How appropriate: The day that Rdio goes live, Kazaa comes back from the dead.Rdio is the new music streaming service from Janus Friis with Niklas Zennström, the entrepreneurs who brought the Kazaa file-sharing software to market as the music industry was suing the original Napster out of existence. Kazaa eventually ran into the same legal buzzsaw, ultimately settling the lawsuit brought by the major labels and studios for more than $115 million. (Friis and Zennström had already exited by then.) The current owners of the Kazaa brand -- Brilliant Digital Entertainment -- announced the launch of the beta version of the new, non-file-sharing Kazaa service Tuesday, about the same time that Rdio made its offering available to the public.
I haven't had much time to explore Kazaa, but my first impression is that the Web-based service is miles behind the competition. It's as if the company locked its technologists in a room four years ago and they've just now emerged, having missed the growth of social networks, the explosion in smartphone usage and the death of music DRM. The service costs $15 a month -- 50% more than Rdio, MOG or Rhapsody -- and doesn't have a mobile app. Instead, it offers unlimited streams and tethered downloads (that is, songs wrapped in electronic locks to deter copying) that can be played only by Kazaa's proprietary plugin for Windows Media Player.
It also has only rudimentary social-media features, most notably the ability to play other users' playlists and to watch a continuously updated list of what other users are playing. And although there are a handful of "editor's picks," there's no preference engine to recommend tracks based on a user's tastes -- a major handicap when it comes to discovering music. Essentially, users are left to search for tracks or artists they already know, or take unguided tours through the library's eight genres.
There are some nice touches, such as the ability to find songs by searching through a database of lyrics. I also liked the ability to find user playlists containing particular songs or artists, which could be a useful form of crowd curation. On the whole, though, the service struck me as being very much a work in progress, with a much smaller library of tracks (1.8 million vs. 8 million on MOG).
The press release from Kazaa put the best possible spin on the offering, saying "Kazaa’s beta offering of our cloud based download music application and everything that comes with it signals our commitment to continue developing new product offerings and services at full speed." Judging by the beta, Kazaa needs to go even faster.
-- Jon Healey