While Facebook is in the throws of developing a service that combines social networking with music, the still-beta Turntable.fm is already putting that idea into practice. Internet entrepreneurs Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein, makers of Stickybits, (Relax—it’s just a shopping app for your phone.) created Turntable.fm, and their service provides users with an accessible interface not only to listen to music with others but to take turns playing DJ, vote on song choices and chat while doing it.
When you enter Turntable.fm, you have the option of visiting a variety of different listening rooms. In these rooms, you’ll find up to five DJs taking turns playing songs. The rooms vary from typical genre rooms like “80s All Day!” to more specialized rooms like “Coding Soundtrack” (rumored to be open on hundreds of browsers across SiIicon Valley) and “SUMMERJAMS ONLY!!!” (this author’s personal favorite room), which plays a variety of great porch-sitting jams from Sublime to the Sugarhill Gang.
But Turntable.fm isn’t just a spectator sport: You can also create your own rooms and try your hand at being a DJ. Spin at your own risk though—Turntable.fm allows listeners to rate the song you’re playing as “Awesome” or “Lame” with nothing in between (For the more self-conscious DJs, there was a Google Chrome add-on called Turntable.fm Extended that allowed you to figure out who Awesomed or Lamed you, but it has since been disabled on Turntable.fm’s end). If enough people Lame your song, you get skipped—even if you are Diplo. The producer, who helped launch M.I.A. and runs the Mad Decent label, hit Turntable.fm to premiere some new Major Lazer songs in a room called VIPfest, but a negative response sent him fleeing from the room because of all of the “h8” he felt.
But if you can tough it out, you’ll likely find a few souls who dig your jams and throw you some Awesomes. Every Awesome you get earns you a DJ point, which you can use to gain street cred as well as customize your avatar. To go along with this thumbs-up/thumbs-down rating, Turntable.fm lets room participants offer feedback in a chat window. The chat interface on the right-hand corner of the screen can get pretty brutal if the crowd doesn’t like you. But the chat box isn’t just for tirades, as some have turned it into a networking resource.
At its core, Turntable.fm is a chatroom that plays music, which may be why the idea is so genius. These active (and addictive) social and gaming elements make Turntable.fm different from Pandora, Rhapsody or Apple’s ill-fated Ping. Turntable.fm is not just open in the background of your computer playing music; it requires interaction. Users must have at least one friend present in a room before they can start playing music, so wandering off to spin “Careless Whisper” by yourself isn’t an option.
Additionally, Turntable has an incredible library of music. While other services have a limited catalog due to licensing contracts with record labels, Turntable has a contract with MediaNet, a digital content service with a huge music library and no label restrictions. Moreover, if MediaNet doesn’t have the song you want to play, you can upload MP3s straight from your computer. That’s a major plus of Turntable.fm and sets it apart from Spotify and Pandora, where you’re limited by the service’s music library. Turntable.fm’s music library is constantly growing and evolving with its user base.
Turntable.fm is still in beta, but it has gained more than 140,000 users since going semi-public (you have to have Facebook friends already on Turntable.fm to score an invite) earlier this month and has already proven itself as a viable alternative to Pandora after only one month. It also lacks the annoying ads that are increasingly characterizing all the so-called “free” internet radio out there. But without ads, who knows how or if the site will turn a profit and be able to keep running at no cost to the user. Maybe ads in exchange for the free service wouldn’t be so terrible, as Pandora has shown. If there’s one thing to learn from your predecessors though, Turntable.fm, don’t let all of this attention get you too IPO happy any time soon.