Spotify recently rolled out some of the new features it teased in New York last December with a new way to “follow” people — not in the religious or stalker senses, but in the Twitter sense of seeing what they’re up to. Spotify being a music service, that means seeing what the famous people you like and the friends you have are listening to.
Rdio, a leading competitor of Spotify’s, rolled out a similar feature at another press event, at SXSW, last year.
This started us thinking… how do these “follows” differ? If one thing you want from your music service is to broadcast your taste and check out what other people are digging, which is the best way to go: Rdio or Spotify?
For now, this is largely about picking up a new song, album, or artist here and there to sample and maybe add to your collection. But as these services continue to evolve, getting better at recommending new music friends based on taste; generating playlists out of the predilections of a group of people (say, an office or a shared car ride); adding the ability to layer your own taste over that of someone else to find out the stuff they like that you’ll like too; and whatever else they come up with, the ability to follow people in a music service could be about more than finding something to listen to right now. After all, there are already plenty of great ways to do that, and they don’t involve as much legwork.
Still, “following” has its benefits, and it’s fun to see what people are into. Both Rdio and Spotify let you share your activity with Facebook, so there’s not much difference there, but differentiation within Rdio and Spotify could push you one way or the other if following is important to you. A story like this can easily spiral out of control, with all of the details to examine, so we’ll try to keep this short and to-the-point.
Following in Rdio
First, we’ll look at how you find people.
In Rdio, this means clicking the “Find and Invite People” button on the right side of the screen.
This leads to a screen offering Rdio’s recommended friends as well as the ability to pull everyone (or select people) from your connected Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, and/or Hotmail accounts.
Once you’re following people, you’ll see the ones who are online listed in a column on the right, as well as what they’re listening to.
You’ll also see all of your offline friends, and in either case, you can click through to see their top albums and recent activity — not just what they played, but what they added to their collection or synced to a portable device, and the people they recently started following or being followed by (as well as their overall followers and followees).
Perhaps best of all, the sum total of your social circle’s listening activity gets distilled into the Heavy Rotation section, so you can see what your friends and “friends” are mostly listening to.
Following in Spotify
Click the word Follow on the left side of Spotify, and you’ll see a page that looks like this, with your Facebook friends, people Spotify thinks you should follow, and the “featured” people you can follow:
In my case, the “recommended for you” section was pretty bad — not a single one that I would actually want — but a few taps of the Refresh button fixed that, because it generates new suggestions each time. You can also follow any band on Spotify by searching for their page and clicking the Follow button there.
So, where do you see what all of these people are listening to (and where do your followers see what you’re jamming)? If you can’t see it in your Spotify, go to the View menu and activate the Activity Feed, and you’ll see a cascading stream of music activity proliferate down the right side of the screen, showing the last 25 songs your “followees” have played, as well as any direct songs people have sent you actively (I have none here):
You can also access the profile page of anyone you follow, or who follows you, to see their very latest activity (but by no means all of it), all the playlists they’ve ever made, everyone they follow, and everyone who follows them.
Our comparison in following appears to be a “no contest,” although it’s more complicated , as you’ll see below. Rdio can pull more friends from more places at one time; lets you see not only what your online friends are listening to but what your offline friends have listened to; and includes that neat Heavy Rotation feature, which combines the whole shebang into one, easy-to-look-upon mosaic interface.
As of right now, Spotify’s “follow” is mostly about those 25 real-time songs in the right sidebar, there’s no way to find friends outside of Facebook or Spotify, and the Facebook feature only surfaces six pals at a time.
However, Rdio (no ads) requires you to subscribe if you want to listen on an ongoing basis, whereas Spotify (ads in the free version) lets users in most territories where it’s supported listen for free, forever. Not only does this mean that you’ll have to pay for Rdio if you like it, which you might not be willing to do, but also that more of your friends might use Spotify than Rdio because they don’t want to pay either. That right there could tilt the equation in its direction based purely on the network effect
Then, there’s the fact that Spotify hasn’t rolled out its Discover tab yet, which it showed off at that announcement in New York, and which could blow past Rdio’s Heavy Rotation feature by including not just what your friends are playing, but new releases based on your listening habits and who knows what else. When that happens, we have a feeling we’ll have to update this article.
(Image courtesy of Flickr/Leonard John Matthews)