MasterNewMedia
Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi
 


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Social Networking Meets Music Listening: Mercora Launches Radio 2.0

Social networking is the ability to help to connect with friends, business partners, or other individuals using a variety of communication and social mapping tools.

The more social networking systems self-embed elements and characteristics of what causes spontaneous person-to-person relationships to be born the more this virtual counterpart to our physical communities will gain ground in facilitating our ability to reach and join together with other similar, like-minded people through the Internet.

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Music is one such vehicle to facilitate social networking, even when the parties cannot see or meet physically together.

By being able to discover music that I like through the taste and preferences of other individuals, is not the typical approach we have had when it came to learn about new music. In the past it was invariably the radio, sometimes TV or what our friends had collected and compiled in their own private cassette or CD mixes.

But now, thanks to fascinating new online tools like the Mercora Radio 2.0 social music network, I can discover new music and bands thanks to what other people, who I don't yet know, have tasted, selected and chosen before me.

Differently than many other online music services which attempt to program your favourite music by monitoring your listening habits, selections and ratings, and by guessing your tastes, the new Mercora Radio network allows everyone to listen to music that has been completely selected and compiled by other individuals.

Not only.

Radio 2.0 from Mercora, is both a free music listening service that sustains itself through contextual music-centered ads, as well as a personal webcasting service for anyone wanting to have her own music station on the net.

The cost to use it is zero. All you need to do is to allow Mercora to search your hard disk for all the music tracks you have legally acquired (either from purchased downloads or by ripping your own music CDs) and then you are ready to broadcast your own music library to the world.

Each radio station has multiple channels and each DJ can also create her own playlists and radio bumps (jingles and audio breaks promoting your own station).

This is why I took the time to call up and interview Srivats Sampath, CEO of the Mercora Radio Network, to whom I have asked a good number of questions about his new service.

If you are interested in learning how music distribution, marketing, listening and promotion are radically changing the established music industry rules I invite you to either read the full text transcript I have made available or to download the full .mp3 recording of this interview (28 mins) or to start playing the audio streamable version by just pressing the play button in the audio panel displayed here below.

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Srivats Sampath, CEO of Mercora

Full text transcript of the audio interview between Robin Good and Srivats Sampath.

Robin Good: Hello everyone. Here is Robin Good live from Rome in Italy. Today I am with Srivats Sampath, I don't know whether my pronunciation is perfect, but we will just hear it from him in person. Good morning to you, Srivats. Where are you connecting from this morning?

Srivats Sampath: Hi Robin. Glad to be on the show. I'm connecting from Santa Clara, California.



Robin Good: Fantastic! I'm very happy to have Srivats as my guest today. It is actually evening, if not close to night, on the side of the ocean. It is early morning, or I mean, the first part of the morning on the West Coast of the United States.

Srivats is the CEO of one fascinating company that has been putting out some truly interesting new services and products that make the joy of people who want to listen and share their music passion online. By having created the Mercora Radio Network, Srivats has really opened the number of opportunities, which no one had been considering before and which yet have not been challenged. He has a unique model and approach that is all to be enjoyed, to test, explored and I think you'll find lots of interesting things when you go yourself and find out.

Let's hear from Srivats, today, a number of things. First of all, you just launched something new in the past few hours, can tell us about it?

Srivats Sampath: We launched Radio 2.0, which is our next generation platform. What we essentially did was we took all the things that we had built on the Windows platform, in the previous versions, and tailored it for a Web 2.0 kind of a model, the application is entirely Ajax right now. As we start rolling out the products, on top of the Radio 2.0 platform, you will get all the Web 2.0 features like browser access, rich Internet application support inside a browser, lots of very interesting features that we previously couldn't do because we were a Windows 32 client.



Robin Good: Oh, that's fantastic news. I absolutely didn't get a hint of that by exploring and playing with Radio 2.0 in the last twelve hours, but that's great news. So, are you saying, in other words, that the IM radio application is going to migrate gradually to a web-based interface?

