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A Social Media Case Study: Muxtape

About six months ago we predicted that a key part of social media and user engagement would be micro-conversions that combined products and commodities with demonstrable value-add services. By this definition, Amazon.com is the most successful social media website around, followed closely by Netflix and the iTunes interface. All of these applications (two are websites, but they are truly applications in terms of how they are used and perceived) have three key components:

  1. A simple, usable interface that improves on the bare consumption experience of the products in question.
  2. An ability to share the information
  3. A relatively open API that allows application stacking and linking

This isn’t news; many people are trying to make all three things work (anyone who has been frantically “bitten”, “howled at”, “roasted”, ad nauseum through facebook has experienced some person’s hopeful attempt to make a killer social media app), but like most awesome things the things that look easy are often the hardest.

Enter muxtape, perhaps the most amazing social media application we have seen since the introduction of Google Maps.

This site made its first appearance about two months ago and is now one of our office’s favorite toys. The title to the right says it all: “a simple way to create and share mp3 mixtapes.”

The interface is dead simple. The payoff is enormous enjoyment and endless discovery. Mixes–either ones you discover or ones you create–can be shared, the interface can be modified, and you can use the interface to buy songs.

Not surprisingly, the site is wildly popular. Hundreds of mixes are contributed daily, and users have started to develop support applications for sorting through Muxtape’s enormous database. Muxtape itself has responded with rapid development of popular improvements, such as the creation of a iPhone-friendly web interface. In short, a vibrant, engaged, and active social network has exploded around the application almost overnight.

To learn what people are saying just search for “Muxtape”in google (note that the search results are largely blog entries, a key indicator of the social media mojo of this toy). Here are some choice quotes that also get to the key point about the tool:

…sheer simplicity and the end-user experience of joyful random discovery…Clearly Muxtape is yet another bold, simple step for the distribution and consumption of media across the web — and a heck of a lot more fun. — digitaldesignblog.com

Digitaldesignblog went on to wonder how the model would be monetized. This was in early march. By late march the answer was simple: you could pay for mp3s that you liked through Amazon. Profy described the monetization concept in a nutshell:

This incredibly simple application has taken the Twitter crowd and the blogging universe by storm. It is everywhere you turn online. That’s not a bad thing, either. Between Grooveshark and Muxtape, I’ve discovered (and then bought) more music in the last four days than I have in three months. — profy.com

Two things are notable about Profy’s post. First, the tool’s reputation spread largely through word of mouth, and it is wildly popular among young music consumers. Second, and more critically, a user like Profy implies he is willing to PAY to get this music. Profy, like most web-savvy users, almost certainly gets most music from his friends, often without paying for it. But the appeal of the muxtape interface actually enticed him to acquire the songs through a micro-conversion, a value that he was willing to pay for.

The number crunching set can figure out what kind of profit potential exists for this kind of tool if the hundreds of millions of users worldwide choose to use it. Suffice to say it is a key example of what we often call “killer app” social media. It represents all the promise of social media that Facebook and Myspace hoped to achieve.

So why didn’t Facebook and MySpace do it first?

In short, they couldn’t. MySpace and Facebook are, at a core level, networking tools, not application platforms, and as such they can’t support the essential functionality needed to make a tool like muxtape work. This suggests some essential problems with the business model that both have, at least in terms of their approach to products and applications.

Networks have great value, yet we live in a world where a network can be created in days through Google’s blog crawlers or aggregators such as Digg. In such a world, the app is often more important than the network. If an app is sufficiently cool, the network that supports it can emerge fully formed almost overnight. So how do established networking platforms such as Facebook tap into this?

Anyway, enjoy Muxtape this fine Memorial Day holiday weekend, and tell us what you thought of it.

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10 Responses to "A Social Media Case Study: Muxtape"

  • Andrew Wise
    May 24, 2008 - 4:55 pm Reply

    No love for Grooveshark? We’d argue our UI is pretty easy to use, and with an API coming out soon, I’d definitely wager we can give Muxtape a run for its money :)

  • Eric Brown
    May 24, 2008 - 5:43 pm Reply

    I kind of disagree with your theory as to why Facebook and MySpace didn’t try this first (sharing mp3′s). My guess is it has nothing to do with the fact that they are networking at the core (they are still platforms, a tool would be an app). It, I’m sure, has to do with the legality of sharing mp3 files and large companies on the cutting edge of the evolution of the web right now aren’t willing to compromise themselves with something as petty as mp3 sharing (why share mp3′s and the legal headaches when you can just share where you are getting your music and what you actively listening to). Because if people are sharing it can probably be downloaded and is probably technically a copyright violation in some way.

