The Disappointing Evolution Of SoundCloud

It seems to me that it was only a couple of years ago when I (and many others) thought that the audio sharing website and app SoundCloud was incredibly useful and perhaps even the future of audio distribution via the internet. After all SoundCloud had elegant mobile apps that made it easy to record and upload audio as well as offering elegant, easily embeddable audio players that were also mobile friendly. These features made it easier than ever to capture and share audio on the internet and across a variety of websites.

As a venture capital funded company I knew that SoundCloud would at some point be making changes designed to bring in more revenue so it was no surprise to me when they limited the amount of free upload time when they launched a paid Pro service in 2013. The much bigger suprise was in 2014 when SoundCloud decided to remove uploading capability from their mobile apps, including their iPad app. To this day you cannot upload to SoundCloud directly using their mobile apps. You must use a computer or seek out a 3rd party mobile app. That and the redesign which was intended to put the listening experience for music upfront lead to an interface that to this day I find just plain confusing.

While I’m sure it seemed to make sense for SoundCloud to put music listeners (or to at least attempt to) in the drivers seat I think that’s the tail wagging the dog. If there are great sounds on SoundCloud then all kinds of listeners will come. And if you give audio creators a platform to build a strong presence then the listeners will stay. But what SoundCloud did with their updates to their apps took away the simplicity that probably lead more that a few people and artists to capture those spontaneous moments (including live jam sessions, live concerts and important live events) that could possible delight many other people.

As things stand now SoundCloud does support uploading prerecorded audio files via non-mobile web browsers and some third party apps, including Apple’s GarageBand music editing software. While that is something I think it’s a far cry from the prior possibilities for SoundCloud. Others do too in part because of additional content related issues such as SoundCloud cutting deals with major labels and cracking down on piracy (which inevitably leads to legit fair use content being pulled).

More recently SoundCloud has attempted to boost their revenue by launching a paid audio podcasting service. Although I think that the service will do quite well, particularly with established media companies, the general direction of SoundCloud over the last couple of years makes me think that for the individual who hopes to build out a show that using SoundCloud will be a mistake. I say that because as a company with lots of venture capital funding (over $200 million) they are bound to make decisions that go against creators. Some examples could include auto-insertion of ads into audio as well as assertion of some form of ownership over the actual content.

Perhaps my fears are overblown. Perhaps not. For the moment I’m disappointed to have lost a place where I can easily share interesting audio clips at a moments notice. For those willing to put their faith in SoundCloud I say beware. It’s always very dangerous to host what you consider to be valuable content with a service whose aim goes beyond merely hosting content. Services like SoundCloud see themselves as media companies (as opposed to pure technology providers) and as such you have to be ready to move to another platform if (more likely when) they make a change that goes against your mission as a distributor of content on the internet.

Health, Home And Payments Take Center Stage On The Internet

In case you haven’t heard it’s 2015 and a new year means new themes (or re-emphasis on old old themes) for the internet industry. The three themes that I see taking shape in 2015 revolve around health, home and payments. I give my quick take on each of these themes below.

With regard to health, you may have heard that Apple is fixing to release their watch in early 2015. Sensors that gather health data are a key component of the Apple Watch. I assume that the data from the watch will be aggregated in Apple’s native Health app and in turn will be made available to third-party apps. Given the myriad of fitness trackers and watches already available Apple is something of a johnny come lately into this space. Everyone interested in this space is waiting for the Apple Watch and so I think that the race to track people’s health data really begins once Apple launches.
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Is An Audible Membership Worth The Money?

Recently a friend asked me a question about my Audible membership that gave me pause. the question was simple enough, “Is your Audible membership worth the money?” The truth is that I couldn’t honestly answer in the moment but I did take some time to parse out the issues that make the value of an Audible membership questionable and I’ll share those issues with you in this post.

The first thing to know is that Audible is owned by and that’s meaningful because Amazon uses Audible to power some of it’s offerings that are separate from any membership you may purchase at Audible. You can log in to Audible with your Amazon account information and utilize forms of payment at Audible that you have stored on Amazon. Even though all of your Amazon information is available to Audible you must log in to Audible from the Audible website itself in order to buy audiobooks.

