Turntable.fm – can they solve synchronous?

Giff Constable music, social games, technology

When I first discovered Turntable.fm last month, I didn’t get a damn bit of work done for 3 hours. After that evening I banned myself from DJing. I’ve since gone back in to the Dubstep room as a fun, serendipitous “radio”, but concluded that 8tracks is a simpler solution for that use case. That said, quite a few people are having a blast with it right now and it is buzzing in New York’s startup scene.

But I scratch my head about the business. It isn’t just the well-known difficulties of the music industry. It is no secret that music is an awesome place to acquire users but a tricky place to make money. But let’s put that aside. Licensing might hurt margins, but there are game money-makers that Turntable can put to work, such as virtual goods/currency, if they can scale.

No, primary question comes down to the fact that it is synchronous, i.e. you experience it live, in real-time with other people. Some call Twitter real-time but really Twitter is an asynchronous, near-real-time experience.

I spent 4 years in the virtual worlds space watching how synchronous experiences can generate incredible engagement, but struggle to scale. Exhibit A: Second Life. Exhibit B: the growth of Zynga (now at 215M monthly actives) versus OMGPOP, which started focusing on synchronous games.

You can grow a synchronous experience if you hit that magic formula and continue to engage users with new content and challenges, like World of Warcraft, but those kinds of extensions for Turntable feel difficult.

Right now, it feels too heavy for radio and too light in game play to attract WoW-size audience and user payments.

Obviously they are just getting going, and I am glad these guys have rebooted Stickybits into something so exciting. But if I could give them two pieces of advice, it would be 1. go get Nabeel Hyatt, who battled with music games at Conduit Labs, as an advisor (if he isn’t already); 2. start thinking about how to create their magic in an asynchronous way.

In the meantime, if you see me in the Dubstep room, chances are I’m heads down in TextMate. 🙂