May 23, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Collecting By Design: Music, Apps, and Everything Else Need ‘Triptychs’

collecting music in 2013 requires a triptych interface

Triptychs: the original three-paned interface

As part of our ongoing investigation into how people collect music in these overwhelming times, let’s talk about the three basic stages of this process — and how our current music ecosystem fails us, and how the right interface can solve the problem.

That interface is the triptych, and we’ll get to it soon.

Interface is not just cosmetic. To pull one example from the news, if the interfaces for real estate websites in Oklahoma had included a field for “does it have a basement?” more Oklahomans would likely have come through the recent tornadoes unscathed.

As the late Steve Jobs put it, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Note: This article concerns the collecting of music, but it could work just as well for deciding on which apps to install, which books to buy, which movies to watch, and so on.

What We Do

Our little study of how music fans on the Drowned In Sound music reviews and community site reinforced my own anecdotal evidence of how people collect music in 2013. It’s a three-stage process.

Stage 1: Discovery

This oft-bandied-about word in the digital music industry covers everything from finding out about a new band on Pandora to coming across an amazing song on This Is My Jam to seeing a musically-respected friend listening to something you’ve never heard of before in Facebook’s “who is listening to what” news ticker, to hearing something amazing in a restaurant and Shazam-ing it.

Basically, it’s finding out that a band or song exists. Plenty of services and situations help you do it. What happens next?

Stage 2: Audition

Once we know what we think we might be interested in, we music fans typically bookmark it, tag it, put it in a playlist, or even, in an all-too-depressingly-common scenario, write down the name of the band or album in a text file, or even an actual paper notebook.

This part of the process isn’t about collecting or discovering. It’s about putting music in that weird netherworld between “I’ve never heard this before” and “Okay, I love it, this is going to become a part of my life now.” Some of this music doesn’t survive until the next stage…

Stage 3: Collection

Once we have discovered and successfully auditioned something, it’s time to collect it (or not). This means different things to different people: buying a download, downloading an artist’s entire catalog via bit torrent, “liking” the song on YouTube, “love”-ing it on Last.fm following a scrobble, buying a CD or vinyl edition, adding it to your Spotify, Rdio or Rhapsody collection or a playlist, and/or adding that artist’s station to the internet radio service of your choice, among other things.

Where Does This Leave Us?

Discovery happens all over the internet and the “real” world. Auditioning happens in homespun, kluge-y ways, if it happens at all, because sometimes we forget to check out the good stuff we discover, which is part of the problem. Collection happens across a slew of different apps, stores, and services (Fred Wilson has a good riff on this).

We’re no stranger to inventing apps we want to see (see Untapped Apps, this wacky artist subscription idea, or this one about toddlers and Spotify), so let’s do it again, shall we?

Here’s what music fans need if we’re going to collect music in a way that makes sense in 2013 and beyond.

What We Need: A Triptych Interface

If you were lucky enough to have a liberal arts education, or otherwise studied art history, you probably remember something called a tryptic — a three-paned artwork designed to fold out from a center pane.

Likewise, a triptych interface for discovering, auditioning, and possibly collecting music would look like this:

1. Discovery Pane

Using APIs, this would hook into all of your discovery accounts, so you’d be able to check out any of your sources: internet radio, blogs, Hype Machine, This Is My Jam, Twitter Music, your friends’ Facebook listening activity, Spotify apps — you name it. Anywhere you might come across a new band or song worth checking out, you should be able to promote it to the Audition panel.

(This could also happen at an API level in the other direction, with an Audition button integrated into other apps. Hey, we never claimed this plan was realistic, just that it’s what needs to happen in order for music to make sense again.)

2. Audition Pane

This would be a big queue of stuff to check out, either using the track previews freely available from 7Digital, iTunes, Amazon, and other sources — or, for people who subscribe to Rdio, Spotify, or any other on-demand subscription that encourages third-party apps, full track playback via those services, or even YouTube, which has just about everything. Maybe it’s a mix of all of these sources, including bookmarked blogposts a la Instapaper — the point is, you’d be able to see it all in a big queue and work your way through.

Yay, no more need to maintain a ridiculous text file!

3. Collection Pane: Google Play Music All Access, Microsoft XBox Live, MOG, Rdio, Rhapsody, Sony Music Unlimited, Spotify, Muze, and any other subscription on-demand music subscription you can think of include collection mechanisms, offering an easy way to promote an artist, album, or track from “Audition” to “Part Of My Life.” If you don’t go for subscriptions, you could buy the music from any of the major stores, or the band directly. Depending on your preferences, this pane could also include options to buy hard copies of the music.

Okay, problem solved… if only in our minds. I was an English major — someone else, please build a triptych interface for music, which would finally reflect how we actually live in the world. Music fans will thank you, as they delete their text files and discard their Moleskines filled with the scrawled names of bands to check out.

(Image courtesy of Flickr/campra)