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Pandora Takes Its Media Social
By: Brett Moneta
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Most Internet startups begin like a 30,000-dollar millionaire. If you’ve never heard the term, we used to use it in Dallas to describe someone who owns a BMW and nice apartment but can barely get by. You try to look impressive in the hopes that people (like Microsoft) buy into it.

Pandora (otherwise known as the Music Genome Project) came out more like a small mom-and-pop business. Tim Westergren and Jon Kraft pulled the idea together with tape and glue. It was a labor of love originally designed as something to be licensed to big companies like AOL and Yahoo. Then, they decided to go straight to consumers. And it was a game changer.

It’s still a labor of love, but there have been a lot of bumps along the road. Most of those bumps have come from a music recording industry that’s still trying to understand the major technological shift that happened years ago when it wasn’t looking. It better figure things out soon, or it will put its Internet revenue stream out of business. Not a smart move.

But that’s another story. The only reason I mention it is that Pandora has come perilously close to going out of business, multiple times, because of the aforementioned uneducated industry. It must be a labor of love because most people would have given up in disgust by now. But Pandora fights on.

Now, it’s taking a new twist by joining forces with the social media trend. It may seem like a small change, but it could signal a whole new direction for the Music Genome Project. 

Thus far, Pandora has been based on algorithms. You choose a song or artist that you like and the database comes back at you with suggestions. For example, if you like Talking Heads, you’ll probably like David Bowie. Most of the time, the results are spot on, or at least interesting.

Rebuilt for HTML5, the new design will allow users to see what their friends are listening to. That includes comments, likes, and discussions on artists and their music. It’s also supposedly faster and easier, based on the new usability and architecture.

But let’s take a look at this new possibility. Now, instead of getting your music served by Pandora’s expert analysis (it’s all done by real people), you can listen to what your friends suggest. At first glance, it may seem like it’s all still coming from Pandora. The reality is that Pandora allows for a lot of user personalization, eliminating or adding songs that you like.

So now we add friends and family to the mix. Basically, you’re back to borrowing each other’s CDs, in a way. You could almost say we’ve come full circle, if you happened to be familiar with something called vinyl. It’s a powerful move and has the potential to change the way people look at music once again.

When social media first came out, no one had any idea how much it would change the way people socialize. It will be interesting to see whether or not Pandora’s bold move will be a musical game-changer. To be honest, I’m not sure the industry can handle another one.

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About the Author
Brett Moneta has been playing in the digital world since 1996. He’s worked for companies like AOL, Avenue A | Razorfish, and Omnicom, developing content strategy and consulting on usability for companies in IT, consumer electronics, retail, healthcare, energy, and more. You can follow his tweets and read his blog too. Find him online here.
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