EQuala Launches On iOS And Android To Bring More Context And Control To Social Music Discovery

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Over the last decade, the rise of mobile technology and the maturation of the Web as distribution and consumption channels has had a devastating effect on the music industry, among others. Yet, on the bright side, more recently these technologies have produced a litany of new ways to discover great music, empowering both fans and musicians in the process. While it seems that each day brings a new music app or product — a net positive for music fans — there’s also a lot of noise.

Many of these apps and music services are exploring the social side of music discovery, allowing users to find, download and listen to their friends’ favorite music fare. Spotify, Rdio, MOG and others have capitalized on the launch of Facebook Music, for example, which introduced millions of Facebook users to the experience of viewing their friend’s listening activity (and sharing their own) in realtime.

While music discovery via your friends and social graph has a lot of appeal conceptually, initially, it just added to the noise problem rather than channeling it. Social music experiences were exciting more as a novelty, seeming to provide more value as a feature or a layer, than as the core around which a successful music service could be built. Luckily, EQuala wants change that by giving users more control over the social music discovery experience — and the noise.

ListnPlay’s free Android and iOS app looks to go that extra distance toward creating a social radio station on the Web that you’ll actually want to use by giving users with their own social “equalizer,” and allowing them to create (and more importantly) curate and customize their social music streams. Launching today in the U.S. with over 23 million tunes in its catalog (and growing), EQuala allows music fans wants to help evolve the Facebook-integrated music experience, letting users create personalized streams from songs their friends are listening to and from those with similar music tastes.

After logging in through Facebook, EQuala developers comprehensive taste profiles based on the music you’ve listened to (and shared) through third-party services like Spotify, YouTube and Songza, among others. To decide whether or not your friends’ playlist is worthy of your standards, users can click on any friend in their search results to see what they’ve been listening to on these services and populate their social radio stream accordingly, listening to and sharing these friend-approved songs as they go.

While the experience itself is different from other familiar services, that’s still fairly standard to the social music discovery experience. The real key (and its ace in the hole) is what EQuala does after that. Using its “Friends EQualizer,” users can then customize and control their music stream, managing whose music plays more frequently, for example. The app allows you to see each selected friend on a sliding scale (or equalizer), adjusting those controls based on how much influence you want a particular friend to have in your stream.

Once customized, users can then click play to enjoy or at any time, delete friends from the list if and when they decide to go through a Creed phase. The app also enables users to communicate with one another through “love,” “shout,” and “re-shout” buttons, which send push notifications to alert you via your phone and allow you to quickly share tracks on social media.

Not unlike Pandora (and Echo Nest), EQuala’s tech gives each users his or her own “Music DNA,” which is essentially a breakdown of the genres and types of music you listen to the most — along with data integrated from your “shouts” and “loves,” etc. The more you listen, EQuala personalizes your music DNA and is able to more accurately match users with those in their network who share similar tastes. The app also shows a percentage match between one user and another to give users a sense of the degree of similarity.

The other selling point is that EQuala allows you to consume your friends’ music selections even if they’re not using the platform. As long as music is being shared (through Facebook), EQuala will let you tailor your social radio stream.

Based on early testing, EQuala stands up pretty well, giving much more social context to your daily music consumption. It also does a pretty good job of removing friction that stands in the way of getting music playing instantly, offers a sizable catalog at launch (which is impressive in and of itself) and by allowing you to add, delete and curate your friend-informed playlist and adjust influence, wins some value points.

If you’re open to the idea of social music discovery but haven’t found the right experience yet, EQuala may be what you’re looking for, giving you control over your social stream and finally putting the power to curate and customize social back into your hands.

For more, find EQuala at home here and on the App Store here.



Fresh Stats On Social Networks: Pinterest Catches Up With Twitter, Digital Divide Shrinks

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I find statistics absolutely delicious. Pew research released fresh stats on what slice of Americans are addicted to all of the various social networks as of December 2012. There are a few big business and cultural implications.

