Each day brings another raft of apps for telling people what music you’re listening to, as start-ups fall over each other to become the Twitter or Facebook of music — never mind that people already use each of those things to share music, that subscription services like Rdio and Spotify already let you follow other users, that Last.fm has been doing this for over a decade, and that, well, there’s just a glut of music apps out there each vying for your attention, and that of your friends, and that pretty much all of them have a sharing feature.
What’s a social music start-up to do?
Evolver.fm put that question, in various forms, to Ustav Agarwal, founder of nwplyng, a music sharing app with gamification elements which has been likened to Foursquare crossed with Instagram plus Twitter #music for the social music app scene.
Despite the profusion of social music apps and services, Agarwal and nwplyng have managed to differentiate themselves, drawing attention from Apple, The Next Web, and others, although it’s hard to say how many people are actually using it.
The basic premise: to make sharing music with friends easy and fun, on Android and iOS, by including your location, the music, and even a picture of what inspired you to share in the first place. This multi-pronged approach is buoyed by gamification features that reward users with badges (or records, as they are sometimes called in the app), for fulfilling certain tasks. According to nwplyng, it is the “first music app with gamification.”
Indeed, part of the fun with nwplyng is finding out how to unlock the dedicated badges. In the future, the app could expand those rewards to include real-world discounts as prizes
In the following interview, edited for length and clarity, Agarwal discussed how gamification is meant to improve user engagement rather than drive downloads, wplyng’s sleek, forward-looking design, and how the company plans to differentiate itself from the social music crowd.
Tom Dillon, Evolver.fm: Why do you think “gamification” will get users to interact with this app more often?
Ustav Agarwal, nwplyng: Gamification is a powerful tool to drive user engagement — especially in early days of a product. It works across the board: for consumer apps like Foursquare and GetGlue; community-driven websites like Stack Overflow; and even large corporations like Microsoft and Deloitte, which often use it internally.
Music-sharing is principally driven by intrinsic motivation, but that element of surprise of unlocking a record, or the competitive spirit behind becoming a manager adds the extra zing to the app. Our early users have loved the fun element of nwplyng, and most requested feature is more records.
Evolver.fm: Do you think that if gamification isn’t eventually backed up by tangible, useful rewards, or maybe just a steady proliferation of new badges, that it will eventually lose its appeal?
Agarwal: Gamification is always a layer built on top of a fundamental idea. It is never sustainable by itself. Our long term vision is to connect the virtual records and manager titles to real-world incentives. These can be discounts on merchandise; exclusive or early access to artist content; free tickets; meet & greets; or just social media shoutouts.
Also, we have an army of new badges that we’ll be unleashing slowly to keep gamification fresh and relevant.
Evolver.fm: Does it bother you that some people refer to nwplyng as “Foursquare for music?”
Argawal: Not at all. I personally love Foursquare, and the product that Dennis, Naveen, and their entire team have built in the last four years. Any comparison to them is quite flattering for us. A lot of blogs have even referred to us as “Instagram for music,” mainly due to our card-like layout in the feed. We are just getting started, and such comparisons can only propel us to the big league.
Evolver.fm: How does nwplyng intend to gain a foothold in the market despite the existence of mainstays like Soundtracking and This Is My Jam? Will the gamification be enough to stand out and drive downloads and sharing amongst users?
Agarwal: Nwplyng at its very core is about music sharing, but our long term goals don’t stop there. We are confident that in the longer run, key differentiators will set us apart from Soundtracking and This Is My Jam. Also, for any music product to be successful, it needs to have support from the artist community. Our Board Member and Advisor Ted Cohen is helping us on that front.
Gamification can never be enough by itself to stand out, and be a key reason for users to flock to nwplyng. It helps more in terms of increasing user engagement and retention metrics.
Evolver.fm: I appreciate that nwplyng is a “human” way to share music, but that means it needs lots of users — and to surface them to everyone else. As the app stands now, I follow a few hundred people, yet, only a few dominate my feed.
Agarwal: These are early days, and as with most other social networks, the true essence of nwplyng will shine through when your actual friends are on the app. As for addressing the problem of few dominating your feed, expect to see a ‘Supertrust’ feature (similar to Rexly) in the near future. We’re also working on additional features like muting an artist, so you may block any Justin Bieber songs from sneaking into your feed.
Evolver.fm: Where did you take your design cues from? The very flat design is reminiscent of Google+ and possibly Apple iOS 7′s new redesign.
Agarwal: Google+, definitely… not so with iOS7, considering we launched before WWDC ’13. We got featured under iTunes’ New & Noteworthy in the U.S. and Canada, and I like to think it’s due to our flat, iOS7-ish design.
We wanted to bring a rich and elegant experience to music sharing, very similar to what Songza and Rdio do for music consumption. We’ve partly succeeded in the mission, but there’s still a long way to go. Other apps that inspired us are Mailbox, Path, and Foursquare.
Evolver.fm: How has partnering with third-parties like Gracenote helped? Has working with an API afforded you the time and effort needed to focus on the app itself, rather than its constituent parts?
Agarwal: It’s nearly impossible for an early-stage startup to build all the verticals from ground up that need to go into a music-sharing app like nwplyng. We are using iTunes for our music database, YouTube for music consumption, and Gracenote for audio fingerprinting, plus the usual: the Facebook, Twitter, and Foursqaure APIs.
More than time and effort, I don’t think over 80 percent of the music startups and products would exist today without such a favorable ecosystem of open APIs. Expect Spotify and Songkick integration in nwplyng in the near future.
Evolver.fm: How was nwplyng been playing out for you? What’s working or not working?
Agarwal: The initial reaction has been extremely positive. Users have compared the app to Twitter #music on numerous occasions, and they liked us way more than #music. They appreciate the simplicity, focus, and minimal approach that we bring to music sharing.
We’ve seen two types of usage pattern emerge from our early users: Some share often, and share 10-plus tracks every day. Others share rarely (once per 3-5 days), but they tend to personalize that share (with extra information) much more than the daily users.
From a design perspective, everything has fallen in place. We are a product built out of India, which isn’t really famous for developing beautiful-yet-usable, global consumer apps, so it’s been fun running against the tide and putting together a team that is hell-bent on disproving that notion.
Evolver.fm: What has user feedback taught you about nwplyng, now that it’s been released?
Agarwal: 1. Music consumption is important. 2. Connecting like-minded users must be made easier.
Evolver.fm: What features (if you’re willing to disclose) might we expect to see from nwplyng in the future? Where do you expect to expand? Are there any markets nwplyng has the ability to tap that it hasn’t yet?
Agarwal: Upcoming features include Spotify integration and a Chrome Extension in the next four to six weeks. As for expansion plans, we are in the market to raise money and open offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Our target market has always been the U.S., and over 80 percent of our downloads have come from there. Having said that, expect some activity in India, as that’s home and a market we understand well.