Tinysong: injecting music into the conversation [UPDATED]
Grooveshark, a former song-swapping service that has evolved into an on-demand jukebox, unveiled a nifty new site (and API) today called Tinysong. It's yet another example of technology racing ahead while the content industry's lawyers try to sort out the legalities of it all.
Tinysong is like Seeqpod combined with Tinyurl or Bit.ly -- it marries an online music streaming engine with a link creator. You enter the name of a song or artist. It returns a list of possible matches. You pick one, and it generates a link to a stream of that tune on the Grooveshark site. An even better version is offered by Ping.fm, which has integrated Tinysong into its tool for broadcasting content to all your social networks. Let's say you want to tell all your Facebook friends and Twitter followers something snappy about the looming GM bankruptcy filing (and don't we all?), punctuated with a link to the ultimate song about doomed motorists. Ping.fm lets you do that in a single step. OK, so maybe I'm the only one who wants to do that. But you get my point -- Tinysong makes it that much easier to add a soundtrack to our microblogged lives.
Like Seeqpod, though, Grooveshark operates in an unlicensed gray area. Seeqpod, which filed for bankruptcy protection in March, let users stream music from various nooks and crannies online -- with or without the copyright owners' permission, and without paying royalties. The bankruptcy filing halted the lawsuits by Warner Music Group and EMI before they could be resolved, and there's some debate on whether Seeqpod would have been held liable; after all, Seeqpod says it didn't host any of the song files, it merely helped people find them. Grooveshark may be in a more precarious legal situation because it appears to host the song files that users stream. That, at least, was its approach when it launched in 2007 as a way to stream music for free from other users' collections, or buy them for 99 cents a track. Company executives have maintained throughout that the site was designed to be win-win, with copyright holders sharing in the revenue. They have yet to strike licensing deals with the major record companies, however, and they've dropped the paid downloads in favor of advertising-supported streams. (Company executives didn't respond to my requests for comment.)
Grooveshark is slick, has a vast library of music and incorporates an impressive recommendation engine and playlist generator. And Tinysong is a great application. These technologies deliver fully on the promise of the Internet as a "heavenly jukebox." If the past is any guide, the labels will tolerate Grooveshark and its Tinysong app until it builds some momentum online, and then their lawyers will descend on the company. It would be better for all concerned if the labels licensed the back end for such services, then let innovators do their thing. Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen until someone finds a way to generate a meaningful amount of advertising revenue from on-demand music streams. Looking at Grooveshark's site, I don't find an effective advertising model -- you can listen to hours of music without bothering to look at the ads. I do, however, find a great online music experience, albeit one that may not be long for this world.
Update, 8:55 p.m.: Grooveshark CEO Sam Tarantino e-mailed to say, "We've secured a major deal and more are coming but I'm not allowed to say who yet." So my pessimism about Grooveshark's ability to avoid a lethal label lawsuit may be overstated. Stay tuned.
-- Jon Healey