Spotify began rolling out two new features on Monday morning that put context around music, because it’s one thing to decide to hear a song, another to notice that one of your friends listened to it recently, another to receive a message from a friend saying “You need to hear this,” and yet another to encounter a song in a themed playlist — even if all of those cases involve the exact same song.
This is all about context.
In the case of songs, that means letting Spotify users attach certain sentiments — Spotify called them “Messages” — to songs and sharing them with specific Spotify friends. People already do precisely this on Facebook, This Is My Jam, nwplyng, Rithm, and elsewhere, and you could already send people songs on Spotify itself. The difference is that now, sharing a song can lead to a conversation, with more back-and-forth. Each time you share a song with a friend or friends, it turns into a sort of chatroom about the music being shared (pictured below: friend list on the left, conversation on the right):
To send someone a message, you simply find their page in Spotify and click “Send Message” below their name. Active conversations will apparently appear at spotify.com/messages, or within the desktop client, although the feature does not appear to be active yet.
The Message feature strikes us as pretty neat, in part because this phenomenon of using a specific song to share a specific emotion with a person or people seems to be heating up. However, most of the other press outlets pre-briefed about this announcement seem to be focusing on the new Browse feature, which surfaces some of the best playlists out of the over a billion created on Spotify so far.
Browse enables you to find playlists made by strangers, or assembled into charts — Spotify-created playlists like “Top 100 Indie Tracks on Spotify” or user-created playlists like “Songs For You, Not Your Parents.” This new section will also include playlists for specific activities, like going to the gym or throwing a party, similarly to playlists from Spotify App Platform launch partner Tunigo (Spotify acquired Tunigo earlier this year).
Spotify Browse will initially be available in Spotify’s iOS and Android apps, and it organizes the playlists first by genre:
And then by playlist inside that genre:
Spotify’s approach with these playlists looks rather one-size-fits-all. It would be nice if the service were to try to figure out which of those billions of playlists might be a good fit for you, personally, because not all of us need to hear “Songs For You, Not Your Parents.” For starters, some of us are parents ourselves.
Spotify appears to be fine with sending the same playlists to everyone — which makes sense in the case of charts (i.e. “Top 100 Indie Songs on Spotify”), but wouldn’t it be worth trying to find me the best jogging playlist for me, instead of for everyone? If you want personalized recommendations, you’re supposed to use Spotify Discover — and if you want recommendations from people you follow, you’re supposed to watch their activity in the play ticker, seek out their pages, or use the Messages feature; the one-size-fits-all nature of Browse is intentionally differentiated from those.
“We don’t rely on one source for recommendations in real life, and music discovery can’t be one-dimensional,” said Spotify chief product officer Gustav Söderström. “Our three-dimensional approach now combines the human touch with strong social features and unique technology from over five years of experience. We know music and we’re the first to marry all three aspects in one service, making it easier than ever for users to navigate the treasure trove of content within Spotify.”
Spotify co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek has said for years that he believes in the playlist as the most effective unit of music, which is probably why you still can’t collect an album in Spotify without turning it into a playlist (a phenomenon that surely helped Spotify break the billion playlist barrier).
Certainly, upstarts like Songza have shown that people want playlists for specific activities, in part because sometimes, people want to click as few buttons as possible in order to make some appropriate music start playing. Whether the people who admire the simplicity of Songza will feel the same about Spotify Browse, one of many features inside an increasingly feature-filled interface, remains to be seen.