Spotify's Big Hulbaloo And What It Means For You

Apps apps apps apps apps.

That’s essentially what last Wednesday’s Spotify announcement boiled down to. The digital music service is in the process of transforming itself from an application to a platform for other developers to spring off of. Aside from the deluge of future applications that will bombard you (if you’re a Spotify user), this change may mark a foundational shift in the way we listen to music in the modern age. As mentioned in the New York Times, Spotify is a “lean-in” service, requiring users to actively participate in their music consumption. Compare this to “lean-back” sites like Pandora or Rdio, where all the participation required can be a click or two.

So what does this all mean? Well, since Spotify opened up it’s API to third party developers the foundational structure of how people use it is going to change (and if you want to see what this all looks like, Hypebot has a pretty good overview of how to get Spotify apps now). Many people have thrown around the idea that Spotify is, or wants to become, Facebook. The reaction on the blogosphere is mixed: Forbes states that apps could help make Spotify “useful at every phase of the listening experience” while Erik Sherman of Inc. believes that “Spotify has essentially just said that it wants to compete with Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft. Such a big mistake.”

A lot of the commentary hinges on where people perceive a service like Spotify exists on the Internet. The thought of making one site, one service the be-all, end-all destination for near every aspect of music interaction can be a bit bewildering. Many corners, many miniature, niche-y spaces on the Internet are dedicated to music. Then again, Spotify is tech entrepreneur Sean Parker’s baby. Parker, engineer of the rise of Facebook and Napster before Spotify, sees value and consumer need before others can. He has his finger on a pulse before anyone else knows where the heart is. In fact, many would argue that the only way Spotify can survive in the long run is by becoming a platform. Carl Sjogreen, project manager for the Facebook Platform waxed on the limitations of destination sites in a piece for The Telegraph, stating that being a platform allows Facebook to outlive and thrive when compared to ‘fad’ sites like MySpace.

The most important part of third party applications is that it will be impossible to escape the reach of Spotify at this point. Spotify gained traction in the US after partnering with Facebook. As hard as it might be to believe, there’s a possibility that some people might not have signed on or even be familiar with the service despite how pervasive Facebook is in our lives.

Well, not anymore. If you have even a passing interest in music (and that interest is reflected in your browsing habits) then you won’t be able to escape Spotify. Rolling Stone, We Are Hunted, Moodagent, The Guardian, Billboard; they all have apps in the can, ready for launch. And those are just the big players. Users can expect greater integration and more features from trusted sites, which equates to curation, an offering that Spotify was sorely missing from its product. It’s not hard to imagine a near future in which any music web destination of renown will have a representative app in Spotify’s App Store. That’s right, “store”. The days of free, unlimited Spotify use are coming to an end sooner then you think.

November was an incredible month in the world of online music and Spotify was only a part of the story. Pandora, Spotify’s main competition had a pretty good month too. The online radio service post a modest profit, beating out expectations. In addition to that welcome news, Pandora finalized a deal with Honda that will allow for in-car integration for the Internet radio company. Finally, Spotify and Pandora are probably both thrilled to hear of the serious legal trouble competitor Grooveshark is in. The free online music search engine is facing a massive lawsuit from Universal Music Group. UMG alleges that Grooveshark employees”including the CEO and various VPs”illegally uploaded thousands of songs to the service. And while Grooveshark has vowed to fight the suit, it’s going to be messy for all parties involved.

In the end, online music as we know it will be undergoing a sea change very soon. Spotify wasn’t even a major player until a few months ago. Now, in what is shaping up to be a winner-takes-all battle, Spotify might be best poised to be that winner. Only time will tell whether they are able to capture the hearts and minds of the Internet.