Turntable.fm: Music and DJing meets gamification
Here's how it works: Five friends take turns being a DJ, each playing one song. Other people in the room vote on whether the song is "lame" or "awesome." Too many lame votes and the song is skipped. Awesome votes give the DJ points they can use to level up their avatar. Spectators can see how popular the current song is by watching a meter. But the avatars in the room also give a hint -- the ones with their heads moving side to side like the song.
The entry-level avatars look like cute cartoon kids. The higher up they go, the less human the appearance. A top-level avatar, for example, looks like a giant mouse.
Turntable hooks into users' Facebook accounts, using the Facebook Connect feature. That way, users can easily recruit friends via Facebook invites to open a "room" and start spinning tunes.
Often, it's difficult to get friends to be on the same schedule, so the service is designed to let loners drift through and still have fun. Some rooms have themes. The "Coders" room, for example, had hundreds of people listening in last Saturday night.
Many of them were actively using the public chat that sits on the right rail of the screen. Some were talking about the music, but often not. Some listeners in the Coders room, for example, were exchanging Web programming tips.
The service started this spring and has caught on like wildfire. But one potential issue can douse the flames -- copyrights. As Peter Kafka of All Things D pointed out, Turntable does not have licenses from the major record labels for the rights to play songs on-demand. Instead, the company is relying on an exception in the law under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which lets webcasters offer noninteractive playlists.
Under DMCA, users can suggest songs, but the service has to randomize what it plays back. That's why Pandora plays songs that are similar to the ones its users "like."
Legal disclaimers aside, Turntable.fm is getting raves for combining music with social networking and game elements in a fresh, easy and fun way.
"It's the rare service which is truly lovable and addicting," said Ian Rogers, chief executive of Topspin, a Santa Monica technology company that helps bands market and sell products online. "This is exactly what the music business needs right now."
Rogers suggested that labels and rightsholding organizations such as SoundExchange give Turntable a 12-month "pass" to see where the business goes instead of insisting that the start-up obtain licenses to continue.
They "should give them a 12-month low-cost license to build their business without having to worry about building revenues," Rogers said. "Once they have a critical mass of users, there are multiple ways to make money here. But they should have runway to get the product right. Let it grow organically!"
-- Alex Pham