  • Daniel O'Neil
    doneil
    May 24, 2008 - 7:52 pm Reply

    Hi Andrew,

    I haven’t played with Grooveshark, but it was another application that I saw during the research for this blog post. It doesn’t seem to enjoy the same buzz as Muxtape, but then again, here we are discussing it in a blog ;). I’ll check it out.

  • Daniel O'Neil
    doneil
    May 24, 2008 - 7:56 pm Reply

    Hi Eric,

    Good points both. Just to clarify what I was thinking about in my blog post:

    First, Muxtape is directly affiliated with Amazon’s mp3 download system as their monetization source, so I think they’ve resolved the legal issues. Also, note that MySpace distributes considerable amounts of free music in a similar format to Muxtape, in that you can listen to a song, but to download it you need to pay money.

    Second, you are right that both MySpace and Facebook are platforms; in fact I’d say they are both terrific platforms. However, just because something is a platform does not make it universally easy to develop an app. There are aspects of Muxtape, specifically its flash design, high bandwidth requirements, and open sharing architecture, that make it impossible to deploy on either Facebook or MySpace. But hey, maybe someone will come up with an innovation that is friendly to both.

  • Stoff
    May 24, 2008 - 10:15 pm Reply

    Doneil,

    “Muxtape is directly affiliated with Amazon’s mp3 download system as their monetization source”

    This is completely wrong. Any yahoo can put a link to amazon mp3 store. It doesn’t mean they’ve cleared any rights.

    “There are aspects of Muxtape, specifically its flash design, high bandwidth requirements, and open sharing architecture, that make it impossible to deploy on either Facebook or MySpace. But hey, maybe someone will come up with a link to the platform.”

    Muxtape isn’t flash. It just uses a flash player to play mp3s. In fact the interface is entirely html/css.

    Open sharing architecture? Huh? It is a playlist with a subdomain.

    High bandwidth requirements? S3 handles all of this.

    Muxtape is a wonderfully simple tool to share playlists but lets not beat around the bush, it is SIMPLE. The app can be made by a junior rails programmer in a week. It’s the inventiveness of the design that is the cool part.

  • Social Media Mojo
    May 25, 2008 - 12:11 am Reply

    “So why didn’t Facebook and MySpace do it first?”
    I believe your rhetorical question is blunted by the fact that muxtape is not the first site to do this – mixwit, seeqpod, projectplaylist and other sites let you build mixtapes and share them online.
    But the real site to study is imeem.com, they launched in 2004 and muxtape copies a small part of what imeem is. But where imeem is feature rich, muxtape is mininmalist, largely because imeem has had 4 years to develop its site.
    Indeed it recently became the most popular streaming site on the internet, knocking yahoo music off the top spot.
    ( http://blog.wired.com/music/2008/05/imeem-unseats-y.html )

    The real question should be, why muxtape has captured the imagination of the blogosphere, while none of the others have.

    If you look at the number of blog posts discussing muxtape vs imeem you’ll see a similar number, but imeem has over 100 times as many users.

    On the quesiton of legality, the general consensus is that muxtape has not resolved any legal issues. What will most likely happen is that if they get popular enough they will get sued and forced to make changes to the site – pay for licenses, filter out unlicensed tunes etc etc.

    imeem has already dealt with the legal issues in a similar manner.

  • Daniel O'Neil
    doneil
    May 27, 2008 - 12:02 pm Reply

    Hi Social Media Mojo,

    Great comments and perspective. I’d never heard of imeem.com but I look forward to playing with it.

    Now, assuming this has been done before, it makes me even more curious about why an app wasn’t developed for Facebook or MySpace that accomplished a similar goal. If it is as simple as Stoff suggests, why wasn’t it done already by one of those two platforms? Any thoughts?

  • SocialMediaMojo
    May 28, 2008 - 11:11 pm Reply

    Well myspace has been hostile to music playlist applications

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/02/25/imeem-blocked-from-myspace/

    Apparently there was a time when you couldn’t even mention the phrase ‘imeem.com’ on myspace without it being censored. Of course we all know that this hostility was because myspace was planning on launching myspace music and didn’t want to help a competitor lock up the market.

    There are official Facebook and Myspace applications from all those sites, as well as generic web embed capability which between them is hugely popular.
    Taking imeem and projectplaylist together they’ve got 120million uniques – thats more people than use facebook.
    http://www.quantcast.com/p-e059sb-sW00wM
    http://www.quantcast.com/p-03Kgz0RV6Ztmc

    imeem has also launched its on API so in theory, building a clone of muxtape could be done on top of imeem’s api with almost no work.

  • Mux it up. « Because it’s our prerogative
    July 24, 2008 - 11:07 am Reply

    [...] know who compiled the mix you’re enjoying (or hating). Sure, its probably all just an Amazon plot to get us to buy their MP3’s, but Amazon is much closer to my heart than, say, iTunes, so I’ll let it [...]

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