Where things get a little more confusing comes once you’ve activated your Audible account. An Audible account allows you to purchase audiobooks and download them to Audible’s various apps that are available on Android, iOS and the Kindle Fire OS. An account is different from a membership which involves an ongoing monthly payment to Audible in exchange for Audible credits and discounts on the price of e-books from the regular non-member prices. I have a Gold membership that initially cost $7.49 per month and then escalated to $16 (with tax) per month. Each month Audible charges me the $16 and I get a credit added to my account that I can exchange  for an audiobook.

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Apple and U2 Remind Us How The Internet Enables Free

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last 24 hours you know that Tim Cook (with U2 by his side) announced yesterday that U2’s brand new album Songs Of Innocence has been given to every single iTunes user. Apple says that this means the album is available to 500 million people, more people than have ever had free access to a full album. While many people are focused on the music industry implications of this promotion I have thought about it in the context of the concept of free and how the internet enables free as a business strategy better than any other medium of distribution.

For those of you who haven’t delved too deeply into the free concept I highly recommend reading (or listening to) the book Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. Interestingly enough, the audio version of the book is…free! Strangely enough I think that Free (the book) is worth paying for if you have to because it may change the context in which you view how free stuff can be used to facilitate growth of a business. More importantly, you may understand more about how the internet has created a great opportunity to capitalize on the free concept.

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Broadcast Television Is The Internet’s Waterloo

Now that the Aereo ruling has come down from the Supreme Court it’s safe to say that the television is where internet innovation goes to die. For those of you who haven’t been following the case, Aereo (a company that rented customers a tiny antenna for $8 per month and then transmitted the TV signal to them over the internet) was sued by TV broadcast companies for violating laws related to re-transmitting television signals. While Aereo took steps to respect the broadcasters’ rights (such as one antenna per stream and locational restrictions when streaming content) the Supreme Court ruled that Aereo was in fact violating the law, a ruling that means Aereo can no longer legally operate.

It’s fitting that around the same time as the Aereo ruling Google announced their next run at innovating on the TV via a product called Android TV. This after Google tried unsuccessfully to innovate on the TV with Google TV. Whereas Google TV tried to integrate tightly with existing cable boxes Android TV focuses on Android apps and games as the core of the system. In short, it eschews the TV part, which is pretty ironic, but typical of where this category of software is headed.

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Streaming Music Is Everywhere

Today Amazon launched their Amazon Prime Music service as an extension to their $99 per year Prime offering that also includes two-day shipping, streaming videos and access to the Kindle Lending Library. With the launch of Prime Music Amazon wades into a crowded field of streaming music competitors including Pandora, Spotify, Apple’s iTunes Radio, Google Play Music and Beats Music (which is now owned by Apple). While the approach to and selection of streaming music differs between all of the above services there’s no denying that music lovers have a nice variety of options to choose from.

This rush into legal streaming of music is amazing considering that not so long ago (less than a decade) the prospect of ubiquitous streaming music seemed sketchy at best. At least for a while the music industry was hell bent on protecting sales of CDs by ignoring the growing demand for digital music. To give credit where credit is due I think that Apple cracked the armor of the music industry’s battle against digital with the launch and subsequent success of iTunes. (There’s also no doubt that Napster paved the way for iTunes.) While iTunes made digital music sales viable I believe that Pandora had the same effect on streaming music services. When Pandora first launched it was a computer based service but the service adapted with the technology of the times and made the move to mobile devices and just about all the smart TV platforms.

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Four Places To Store Your Smartphone Photos For Free

Recently I have noticed that more and more smartphone apps offer you the option to automatically back up the photos (and in some cases videos) that you take (or save) on your Android or iOS powered smartphone. Being a fan of backing things up I like the option to have the same file in multiple places…just in case. One added bonus is that fact that since the services behind the apps are competing to be your go to photo storage and sharing solution they each offer a generous amount of storage for free. There’s something of a space race going on with respect to offering free storage so I can see the limits to free storage continuing to increase as time goes on. Another added bonus is the fact that you can access and share your photos on via a computer as well.

While free and automatic are the two benefits of apps that back up your photos there is still a downside to using multiple apps. Backing up your photos takes bandwidth that you may or may not want to part with at any given time. Thankfully the apps have settings that allow you to: a) opt-in to whether or not you want to auto save photos; and if you choose to opt-in b) choose between uploads on wifi only or wifi and wireless data (4G, LTE, etc.). So you do have choices. The other potential downside involves the drawing down of your phone battery that takes place when files are uploaded. You can mitigate this problem by selecting to upload over wifi only. This works for me because typically when I’m near wifi I’m also near a power outlet.

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