August 22, 2011 at 10:48 am

Spotify’s Collaborative Playlists Let Friends Listen Together

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No small degree of hype surrounds social listening apps at the moment, but much of it is well founded. Think about Turntable.fm and Wahwah.fm, and the way those two services focus on putting friends in different physical places in the same virtual location to listen to the same music. We really are in the middle of a great push to make music something that people listen to together again.

Such is the heart of the matter behind building collaborative playlists on Spotify, which has been possible for years, but only recently in America. Collaborative playlists are a different animal, because they’re asynchronous, in that people can access them at different times. While Turntable and Wahwah stream music live to everyone at the same time, like radio, Spotify lets you queue up specific songs in a collaborative playlist that invitees can access on demand, whenever they want.

Collaborative Playlist OptionSetting up a Spotify collaborative playlist is easy enough from a technical standpoint. You just make a normal playlist, then right-click (control+click on Mac) the playlist to see more options. You’ll see “Collaborative playlist” on the fourth line down, as pictured to the right.

The playlist still looks the same, but now, if you share the link to the playlist with another person (using the HTTP Link or Spotify URI, also pictured), they can add, delete, and reorder songs — and those changes will be reflected for everyone with access to the playlist.

Like we said, sharing a playlist is technically easy, but introducing the human element is a bit trickier:

1. Sharing

You can choose to make your collaborative playlist completely public, or share it to a few people. Anyone with access to the playlist can also add their friends, so you won’t have complete jurisdiction over the people populating the playlist. If you really want to open the floodgates, try posting a link to a public Spotify playlist in highly-trafficked forums, Twitter, or Facebook; or, you can keep it small through email or some other controlled environment.

2. Adding and Deleting Songs

You add and delete songs in the same way that you’d do so with a regular playlist: by dragging songs from the main search window, or right-clicking the track to add it through the dialogue box. However, unlike with your standard playlists, you may leave for an hour and come back to find that someone has deleted your favorite song. Toughen up kid, it’s the nature of the beast, although we do have advice for dealing with playlist hooligans below.

Who Added and When

Collaborative Playlists will indicate who added which song and when that song was added.

3. Publishing

Collaborative playlists are not automatically published to your profile page, the way normal playlists are (speaking of which, you can turn off automatic playlist publishing if you want). The constantly-updating nature of collborative playlists makes them indefinitely incomplete, so Spotify won’t allow you to publish them, which makes sense. However, there is a way. To publish a collaboratively-created playlist to your profile, simply right-click the playlist to uncheck the collaborative feature, then choose Publish.

4. The Downside

As Evolver.fm‘s Eliot Van Buskirk pointed out on Wired.com back when Spotify was only available in Europe, a “bad apples” principle can affect collaborative playlists. At some point, if your playlist gets enough contributors, you’re likely to lose control and succumb to jokesters who want to add Katy Perry in a reggae list or even delete the whole thing. One remedy suggested by that article: “We recommend saving [playlists] periodically as non-collaborative playlists, then eventually turning off collaboration once you’re happy with the selection.”

5. The Upside

These collaborative Spotify playlists combine traditional playlist making with the sharing fun that comes with Turntable.fm and Wahwah.fm — and unlike those, you can return to these ones whenever you want to listen to any of the tracks at will. Turntable.fm and other real-time social music services are great, but not when you have to sit through some boring DJ friend’s set. These collaborative playlists let you listen at your own pace instead.

(photo courtesy of Austin Music Weekly)