April 14, 2014 at 10:33 am

Fred Wilson: Turntable.fm Was ‘Too Social’

Turntable.fm, whose launch was originally reported here, was an amazing, first-of-its-kind web app that nobody uses anymore, because it flamed out and people moved on. The problem with this group listening app, which let a handful of people choose music for everyone in the room, with everyone represented as cute little avatars in an actual room was that few users kept DJing away and racking up points, but the rest of us soon gave up — after just six to eight weeks, according to a new Business Insider interview with Fred Wilson, whose firm had invested in the company.

Turntable.fm was web-only during its quick rise, although the eventual iOS version was nice. People listened to it on a computer, which means they were doing something else, instead of the real-time up/down voting or DJing that made Turntable.fm so fun. In less than two months, most of us went back to something that required less intervention.

Hardware might have helped, or maybe it will next time. If we’d had “Lame” and “Awesome” buttons (later switched to thumbs-up and thumbs-down) sitting on our desks, it would have been easier to participate, because we wouldn’t have had to keep tabbing back over to the web app (which page was it on again?). It was also annoying when the site turned off user uploads to save $20K per month and avoid copyright situations.

But really, it appears to have worn out its welcome by wearing out its users. And even if lots of people wanted to use Turntable.fm in the background without DJing or voting, each room could only hold 200 people anyway, until the limits were raised after most of us had moved on. But at that point, why not just use something else?

“Well, I think we made a bunch of mistakes there… people churned out of it very quickly,” recalled Wilson. “People would come in, fall in love with it and then six to eight weeks later, they were done with it. We knew that pretty early on, but it was hidden by the fact that the number of people who were coming on board every day was higher than the number of people who were churning out. It looked good, but we actually knew that there was something about the service.

“I think the problem was that it was too demanding. You had to be in it. It was too social of an experience. What I think we could have done, if we had moved quickly, is that we could have created a passive listening experience. The reality is, if you’re into electronic music or Indie Rock music or Hip Hop or whatever, there were Turntable rooms that were creating as good of a passive listening experience as anything you could get on the Internet, with these super-engaged small groups of users who were creating the streams. If there was a way to just put a Turntable room on and listen to it in the background, I think we could have built an interesting business. But we didn’t move to do that. We just stuck with it too long and it fizzled out.”

It sure was fun while it lasted though. Nobody can deny that starting in the summer of 2011, huge swathes of the internet fell in love with the idea of playing music for each other, if not the reality of putting in the effort, indicating that a new sweet spot for letting people listen together online might yet be found.

  • Anonymous

    totally different problem for me. I liked the social aspect … but they should have helped the super users curate special rooms that were “always on” (or algorithmize it somehow) The lame button was supposed to help people curate … But you got flamed for using it . so there was no curation, no effective long tail, no way to dive into an intelligent room on your schedule. The times I *did* luck out, and find people who were in the same mood for music, and had the intelligence to DJ it, … were magical.

  • Nikke Osterback

    Unless I missed it…this post completely disregards the fact that Turntable.fm closed outside of the US quite quickly after launch due to licensing issues (I guess). So anyone of us outside of the US couldn’t use it anymore. We loved it while it lasted.

    I think there is demand for a more social DJing experience a la Turntable.fm. To me the business model was broken not the platform.