My generation is a generation that has never really learned what it really was to socialize without the Internet. I remember I was first introduced to Instant Messaging when I was 10, and, with it, discovered new possibilities of creating contact. This quickly evolved. Phones became more and more sophisticated and were designed for other means than just calling. Forums and chatrooms became the norm for web-users who wanted to connect with people they had never met in real life. But social activity online really reached its full potential with the arrival of social networks like Myspace, which connected everyone together, people who knew each other in real life, and people who did not, yet shared common interests, like music.
Today’s Internet is somehow different from those prehistoric times when we could add whoever we met online to our “friends list”. With the arrival of Facebook and the fact it became essential to –most- people’s lives, the question of defining what a real social network is, and should be, appears. For a music lover who also happens to spend most of its time on the Internet like myself, the question of access to music and the possibilities offered by the digitalization of music are essential to me. I want access to my songs, and I want to discover new artists and connect with them easily.
I met with Tony Hymes, Community Manager for Whyd, a music social network which looks like it could be one of the pioneers for a new model of social network based on very specific interests. Tony believes in the power of the Internet to bring people together, and knows it is not only about who we meet online but rather what we decide to share.
“Social network Facebook came about because people wanted to keep contact with their friends online. It’s all about changing media and music never really got that point, because of the way it’s controlled, (the rights and everything). It has always been controlled by the producers and people have been kind of stuck in different places. We’re seeing that now with the new streaming services, Spotify, Deezer, Beats. You know Beats, for example in the US, is exclusively AT&T so now you’re actually segmenting people to consume music. So what we’re trying to do is apply that kind of social theory and the success that social connections have, which is much more powerful than the music itself. And I’m thinking that much more social networks are going to pop out as a result. The fact that Facebook has just become everything makes it incapable of fulfilling people’s needs at the same time: If I love airplanes the same way that I love music, and I’m sharing pictures of airplanes on Facebook, people will be like “Tony why the fuck are you sharing pictures of a 777?”, you know. And I would say “dude, the Dreamliner is so awesome bro” and nobody is going to understand but if there was an aviation lover social network where I could share pictures of my model airplanes I build on the weekends, you know, I’m going to find a lot more value out of that. So I think what’s going to happen is that Facebook will become a kind of base layer and people will slowly start to accept it for what it is, like Google which has already taken this role of base layer. And after that there will be a ton of opportunities. I think Whyd is at the early stage of people understanding that. When they want to make contact with the connections they have, they go to Facebook. When they want to meet new people, when they want to be more social and have more outword, finding out what’s out there, then they’re going to turn to more interest-based networks where it’ll be the easiest way possible to meet people saying, “oh you love music? I love music, great! Let’s be friends and go to a concert”. Which is the ultimate goal of Whyd.”
What exactly is Whyd?
When I first discovered this website, I was intrigued. Early access was only available through invites, and the only real overview we had of the way it was functioning was through the introductory video starring Tony on the homepage. The concept was still so promising that I had to ask for the invite. On Whyd, you can create any playlist you want by adding music to your stream via Youtube, Soundcloud or Vimeo for example. This really was a game changer, since you can add all those sounds directly from your Youtube page for example via a small widget that does not even require a download, like a memo. You can also follow other people and discover their own playlists, just like you would follow someone on Pinterest to discover nice pictures.
“Yeah you know when people compare it to Pinterest, I think that’s when we’re happiest, because it’s a very similar idea. Whyd is essentially a way to organize and share all the music that’s available online. So it really kind of stemmed from the need of putting all of your music together in one place, especially when music’s only available split on different platforms that don’t work with each other naturally. People were able to share it with their friends but they weren’t able to enjoy it themselves or to organize it in a nice way. So we started Whyd as a way to bring all those things together. Pinterest is kind of similar. For example, photos became so popular, you just literally have an infinite amount of pictures everywhere of everything. In music it’s kind of similar now, you really have an infinite amount of music and I think that curation is really the fundamental thing between Pinterest and Whyd: the fact that when you have that endless choice, the value of someone who actually spends time finding things that are cool and then sharing that to more people facilitates discovery in a way.”
