write long commentary on the tracks. Otherwise how could he not at least respect the GarageBand system where reviewers are expected to leave detailed commentary on hundreds of thousands of tracks? It also can't be because he prefers recommendations from real people, since that is the primary activity on iLike as explained to him in comments by Ali.

So what's left to differentiate HypeMachine and therefore define Marshall's opinion on the big question? He likes the tastes of the bloggers at HypeMachine? No, if that was all, the smart thing for him to do would be to invite those HypeMachine bloggers to be his Friends on iLike. Then he would not only know about what they chose to write about, but he would know all their other favorite songs according to how often they actually listen to them. I mean, what is iLike if not a huge enabler of lightweight, automated mp3 blogging.

The difference of opinion arises because underlying Marshall's position is a distrust for the democratization of tastemaking. He doesn't have a problem with experts per say, but he just doesn't like the current ones (the big record labels) and would like to have some that fit more closely with his own tastes (a totally reasonable desire by the way, just not one he will be able to impose on the rest of us). This is also evident by his nod to Pandora (who use bonafide experts, Phds).

Let me return to my original question by quoting the last paragraph from Ali's comment:
"It is hard to believe that I [Ali] find myself having the long-tail debate with a blogger. Not long ago, professional journalists claimed “blogs are amateur and bad journalism,” and people like you [Marshall] proved them wrong. The same applies to music, as Internet distribution and cheaper recording tools are changing the game. The only difference with music is that systems for enabling the best indie music to rise to the top are still being refined."
I think part of the problem is that the long tail metaphor is a useful one to describe the vast majority of amateur activity on the internet, but that is not what we are talking about here. What we are talking about is aspirational activity: the effort by newcomers in a medium to use new technology to make an end run around the "oldies" and the systems set up to protect "quality" (or their hegemony depending on your perspective). Bloggers like Marshall and the bands on GarageBand aren't content with being part of the long tail. They want to launch from the long tail into what Mark Cuban recently called the "vert ramp". The want to move from being the best unknown media to being the best media, period.

If I have succeeded in teasing out the subtleties of Marshall's position, then the argument between us is really a dialectic to be resolved by history. He (and to a lesser extent Pandora) represent the conservative side: that the project of new media is to replace old experts with (more and younger) new ones., iLike, Ali and I represent the progressive side: that the project is to replace experts with something new and better, organic and social filters.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Last week we launched, a long jab right into the future of music discovery. Today we launched the GarageBand Faceoff, a right hook square in the jaw of music promotion, knocking loose any preconceptions you still have about the music industry:

  • Thought you had to choose between grassroots empowerment and mass media distribution? The GarageBand Faceoff has two bands chosen by the public at squaring off against each other on a nationally distributed FM radio show.
  • Thought a bands only choice was to sell their soul to a record label or toil in anonymity? Bands who win five times in a row on the GarageBand Faceoff face a real choice: $25,000 or proceeding to the finals to compete for a $100,000 recording contract
  • Consolidation turning radio radio playlists over to corporate control?The GarageBand Faceoff is your four minutes of freedom. The listeners vote by text and the web to decide which songs we play the next day.
Oh yes, those are fighting words. And after that one-two punch, well, the status quo can just bring it.

You can hear the show and find out where it is airing at

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Congratulations to the iLike Team! Yesterday they launched into As you might expect from my gushing about the team up there in Seattle, they've exceeded even my wild dream for how something like this could work. Sometime when I'm not so busy, I'll try to biograph the ideas involved, but right now I've got a radio show to premiere.For now, you'll just hafta be content with being able to see my music tastes at a glace (see the new iLike widget in the right hand column). Besides, it's the iLike Team's day, go read thier blog.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Why is Spiral Frog a neat development but ultimately irrelevant? Because it misses the point...or rather three points:
  1. Apple sells music so they can sell iPods - iTMS is a service that makes the iPod, nearly everyone's favorite mp3 player, that much nicer and oh btw it locks you into the Apple ecosystem (note: I'm note sure what the stas are, but I can't believe that any more than 5% of music on iPods are from the iTMS). Spiral Frog's service does not provide any listening experience on the iPod nor provides a comparable listening experience on any other platform. To put it another way: it's just not nearly as stylish, addictive, or fun as donning white earbuds, endlessly running your finger around a wheel, or falling into click and skip bliss.
  2. Discovering music is a contextual experience - I read somewhere that Spiral Frog may not plan to compete directly with the iTunes music store, but instead think of themselves and providing full song previews in exchange for ads. Huh? On the one hand, this explains why the DRM (6 month expiration without coming back for ads) is so least Apple's FairPlay scheme gives the perception of owning the music. On the other hand who is the market for this kind of service? Most people are quite happy with 30 second clips and psychological experiments indicate that we form attachments to songs/recordings in much less time. More importantly (and this may only appear so for lack of detail in the press), the "full length previews" are found actively not passively and without context. By contrast, you could see Yahoo Launch as a "full length preview" service (i.e. radio) that is passive with personalized context.
  3. Costs come in many different currencies - How can you possible say that listening to a single 90 second ad is "free"? Sure I don't pay any money for it, but listening to 90 seconds of anything is a serious cost. Radio ads are only 15 to 30 seconds long for a reason. We don't even make GarageBand reviewers listen to more than 90 seconds of a song they don't like before allowing them to rate it down. And this isn't 90 seconds every once in a while (on Clearchannel radio you get 4 songs for every 90 seconds of ads). this is 90 seconds of ads for every song. Granted it's only the first time you listen to it, but can you imagine what an enormous brake on usage that will be? Click. 90 sec ad. 30 sec download. Listen. That's so far away from a recipe for rinse and repeat, I can't even begin to even consider the finer points of why this is a bad user experience. And forget about capturing the long tail (unobtrusive AdWords these are not).
So my advice to the Spiral Frog team (which seems to have pretty sharp people and therefore, I wouldn't count them out just because of one burst of, probably erroneous, press).
  1. Integrate with a single music player and get a cut of the hardware sales.
  2. Recreate the personalized radio experience of Yahoo Launch on a that player
  3. "Sell" the music in bundles such that I can listen to multiple songs in a row before being interrupted by ads (and try to lower your "price" point to something more in line with radio while you are at it)
At the very least this will give them a chance at capturing the market Satellite Radio has (small but at least a market that has real people that fall into it) and potentially a shot at creating a truly novel form of distribution.