Pinterest has practically caught up with Twitter, with 15 percent and 16 percent of adult U.S. Internet users on each network, respectively. Pinterest, which launched in 2009, has experienced explosive growth, especially with a white, female and affluent user base. Women are five times more likely to use Pinterest (5 percent vs. 25 percent) and almost twice as likely to be white and college-educated. It’s become a magnet for hip urbanites searching for the hottest wedding gowns and apartment decor. Twitter, however, gets a lot more attention, since neither presidential campaigns nor Middle Eastern activists are leveraging style catalogs to rearrange their countries’ political leadership.

There is no longer a minority gap in social media use. The surveyed groups (whites, Hispanics, and African-Americans) hover around 68 percent of total adults. Almost twice as many African-Americans (26 percent) use Twitter as whites (14 percent). The disproportionate African-American use of Twitter has fascinated culture commentators and scholars. One study found that African-Americans in celebrity news strongly predicted their Twitter use. Former web editor of the The Onion, Baratunde Thurston, hypothesized that “there’s a long oral dissing tradition in black communities,” explaining, “Twitter works very naturally with that call-and-response tradition — it’s so short, so economical, and you get an instant signal validating the quality of your contribution.”

Ironically, not using social media may be an elite thing. Those with a college degree are slightly less likely than those with some college to use social networks (69 percent vs. 65 percent). While the difference isn’t statistically significant, at least one study verified the trend among educated users to ditch Facebook for moral, political or cultural reasons. “Many Facebook refusers actually revel in their difference from the mainstream, seeing it as a mark of distinction, superior taste, and identification with an elite social stratum,” said New York University Professor Laura Portwood-Stacer.

Hipsters find it too mainstream and others find their privacy policies troublesome. In other words, not using social media is likely a product of more education, not a lack of access.

The full totals for each social network. Sixty-seven percent of online adults say they use Facebook, 15 percent of online adults say they use Pinterest, 13 percent of online adults say they use Instagram, 6 percent of online adults say they use Tumblr, 16 percent of online adults say they use Twitter (and 20 percent of online adults say they use LinkedIn as of August 2012). Below is a full table summarizing the results of the survey:




All That Cash: On Apple, Twitter And The New Bit Factories

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Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Amit Runchal, who blogs at Interactioned.

The speculation of what Apple is going to do with all their cash has long been a favorite topic in the tech and financial press. But the thinking along those lines is often akin to the cognitive dissonance one experiences when seeing a billionaire driving a Civic. What’s the point of having all that money if you’re not going to spend it?

That thinking is what we saw when Apple recently announced their cash plans. Two common reactions went something like this:

Saddened by Apple’s plan for a huge dividend. Apparently, they have nothing truly capital-intensive in the product pipeline.

— Max Levchin (@mlevchin) March 19, 2012

@mlevchin But they haven’t been investing it! They’ve been hoarding it. They clearly have no idea what to do with it.

— Henry Blodget (@hblodget) March 19, 2012

The first argument is easy enough to pick apart, as others have explained this past week. In short, even after issuing dividends and repurchasing shares, Apple’s cash reserves will likely grow this year. They added more than $35 billion in cash and equivalents last year alone. There’s nothing “capital-intensive” that they can’t do, short of opening an Apple Store on the moon. That Apple television set that’s rumored to be in the pipeline? That’s nothing. Foxconn’s factories, for example, have a gross book value of $14 billion as of the end of 2010. Apple makes that much in a few months, and only needs a fraction of that to actually get the production lines going on a television.

The idea floating around before Apple’s Monday announcement that they would be buying a company like Foxconn or building factories of their own seems to make sense, since Apple is one of the more vertically integrated consumer electronics companies in the world. And they are, after all, notorious for both control and quality. But they’ve managed to lead the industry on the latter without owning a significant portion of their supply chain. And as for the former: they have the factory owners right where they want them — by the short and curlies. Hence the razor-thin margins Apple deigns to give them. Here’s New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg in This American Life’s recent retraction episode:

Apple’s the gold standard. As a result, Apple has this enormous negotiating power, and they use it, I am told by our sources, very aggressively to come in and basically say, “Show us your entire cost structure, every single part of what you pay and what you… and piece of your, your, your internal economics, and we are going to give you a razor-thin profit margin that you’re allowed to keep.

