Why MixApp’s Listening Chat Rooms Could Change Music Consumption

Occasionally, entrepreneurs create a great social product but don’t have the resources to accrue the critical mass of users necessary to demonstrate its worth. MixApp by Square Products Corp., a free web service in which songs can be played to everyone in a chat room simultaneously, has developed a small but dedicated user base who love to share and talk about music with friends.

However, MixApp is in danger of folding if it doesn’t receive funding or a surge of donations to pay for operational costs and development of a better way to onboard members of different social clusters.

Music listening in the physical world always had a synchronous social component until the popularization of headphones and mobile devices. Friends would attend concerts together or play records for each other while discussing what they heard. Yet most online music services separate these actions, playing songs to individuals without offering discussion mechanisms, like Pandora, or with asynchronous mechanisms, like Last.fm or Soundcloud.

MixApp ports the natural desire to say “did you hear that? I love that part” into an online environment where friends can respond, “you’re right, that was awesome. Thanks for sharing”, in real time. Development of a downloadable client version of MixApp formally began in 2007. It switched into a AJAX-powered, browser-based service in May 2010. Square Product Corp has now spent its initial friends and family funding but has been scraping by thanks to user donations.

When users visit MixApp, they see a facepile of friends who already use the service, and login through Facebook Connect. They can join any listening room with at least one friend in it or start their own room and distribute its unique URL to invite friends. Users queue songs to the room’s playlist by uploading mp3s or adding YouTube links. Everyone in the room hears the current song at the same time and can participate in the chat, edit the playlist, and manipulate their individual volume controls.

Early usage stats are promising. Those logging in four days or more a month average 35 hours on site per month — more than the average user spends on Facebook. Roughly half the service’s monthly active users average over 19 hours of listening a month. If combined with an AJAX-friendly advertising network, this type of prolonged usage could translate into significant monetization potential. The site could also serve as a recorded music-focused alternative to Ustream for musicians. MixApp has conducted successful listening parties for album releases and focus groups for artists looking for feedback on their works-in-progress.

But the synchronous experience of MixApp creates obstacles to growth. Since a user’s friends must be using MixApp at the same time as them to get the true value, it’s difficult to retain the first users from any social cluster. The MixApp team says a notification system for alerting friends when a user logs in and a room for users without friends online are two things they’d like to develop given more resources. Some users have been resistant to the exclusive use of Facebook Connect for login, so MixApp plans to add Twitter, email, and OpenSocial registration options.

Discovering, discussing, and listening to music with friends is a fundamentally enjoyable experience. MixApp has developed the technology to span this experience across physical divides. If it can attain the funding and stickyness necessary to survive, MixApp could redefine how we consume music.

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