Summary:

A year after it launched as a skunkworks project inside music data company The Echo Nest, trendy social music site This Is My Jam is “looking at options” for going independent — as well as getting ready to launch some fun new site exploration features.

Matt Ogle and Hannah Donovan of This Is My Jam

Buzzy song-sharing site This Is My Jam could be going independent from its parent company as it prepares to take the next step in its evolution.

The site, which lets people share their favorite music track-by-track, has proven an underground hit online less than a year after launching publicly: more than 100,000 users have signed up, sharing over 900,000 songs. But the London-based service was started as a pet project inside music data company The Echo Nest — and it’s now exploring what happens next.

“Up until this point we’ve been incubated by The EchoNest, but now we’re looking at options for spinning out in our own right,” creator Matthew Ogle told me.

It’s been an unusual course for This Is My Jam so far — in fact, Ogle says that the site “wasn’t supposed to happen for a whole bunch of reasons”. Chief among them? The fact he’d decided to move out of the online music industry after leaving his role as head of web product at Last.fm back in 2010.

This Is My Jam logo“Despite swearing off online music forever, in less than a year I’d been convinced by the awesome folks at The Echo Nest that we could do some cool stuff together,” he says. “They didn’t hire me to make Jam, they hired me in a dual role to be their man in Europe — evangelizing at hackdays, talking to developers — and also to be a kind of internal product skunkworks, prototyping stuff based on new APIs and using that to spark new direction that The Echo Nest could be going with their data.”

But when it turned out that Jam, an idea he’d been throwing for a while, had more going for it than the other skunkworks proposals, Ogle’s focus switched and the parent company funded development. Jam now has four full-time staff, as Ogle brought on former Last.fm refugee Hannah Donovan, and engineers Ralph Cowling and Andreas Jansson.

The failure of frictionless

The site is one of my favorite services to have launched in the last year or two, and it’s one I’ve found myself going back to more often than I expected. Posting your favorite tracks and browsing the tracks of others turns the site into a curious mixture of status update and radio station. It’s a great tool for telling people about the music you like — lots of people use it to showcase their mood, for example. But it’s also a treasure trove of music, allowing you to dig around in the tastes of others. Because it’s almost exclusively focused on what people are listening to now, it has a real-time quality to it… yet the conscious decision that goes into making your choice means that the end result is more personal than Pandora but way more curated than Spotify’s frictionless sharing.

This Is My Jam screenshotIn fact, says Ogle, the failure of frictionless sharing to provide anything more than a fleeting dip into a raging river of data left an interesting gap for Jam to fill.

“I couldn’t quite believe that in 2011 that social song sharing wasn’t just a solved problem,” he explains. “One thing that we talked about at last.fm a lot — you know that amazing moment in real life when someone grabs you and say ‘you have to hear this song, check it out’ and they put the headphones in your ears or put a record on. Anyone who cares about music even a little bit has had that moment.”

“We’re in this golden age of social media, we’re always connected to all of our friends at all times, and there’s big data around music — Spotify and Facebook have basically taken scrobbling to the mainstream — [so] there should be more ways than ever for me to go ‘I want to hear some new tunes, what are my friends listening to?’ and get good stuff… not just whatever they happened to accidentally listen to on Spotify. Conversely there was no way for me to share a song that people would still see five hours later. Everything was being forced in real-time.”

Curation/exploration

Donovan, who heads up the site’s design, points out that isn’t just vanity that drives — the performative aspect of social media where you are showing off your taste to others — but a sort of shared curation where users collaborate to uncover interesting tracks, point to classics or dig up forgotten material.

“This was actually really cool when we discovered this happening, because there’s no other music service on the internet where it’s OK to have old stuff mixed in too,” she says. “Either everything is organized around the music data thing — singles live inside albums that live inside artists — or it’s promotional in some respect, in which case they’re always pushing the latest album or the latest single that just came out.”

“On top of that I think there’s something around our culture today that’s driven by newness, and how things on the internet always have to be the latest and the newest. I heard somebody say when you’re curating something, you don’t necessarily want just the latest or the newest, you want to dig up old things that were really great and put them back in context alongside newer things, or mixed in with other stuff. That’s the job of the curator and that’s what makes it really enjoyable for the user or the observer.”

“We thought about curation a lot when we were starting Jam. The overall effect is that our users became the curators of this music, and we wound up with this lovely space where you could get Prince and Fleetwood Mac right next to the latest trendy pop band.”

echonestThat is, in turn, helping the product develop further forward. Coming very soon are some new additions to the site’s Explore pages, which will offer up some new ways for users to browse the site. Explore categories will include “Breaking” (songs that have been jammed for the first time recently, and subsequently shared), “Rare” (songs that have been jammed only once), and another one that lists just the first jams of newly-registered users. Although it could act as a way for users to introduce themselves to the service, the first jams could also become a sort of Greatest Hits package.

“A lot of people sign up and start with their favorite song of all time,” says Ogle.

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