In other words: Why buy the cow?

Apple also, more importantly, finances the factories by loaning them cash and buying significant amounts of components in advance. This “Bank of Apple” strategy further establishes control over the factories, locks out competition and seems to be why competitors can’t seem to match Apple’s cost structure for products like the iPad. And let’s not forget that if Apple did own the factories, they’d also have to deal with the additional scrutiny of being responsible for factory employees, which no Western company in their right mind wants to do right now.

This brings us those who think Apple has run out of ideas on what to do with their cash. The fevered result of this are the acquisition talks — hence the recently oft-mentioned and largely nonsensical suggestion that Apple should buy a company like Twitter. But Apple’s approach to acquisitions has always been extremely conservative, especially compared to their brethren. Since 2010 Apple’s bought a grand total of nine companies. In that same period Google has bought 52.

People like Henry Blodget may think that Apple’s been hoarding money Scrooge McDuck-style because Apple doesn’t know what to do with it. But if you take a look at Google’s list of acquisitions, you can make the argument that Google doesn’t know what it’s doing either.

Apple’s acquisitions — with admitted 20/20 hindsight — paint a clear picture of what each of those acquisitions were for. LaLa: iCloud. Anobit: Flash memory components. Siri: duh. In short: tactical acquisitions.

I think there’s a strong argument to be made that you can’t say the same for Google. Perhaps the grand master Google plan hasn’t become apparent to me yet. But given the inability of Google to make real money off anything besides advertising and their continued struggles in social seem to show a company that’s trying to buy a strategy for the future instead of the tools to make their strategic vision happen.

That last point, I think, engenders a lot of the thought behind the conversations we see about Apple and their cash. Five years ago, a frequently discussed acquisition target was YouTube. Everybody wants to watch videos on their iPod! Apple makes iPods! Ergo YouTube. Today, it’s Twitter. Social is big, so Apple should buy Twitter. Everyone’s tweeting from their phones! Apple makes phones!

Ergo, foolishness.

Apple’s strategic vision for their future has always been clear: they want to sell highly profitable consumer electronic devices. Lots of them.

That’s it.

So how does buying Twitter — or any “social” company — help them sell more devices right now? The notion that Twitter as an acquisition target has to be “kept from the hands Google, Facebook and Microsoft” doesn’t scan. Never mind that Twitter has given no indication of being up for sale — even if they were, how does a Google acquisition of Twitter slow down iPhone sales? In this world, does Google block Twitter and third-party apps from Apple products and a significant number of Twitter users? Does that lead to massive amounts of users fleeing iPhones for Android devices?

The answer to all these questions is clear. Twitter’s success at this point is largely dependent on remaining as platform-agnostic as possible, acquired or not. A company still trying to find a serious revenue stream that is highly dependent on mobile can’t afford to cut themselves off from a huge portion of the mobile market. See also: any social network trying to monetize mobile, including Facebook. Apple’s position in mobile means they doesn’t need to spend a penny to give a strongly-worded “suggestion” on how high these companies should be jumping.

That’s why acquisition targets like Twitter don’t make sense for Apple right now. Again: why buy the cow? Apple doesn’t need Twitter or any company like it. Twitter needs Apple. Twitter needs the massive iOS user base and now the system-level integration. Apple is making bit factories like Twitter as dependent on Apple as actual factories like Foxconn are.

So what’s that cash for? Besides the absolute freedom and control that $100 billion gives Apple — a company that probably still remembers the time they had to approach Microsoft, hat in hand — it’s important to remember that Apple isn’t close to achieving the success they want. Tim Cook said it himself:

In our most recently recorded quarter we sold 37 million iPhones. That’s a very large number but it represented less than 9 percent of handsets sold during the quarter.