There is something more to Whyd than just sharing music with followers. Whyd’s ability to link its online presence to concrete offline events is certainly its strength in a connected world where people tend to look for authentic contact. Far from being corporate events, music lovers as well as music professionals have already attended several of those gatherings and it’s always a pleasure to see the whole team. Recently, they also created a special section on the website to highlight those communities and link those online profiles to the real world: the Paris page, where you can find all of the Parisian users, listen to some of their playlists and get even closer to those who make the offline community active.
“We tried a lot of things in the first 2 years with music and with the events. […] People want to feel something stronger. The Paris page will make this possible, get people together. We went to London in March and met with a bunch of our users there. So we’ve already got people to play at a concert and we also have a location targeted so it’s just a matter of time now. We just need to understand what kind of promotion we’re going to need to do for that event. We don’t have the same network there as we do here in Paris. We also want to see the Paris page’s development, how we are going to change it or improve it, because we’d like to do the same for London and New York.”
What Whyd is really looking for is proximity and accessibility. Accessible music and people but also accessible artists are the finality of the project.
“Yeah the relationship with the artists is the next stage that we’re moving into in our development. There’s all this energy happening, the connections around music, the shares… So the next step for us is to bring that activity level directly to the artists. Integrating anything that artists have to sell, merchandise, integrating concert ticket alerts, everything that can go around facilitating a deep connection at that moment of discovery. […] It’s about getting the fans close to the artists. There are so many music social networks that exist and have existed where an artist tries to create a page and an audience, but because the music is limited to these artists nobody has heard of, it’s difficult to get people to come to their platforms.”
However, Whyd has made it clear that their website is not only about professionals. Anyone can create a profile and anyone can become important, because of the simple contract between listeners and posters. People are given advice on who to follow according to their tastes and the music they have already shared on the platform. The Paris page now also facilitates the access to people who don’t have many followers.
“Myspace was more about the people who were making the music, every artist at the time had a Myspace page where they were presenting their kind of artistic self to the world. Whyd is an opportunity for people who are little bit more broad because it is not just about artists and people who are professionally in the music. It’s also about people who love music or have a blog. Whyd is reinforcing a lot of other platforms like Tumblrs or people who are very active on Twitter or have a couple of Facebook pages or a Facebook group.”
So how do we manage to create this sense of community apart from organizing events and creating dedicated pages? Tony Hymes, the Community Manager, is certainly part of the equation which makes such a successful website out of Whyd. Being a community manager for a social network is certainly not the same as being one for a brand. Tony has built his job according to the image of the website. He interacts with the people and organizes the offline events.
“I write frequently for thecommunitymanager.com and when you read a lot of the articles that come on this website, so many community managers are people that are trying to create conversations and a community around a client base or customers that are probably using a product. And Whyd is unique because we are basically nothing but a community.
I kind of treat my job like a ring leader. A guy who’s trying to point the spotlight at different people at different times and have tigers jump through flaming things. And then the other half of the time, it’s just being a music lover and then listening to all the great stuff that people share. If you asked me if could I think of a better job in terms of what I actually do on a day to day basis and even if you mentioned an artist or an astronaut, it would be hard to really beat the fact that I wake up in the morning and listen to people’s music and tell them “I love this song and this is great, what are you doing, let’s have a beer in the sunshine and talk about your projects and see how we can get you involved and how we can help you?”. That’s empowering the community, and the first step is this Paris page. It’s taking the community and putting it first.
So it’s the opposite of the typical community manager who’s sitting there thinking -oh this week, we had 2000 likes…and our budget was this and our engagement rate was this..- we don’t have to do any of that stuff because we follow our stats and our tracks being added. If people are there how can we make them add more tracks… We organize contests we help them share, we help them have a better experience when they come to Whyd. Everything is built around that.”
