Dear Spotify: the internet is bigger than you

Spotify is awesome. I’m still going to use it to some degree. But I have a major issue with it that has driven me back to Grooveshark, my previous music streaming service. I don’t download or buy any music, so I’m 100% streaming. Before Spotify that meant a mix of Pandora (especially on mobile when I run), Grooveshark, YouTube, and occasionally MySpace (still a great spot to listen to bands’ stuff). So when Spotify came out I was psyched.

And there is a lot to like. It’s sleek, it has a wide selection (with some annoying gaps), and it’s clean. In particular, there aren’t a million versions of the same song, by and large. And if you select a song, it will play. (On Grooveshark you’ll occasionally get errors.) One downside is that it has ads. If that seems small, it mostly is. But it means, for instance, that you can’t just throw on a Spotify list for a party without your guests wondering why the heck there are random musical interludes followed by pitches to buy the music.

All that would be easy enough to put up with. Except…

Sharing music on Spotify sucks. Sharing with other Spotify users is great; my roommate and I co-created a playlist one night which was a lot of fun. But there is no easy way to share music with non-Spotify users, which is almost everyone. I’m sure Spotify would respond that as it gets more users, this will matter less. But that’s not a good enough answer.

You see, Spotify, the internet is bigger than you. Spotify wants to be the “killer app” for music. It wants to be your browser. This doesn’t feel all that weird for music, since many people are used to reliance on iTunes. But when you think of it in the context of the rest of your internet activity – and specifically your social activity – it’s easy to see that it’s a bad model.

The browser is the web’s “killer app”; everything you do on the web flows through your browser. But there’s a huge difference. Your browser is mostly detached from the content you view online. If you use Firefox that should be particularly clear. Mozilla isn’t responsible for all the web pages available online. Google, creator of Chrome, is responsible for organizing a lot of the web, but even it is mostly not in the content business. Basically, the people who make the content of the web aren’t the same ones who make your browser.

Spotify wants to do both for you with respect to music. They want to be the one with the legal rights to stream all the world’s music AND they want to provide the killer app. They don’t really care about sharing outside of Spotify because they don’t want people to use music outside of Spotify.

That’s bad news.

The internet is bigger and broader than any service, company, or app. That’s why the web is so powerful. It’s not “brought to you” by anyone really. It’s a set of standards that anyone can use to create web pages, build browsers, etc. No one controls each stage of the process by which you log onto the internet and access a web page.

Spotify wants more control. Sure, they aren’t your internet provider. But other than that, with respect to music at least, they want to be everything else. That’s not good. We shouldn’t give any one company such control. (That includes Apple, who has had too singular a presence in much of digital music up until now.) For that reason, we should resist Spotify.

Oh, and also it’s a huge pain in the ass. The thing I love about Grooveshark is that I can link to any song, or to a playlist I’ve made. I can share music with friends and family via email, social media, gchat, etc. As long as they have a web browser, the Grooveshark page will load and they can listen. They don’t need to provide information, download anything, or start using the service themselves. That’s the beauty of the web: everything is a link. Everything can be shared.

Spotify either doesn’t get that or doesn’t care. I’ll still inevitably use it to some extent since it’s great software and a great service. But I won’t be abandoning Grooveshark any time soon.