Apple still has a long way to go with all their products in markets that have been much less hospitable to the company. China, where iPhones are still not available on the biggest carriers, is a perfect example. When you consider the new territories Apple still wants to conquer — and especially in territories where Apple’s current carrier-subsidized selling approach for phones isn’t the norm — Apple’s cash stockpile doesn’t reflect a company that doesn’t know what to do with their money.

It reflects a company that packed an enormous steamer trunk for a long and treacherous journey.

A trunk full of weapons.



SendHub Crosses Messaging Platforms To Get Real Stuff Done — And Starts To Take Off

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There are plenty of companies trying to create new forms of group texting or social networking. There are far fewer who are trying to offer a messaging service that crosses the web, email and mobile devices in a seamless way. Facebook is perhaps the most obvious example, but its utility is social — you might not want to use it for work, or for organizing your kids’ little league game, or for communicating with the parents of a class you’re teaching.

Enter SendHub, a startup in this year’s Y Combinator class, that has already started to get some serious traction by focusing on professionals. The company offers a clean interface for creating and organizing groups of people, and communicating back and forth with them over their desired format.

The result is that it has been growing fast. When Sarah Perez covered SendHub in February, the company was sending 30,000 messages a month. Now, it’s sending around that amount per week. Check out the graph below. The numbers are still small, but they’re in the right direction. YC partner Paul Graham says that its growth looks like AirBnB’s in the early days.

What types of users are causing this growth? A few big partnerships are helping, including one with Teach For America and another with the Florida Department of Education, cofounders Garrett Johnson and Ash Rust tell me. But some people are using it for social purposes as well, including a group of cross-fit trainers who coordinate times to work out. And there’s a variety of folks who veer into Facebook Messaging territory by communicating with each other to keep social activities like beer crawls together.

How does the app work? You’ll need to go to the website, sign up with Facebook or Google or a new user account, then enter the information of the people you want to share with. You can do it manually, or import CSV docs from Gmail, Outlook and other email clients. You’ll also get a new local phone number (the company uses Twilio’s voice messaging platform on the backend).

Then you can start writing messages and texting them out to people. Other users can also join using a keyword you choose. So a local business could invite existing customers via uploading its CSV file of them and asking new users to text in to sign up (which is how most people are joining). You get a unique new phone number, and you’re asked to either add contacts manually or via a bulk importer.

Users who receive the texts are also sent a link to go back and rate the message or block the sender. So if a local business starts spamming too many deals, they’ll be able to get feedback quickly.

But why did the growth take off? The founder joined YC with a product in hand, but they tell me they got a bunch of design help that has made the site easier to use for people. Other cofounders with specific technical skills have also helped them with scaling their services for new waves of users. And, they also got encouraged to focus on every single user who called in. Right now, they’re sleeping shifts so they can respond to any issues 24 hours a day.

Where to next? “Email and social will be our primary focus in the short term, Rust says, but we expect voice will be an important frontier for us to develop.”

“We did a basic integration and we’re seeing over 3,000 calls a month. IM is attractive, but it’s not requested nearly as much.”

These types of messaging apps are inherently viral, but sometimes have trouble making money as a result of too much success (see: GroupMe, Beluga). SendHub provides a set of premium features instead. If you want to go above 1,000 messages a month, you’ll need to pay at least $10 a month. If you want more than three groups, larger API requests, the ability to bring your own number, phone support, or a branded profile page,  you’ll need to buy more expensive options.

The team still has a couple things to work out. In testing it out, the bulk importer had some trouble uploading my contact list. And the interface has some oddities, like an error message telling you that you need to type in a ten digit telephone number, which appears as you’re typing your number in. But all in all it feels right, and the engagement numbers seem to indicate that many more users will, too.