Monday, August 14, 2006

And we're off! The new iLike project (was code named iJam) just got funded. I probably won't say much more about it here until it launches but you can follow the progress at the team blog. Suffice to say, I'm very excited to see where these guys (some of the best ajax coders in the world!) go with my little sketch on how to discover music (or frankly anything) socially.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Kudos to Advisory Board Chair, Sir George Martin, for being open enough to new technology and self effacing enough to completely rework some of his earlier Beatles masterworks for Cirque du Soliel's new show, Love. Eighty years old and still on the verge...

In other Beatles tidbits:

Did you know that the Beatles are the single most cited influence among GarageBand members?

Have you left a 64th birthday wish for Paul, yet? (be sure to check out Woodstock Taylor's singing telegram based on When I'm Sixty Four and the 2-year old singing Hey Jude)

Friday, June 02, 2006

God bless our new engineering team hired and headed by legendary MicroSoft manager Hadi Partovi (yes Ali's brother). Also keeping it the family is our new CTO, Nat Brown, one of the best architects in the world.

In addition to working on our new social music discovery offering they've found time to make the old battleship better. Check out the new look of's homepage at (if you are logged in and end up on you MyGarage Page, just click on the masthead logo to go to the homepage) and a new page featuring our sucessful bands.

It looks great, and new, maybe even Web 2.0 without succumbing to the lure of rounded corners

And yes, we are hiring please visit our code name for the project, iJam, for more info

Thursday, May 11, 2006

We may be the Johnny-come-latelys to the free hosting thing, but I'd like to say it was worth the wait:

* 200MB: that's 25-50 songs and not limited to just songs, podcast posts, images, whatever media you can provide all goes under the same cap (by comparison: Pure Voulme and MySapce are limited to 3 mp3s)
* Automatic creation of embeddable podcast from your media, so you can embed it anywhere (your band page, your MySpace page) You can manage all your media in one place and it will propagate through the whole web (as opposed to being forced to upload to every site and split your fan traffic among them)
* Tags, filtering, the contest: no where else can you earn a guaranteed 20 listens for your song and maybe more based on how people like it. Your song gets tagged and made available to people who indicate a taste for your style.

A nice offering right? And just at the right time, too. The gov't is trying to rip yet another new one for the internet radio community, by forcing them to use DRM on any streams (streams for goodness sakes!) that include tracks under the DMCA statutory license. The GarageBand artist community sidesteps the DMCA and makes it possible to stream amp3s from their accounts without royalties. Now we'll let them make available more (if not all) of their catalog for free streaming. If this law goes through, then artists who play nice with streaming will have even more of a promotional advantage in new media.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Vive la France. While I'm usually not a big fan of government intervetntion in the economy, especially the new kind, I do respect governments that step in on the side of consumer liberty.

First to clarify, I disagree with the implication of this article that this law would have any significant long-term impact on Apple's position:

1. In Europe there is far more music activity on phones than on dedicated mp3 players. In fact it is worth noting that ringtones worldwide dwarf download sales by a magnitude.
2. DRMed downloads represent a very small fraction of the activity on even iPods them selves. Unprotected mp3s are the primary currency of the iPod generation...well, and "friends", what ever they are ;)

So who does care about this? The traditional record label. Remember that there were mp3 players before DRM and the iTunes Music Store was developed specifically to make the record labels happy (and make Apple look good).

That's not to say Apple is a saint either. They make a huge margin on the iPod (much bigger than on download sales). Why? because of their vaunted "design" or "marketing" or "status". Perhaps, but I think a much under counted source of the economic value of the product lies in the knowledge that you can fill it up with unprotected mp3s.

In the worst case, the artist does not get paid for this consumption (i.e. pirated or P2P or "borrowed"). In the best case, the mp3s are *freed* from their plastic cage (the CD). In the worst, case no new economic value is being created. In the second Apple (well not really Apple, but that is a different story) has done a huge service of breaking down a level of inefficiency in the music industry.

Either way the whole digital music economy depends on content being created and artists being compensated sufficiently to motivate them. That, of course is not something this French law addresses (and frankly no law really could). So it's back to us, the people building companies in this space to always keep in mind that everything we do should motivate the creation of new music (or at least not kill that motivation).

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

our new desktop application was BETA released today

Here's some early thoughts from a Cnet reporter

This product incorporates many of the ideas I've been discussing on this blog, spcifically many of the enhancements I wished other companies would make to thier products to facilitate the paradigm shift we forsee. We got tired of waiting and just built it our selves.

More later...