All of the big music services have pretty much the same catalog, high profile holdouts like Taylor Swift aside. At this point, most of the innovation happening in streaming music is around trying to surface songs from those massive catalogs that users haven't heard before. Apple Music has its curated editors playlists, Spotify has Discover Weekly, Google Play Music has its Songza-powered radio stations, and now Rhapsody (aka Napster) is ready to unveil its own solution. It's called the Listener Network, and it leverages all the info the company has about what music its users play to find new songs and albums you might enjoy.
That data is used to find you new music to listen to in a variety of ways, one of the most important of which is called Music Match. This looks at everything you've added to your library as well as everything you've favorited and compares that listening history with other users. So now, when you click on a user, you'll see a "match" percentage telling you how much your musical tastes overlap. Someone with a 15 percent match you probably won't be interested in following, but someone with a 75 percent match seems a lot more likely to surface music you'll care about. (I confirmed that someone with a 95 percent match probably won't have a lot new for you to discover; Rhapsody will use its algorithms to surface people who have high match ratings that still have some room for finding new songs.)
Naturally, you won't have to go hunting for users to follow. For starters, Rhapsody will offer a playlist specifically containing music from people with high Music Match scores, and all of the songs on it will be things you haven't yet played. When you click on songs in the playlist, you'll be able to drill down to the user that Rhapsody's algorithms pulled the song from. From there, you can start following that new user if you want to see more of their musical tendencies in your feeds. You can also get a similar playlist but only based on music trending from people you already follow, if you want to play it safe. When you're visiting the profile of any user that you have a good music match with, you can also listen to a "matched playlist" of songs based on your similar tastes.
These trending playlists feel like an answer to Spotify's aforementioned Discover Weekly feature, which surfaces a playlist of new songs you might be interested in every Monday. But while it's not entirely clear how Spotify pulls together that list for you, Rhapsody wants you to be able to see every listener using the service and how their tastes influence what you're hearing. And to one-up Spotify, those playlists are updated every single day, so there's always a fresh stream of songs coming in both from users you directly follow as well as users who you might not know with tastes that intersect.
Rhapsody gave me a preview build of the app for iOS, but unfortunately I haven't used the service enough for it to surface any meaningful recommendations or playlists. But, it seems like a smart and unique feature that most other music services in the market don't have. Spotify makes it easy to see exactly what everyone you follow is listening to at a given moment, but trying to get a holistic overview of what's trending amongst those friends is more of a challenge -- and it's also not that easy to find users who have similar tastes.
The notion of surfacing what's trending amongst your entire listener network actually feels a lot like a feature the dearly departed Rdio used to offer -- it was dead simple to start a station based on what was trending in your network, and Rdio was also very good at suggesting albums based on the listening habits of your friends. As someone who misses Rdio quite a bit, I could definitely see this feature being useful. Of course, for starters, you'll need to both build up a listening history and find some friends; I have no listening history on Rhapsody right now, and none of my Facebook friends use the service. But for the 3.5 million current Rhapsody subscribers out there, this has the potential to be a solid set of new discovery features. I plan to spend some time with Rhapsody to build up a listening history over the next few weeks and see just how good it can get at helping me on the never-ending quest for new tunes.
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