Glancee: A Nice-Guy Ambient Social Location App For Normal People

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Some of us can’t be bothered to check in, but still want to find interesting people nearby. The challenge for developers is how to do this in a way that is both useful and not creepy. Glancee, available for both iOS and Android, gets closer to solving these problems than most I’ve seen.

The app lets you sign in with Facebook, then it shows you people within 100 yards, or one, two, or ten miles who have things in common. In some ways this sounds similar another app I recently covered, Highlight — but there are key differences, that will make each app appeal to different sets of users.

Glancee works extra hard to match interests while minimizing the stalker feel. The main screen shows the Facebook profile photos of nearby people, but does not show a map of where they are, and it only summarizes the number of friends and interests in common. If you click through to the other person’s profile page, then you’ll see a list of Facebook friends in common as well as their interests versus yours.

The app compares your Likes in common with Wikipedia listings to identify similar categorical interests. Examples I’ve seen: If the other person likes The New Yorker, a line of text might say “You like The Econoimst.” If they like The Sopranos, it says “You like Mad men.” Sometimes these comparisons end up better than others, but overall the feature does succeed in showing you things loosely in common that might not have been obvious if you only compare Likes.

The app also goes very easy on notifications. During the past week I’ve been using Glancee, it’s sent maybe ten of them to me. I have to go to the app to see who’s nearby.

If you want to talk to anyone, a chat feature lets you message or voice call with them. A “News” tab on the home page shows you people with an especially large number of commonalities, as well as people who have visited your profile, or the activity of people you’ve communicated with. Also, the app goes very easy on your battery life.

In terms of future business models, Glancee’s ideas are along the lines of other location apps: targeting nearby ads, deals, etc. based on the users behavior.

Before I share my personal opinion about Glancee, I should point out that there are many other location apps that somehow use ambient location to try to create quality new connections. But very few are directly comparable to each other. Glancee cofounder Andrea Vaccari noted on my Highlight post that there’s also JoinMingle, Gatsby, Ban.jo, Shoutflow, Blendr, and Unsocial. And of course, there are many more location apps that have been around for years, like Loopt and Foursquare, not to mention Google Latitude or Facebook Places.

Briefly, here are the other things that some of these non-checkin apps are trying to do. JoinMingle is explicitly for professional networking, Gatsby provides a very opaque means of connecting in that it pairs you with specific people for one-hour-limited conversations, Ban.jo aggregates every other location service that it can, Blendr is dating-oriented, and Unsocial is designed around meeting people at conferences and other events. Shoutflow is the most similar that I’ve seen to Highlight and Glancee, but it’s not available in the US iTunes App Store so I haven’t personally used it. So, none of these apps appear to be that directly competitive to Glancee and Highlight (there’s lots more to say about each of these other apps, but they’re not what this article is about, sorry).

Glancee and Highlight are the ones that I’ve used that have provided social experiences that I have found to be meaningful. But, because I live in San Francisco and I’m a tech reporter, Highlight has been much more visceral for me. Being able to see exactly where other users are in relation to me makes a big difference considering that I’m in a city of hundreds of thousands of people sandwiched in a few square miles. So does the fact that it only shows people in a few blocks radius. And so does the fact that I get pinged by it whenever anyone is near. These are crucial subtle differences that totally reshape the user experience. Specifically, Highlight has been connecting me with long-lost friends and interesting new people in the tech world, who I’ve ended up having impromptu meetings with, and Glancee hasn’t.

But that’s just my tech-bubble perspective. Glancee is doing a lot of things right, and considering that a large portion of the US population does not live in dense urban areas, this could be the app for them. If you’re in a suburb or a spread-out small city or a rural area, the miles-radius range is more appropriate, and a neighborhood map is less relevant. Also, if you don’t like aggressive notifications and you like a long battery life, you’re going to like it more than Highlight.

But there’s always this caveat: Ambient location is not just something to build a company around, it is a feature that Facebook or Foursquare or any other big company doing location could also do very easily. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them test ambient out if any of these startups get serious traction. So readers, may each of you find the ambient location app that’s right for you.