>Music by a stream with clouds


Consumers have an ample choice of online music services right now. The market is fragmented; each provides a slightly different set of offerings and outlays. Napster is the most established. A decade ago, it was innovative, subversive and popular. It then went dark for a couple years (while presumably it went through legal dialogue) and emerged as a competitive and commercial music rental/purchase service. It had cool features such as an embedded monthly music “magazine”, Windows XP Media Centre integration and a virtual monopoly for around five years in offering unlimited music rental for around $10/month. It should have been a second coming but an apparent inability to read the market caused it to slide from public consciousness; the magazine stopped after a few months, marketing was outmoded, DRM implementation was unwieldy, Media Centre integration disappeared for both Vista and Windows 7, barely anything was free and mobile, web-client and social networking integration were too little too late.
This opened up the market as smaller players gained footholds. Some concentrated on “radio” e.g. Pandora and Slacker. Several went for the rental market e.g. Spotify and Rhapsody. Others stayed with the download model e.g. iTunes and Amazon MP3. Across all of these (and others) there are varying combinations of payment/access methods/DRM/integration etc.
It is clear that streaming and downloading will both remain as different media access methods. Apple hardware owners will always use iTunes (and latterly Lala [US only at moment]) and the remainder of the download music service market looks to be being mopped up well by Amazon MP3.
The first service that can make a sustainable business out of free (and DRM-free) global audio streaming access in a browser (not just US like Pandora and Slacker or Europe like Spotify [plus Spotify does not currently provide web access]) with service continuity and payment options that include – Media Centre integration, mobile and offline support will have a relatively clear-run for the next five years or so. Aside from essential playlist functionality, adverts (or the lack of them), HD/loss-less quality, social networking features, upload capabilities and music discovery/search features are not mainstream deciding factors. Online music is mostly commoditized in terms of need. Consumers want a service that works, is accessible anywhere and is (at an entry level) free. Of available services, Spotify appears to have the best service continuity – being the fastest to start tracks (faster even than Windows Media Player) and never dropping out.
Of those available – the closest to this ideal is Grooveshark. Although to ensure its future, it still needs to improve service continuity, produce a Media Centre client and ideally – deliver the mobile experience without requiring an app (and a bit faster). Also, it is worth noting that the perceived legality of Grooveshark is topical; dissuading some from investing time in it. It simply seems too good to be true that right now; anyone – anywhere, on any PC or console (including PS3) browser can play pretty much anything (without audio adverts) – all day, without even creating an account. Further, if you do elect to create an account (requiring the barest minimum of details), the site will help you send links to people to share tracks or embed a play button in your blog (all without them creating an account). You can even post any streaming track to Facebook. Why isn’t everyone using it? It’s great now. It will be fantastic if they can make their business model work long-term.
Given Google’s general cloud/consumer centric approach and the fact that they have recently released a video streaming solution, it appears incongruous that they do not possess an audio streaming solution. Yes – they came in late last year with search augmentation where samples are streamed and then directed to purchases from partners but Google does not own these organisations which means they will not be well integrated with the rest of the range (tags, social, semantic web etc.). They also suffer from comparison with the ideal above.
People can go to a friend’s house/cyber-cafe, use their computer to watch a film through YouTube (US only at moment) then access all of their pictures and documents through Picasa and Google Docs respectively; but they cannot play their music (using a Google product) while they are doing it? Shouldn’t Google buy Grooveshark and mix it up with everyone else? 

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