Online services tearing down walls, sharing content

Fri Jul 25, 2008 7:32pm EDT

A sample Facebook profile is seen in an undated handout image. REUTERS/Facebook/Handout

A sample Facebook profile is seen in an undated handout image.

Credit: Reuters/Facebook/Handout

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DENVER (Billboard) - It might indeed be true that everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten.

Take the first lesson: Share everything.

It's right there at the top of the list, but only now is the digital entertainment industry taking notice. Once littered with walled gardens and content silos, the digital landscape is beginning to sprout a customer-friendly ecosystem of shared content and traffic.

Fueling this newfound spirit of interoperability are technologies that enable the sharing of content between sites. They include the Open Social initiative and Facebook's open development platform, both driving the "widgetization" of the Web.

It's also a reflection of the surging "mash-up" movement online. A mash-up is a Web application that combines content and features from multiple sources for a specific purpose that none of the contributors do individually. The most commonly used applications are those with easily embeddable content or open APIs (programming information available to all), such as Google Maps, Twitter and Last.fm.

This mash-up practice has long been used by such niche music applications as WikiFM -- which merges a band's Wikipedia page with its music streamed from Last.fm -- or Rhapsody+Pitchfork, which, as its name implies, adds full-song streaming from Rhapsody to Pitchfork's music reviews. Most are created by tech-savvy fans seeking their dream application.

But in the past year, mainstream services have taken the bait. In 2007, Music-based social network MOG added YouTube videos as part of its MOG TV service. Yahoo's FoxyTunes originated as a mash-up that combined artist bios, lyrics and news from Yahoo; related artist recommendations from Last.fm; and links to buy tracks from Amazon.

The list goes on. TiVo users can now stream YouTube videos and Rhapsody's music. MTV is using its partnership with Rhapsody to let fans stream music heard on its TV shows. AT&T Mobility subscribers can choose between Napster Mobile or indie haven eMusic as their mobile music provider.

RETAILERS REVAMP

Digital music retailers are getting with the program, too. eMusic will soon incorporate relevant content from other sites into its online music subscription service. For instance, a pending revamp of its artist pages will pull in music videos from YouTube, artist entries from Wikipedia and fan or other photos from Flickr.

And in the spirit of sharing, eMusic is reciprocating by unshackling much of its exclusive editorial content and making it available in widget form. That includes features like the eMusic Dozen, as well as Q&A profiles and Spotlight articles. Its new album-page features enable users to post their favorite albums to Facebook, Twitter and more than a dozen other social networking sites and services.

"The days of building some big, monolithic, walled-garden digital music store that people will come to and you never let them out of are gone," eMusic CEO David Pakman says. "We (haven't been) making it easy for fans to embed their favorite eMusic finds, so this is really a recognition of behavior that already exists."

Even Apple, that bastion of rugged individualism, is starting to play better with others. Hand in hand with the recent iPhone launch was the introduction of iTunes' App Store, made possible by Apple's decision to give developers access to the iPhone platform (at a price). The result is a host of programs that take advantage of one-click iTunes sales, as well as the integration of such iPhone partners as YouTube.

Contributing to this momentum in no small way is the emergence of several clear winners standing out amid the many options for online content. YouTube is the de facto Internet video service, responsible for upward of 1 billion video streams per day. Wikipedia has emerged as an important source for information on musicians, with popular artist pages averaging around 5,000 hits per day -- dwarfing the failed artist-wiki efforts of such services as Napster's Narchive. And for photos, there's Flickr.

Rather than competing with these readily available services, it's proving easier and faster to just incorporate them.

"Tear down the walls," Pakman says. "Let's bring stuff into the site that people are already using, and let people take our stuff out."

It's early days, to be sure. But if successful, these forays could pave the way to an interoperable future where, rather than trying to guess how fans want to enjoy music online, services will simply let them create their own customized experiences using their favorite tools.

Reuters/Billboard

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