And while I was indeed drinking beer with Tony in the sunshine, I couldn’t agree more with what he said about the Whyd experience. We talked about the idea of even creating “Whyd bars” to link online users to more concrete settings but we also mentioned more down-to-earth ideas like the new mobile app coming up in June.
“It’s going to reaffirm the idea you can add any track from wherever you are. You see a track you like, awesome, you can instantly add it. You want to hear a track yourself, cool, search for it, there it is. it’s the whyd experience on mobile. It’s going to make every whyd user’s life a lot easier, a lot less restrictive and hopefully it’ll encourage a lot more usage.”
The mobile app is certainly a strategic development, it will give full access to the Whyd experience, allowing us to login to our account and add songs from our mobile phone.
“It helps to legitimize us as a startup in general, having multiple platforms. We’ve got seven people now working on the project so it’s very serious and you know a lot of people when they hear about Whyd, they’re like “ok can I download the app?” and we’re like “no, sorry there’s no app for the moment” and that’s what’s holding us back from the public because you can’t show Whyd to people immediately. It’s going to make every part of our lives different and better. […]
I don’t think it’s going to change everything though, because when you look at the usage of Whyd, the website is primarily used during the week, during the day. So a lot of people are using it at work. Probably because there’s no mobile app yet. And you find less time on a computer on a Saturday or a Sunday. So I think that if there is a mobile app, if the mobile app is a game changer it’s going to be because there will be more usage during the weekend.”
As a daily user of this website, I am forced to admit I would be very disappointed if Whyd suddenly disappeared. I have started to become used to visiting it daily and even stopped using Itunes when I want to listen to music. I consume music differently, downloading albums rather than songs and focusing my new music discoveries on my Whyd feed. I also find myself using Whyd for other purposes than when I first started using it, which is generally a good sign. This is probably the reason why it was so important for me to ask Tony if he could imagine Whyd in 5 years.
“I do imagine Whyd in 5 years, because I think Whyd is a window, it’s the front of the community. And the community exists, it’s there and it’s going to keep on existing. And communities on music will exist everywhere. Will it be Whyd or a different form? It’s really hard to say, I mean I think the timing of the development of the app is great. The fact that we really are on the very starting edge of this whole streaming and Internet access everywhere, we’re literally at the best time. I still feel like we’re a year or two ahead of ourselves. When it comes to mainstream usage, it’s been shooting straight up. We’re very well positioned and we’re taking advantage of that at the moment.”
“The key part now is partnerships. And not just integrating other platforms, really working with them and integrating some of our functionalities and helping them. It’s still such a small project. All the labels that we talk to love the idea. Leveraging social media has perpetually been an issue for them. “How do I use social media as a way to build an audience and to drive popularity to my artists?” So we try a lot of different things, help introducing artists, helping labels that run playlist contests. I would love to provide six or seven different ways for labels to utilize whyd in a more robust way. Historically there is resistance to technology because the first real wave of technology was Napster, and it decimated everything. So now people are like “ahh music services” but before labels made it impossible for them to succeed. Now they’re saying something different : “Let’s take a look at your little app, what does this do?” and you can’t deny the popularity. I think that’s a result of the success and accessibility of streaming. So yeah, there’s a great response, we’ve had response from Universal, Warner… Naïve is on Whyd… There are other record labels that are on Whyd that use it regularly… There’s a lot of positive points we bring to the game in terms of music. People have been responding really well to it so far. I think we came just after the wave of hatred about all the digital services. We kind of just flowered at the right time when people were like “ok we’re not sure about you guys but let’s talk and maybe we can try some things.”
The right service at the right time
I can’t help but think about RF8, the new (and excellent) featured playlist website created by Radio France to explain the changes which are currently occurring in the music world these days. Music professionals are starting to understand the importance of reaching a new online audience and changing their economic model. RF8 is the proof “traditional” medias are reinventing themselves. Whyd is part of this transition. It has become my radio, my number 1 source of music discovery, as well as a way for me to connect with my friends and listen to their own songs. Looking forward to meeting all of you courageous readers at the next event…