Srivats Sampath: What we found is that a lot of people are very sensitive about downloading software to their computer, at the same time, they love to discover music, they love to share music, so we are migrating to a complete browser-based model, which also allows us to support platforms like the Mac and Linux.



Robin Good: That is great, fantastic! That is truly good news. So, the Radio 2.0 for now appears to me, and correct me if I am wrong, just as a initial reference point, which provides full search capabilities to go and explore these infinite music networks, is that correct?

Srivats Sampath: That is correct. Today, what we do is, for Radio2-0.com, you can actually listen without downloading. We use Windows Media, so that basically restricts it to the Windows platform, but very soon you'll just be able to go to Radio2-0.com and do all kinds of things from a Windows, Mac or a Linux operating system.



Robin Good: Oh, that's interesting because I was expecting that. But probably because I already have the Mercora IM Radio already installed, that was coming up as my player. But you're saying, even if I don't download and install the IM Radio application, I'm going to be able to listen to your radio straight from the Radio 2.0 web site?

Srivats Sampath: The only reason you will need the software today is to be the webcaster, so you can set up your channels and screen from your system, but if you want to just listen, you can just go to the Radio 2.0 web site and you can listen without a download and you can discover without a download.

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Robin Good: Super, super, super! You're just going to utilize the Windows Media Player available in most, if not almost all, the PC Windows machines. That's great news. So in fact, I was very curious about these new features that are promoted on your "about" and "home" page, which for example, highlighted the upcoming personal music page, which I am very curious about. Can you tell me anything about this?

Srivats Sampath: Yes. In fact, every DJ on our network will get their own personal music page, think of it as a MySpace-like page. What you can do there is your friends can drop in; they can listen to your music as it's being webcast, they can look at your friends and browse them, and they can leave messages for you. So, think of it as - someone told me this last week, they said, "Oh, you're a MySpace for music lovers." I said, "You know what? That's probably what it is."

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Robin Good: That makes a lot of sense. So, this is coming next, I believe. I see that when I go and search for DJs, I can see their profile page, I get a lot of features, a set of buttons, but nothing to really listen to their thing that they are doing at that time or, at least, I haven't been able to find it yet.

Srivats Sampath: Robin, if you went to www.radio2-0.com/station/ - let's say you typed in one DJ, let's say "Sampath" (www.radio2-0.com/station/sampath), you'll see, actually, my station and you will see my profile and you will see my friends and you can leave messages. You can do everything that you can. Now, you might have hit on some people that are offline at the time, but anyone who is online will show up.



Robin Good: I did find, in fact, DJs that were up online, but I couldn't find a button to listen. So, I am, right now, on Radio2-0.com and I am going to search for, which DJ, again, you suggested?

Srivats Sampath: Robin, you want www.radio2-0.com/station/ - give me two minutes then I'll spin up my station and you can see it and my name is Sampath - S A M P A T H. (www.radio2-0.com/station/sampath)



Robin Good: Good. I'll leave you the time to fire that up. In the meanwhile, let me tell everyone else that doesn't know yet what Mercora offers, it's a truly unique idea. Basically, you pull up from your collection of MP3 records that you have inside your computer, all the ones that you want to share and make available through the network. When you search for music, basically, you are tapping into all the songs that being made available by all the other members of the Mercora Network. So, if I search for the Beatles and some other people have made available their Beatles records of their collection and they are webcasting Beatles, then those records become available for me to listen to. So, there is an immense collection of music, at any time, available for you to listen to at, basically, no price at all. How is that possible, Srivats?

Srivats Sampath: Robin, one important thing that we realized is that listening and discovery has to be free. Radio was free and radio turned out to be one of the most powerful music discovery mediums. Unfortunately, over the years, radio got spoiled and kind of got diluted. So, what we wanted to do was to provide a completely free music discovery medium that was legal, that was free to the user and that compensated the artist for the performance, so essentially, that's what we did. We operate under the statutory laws in the US and Canada. Very soon, we'll be announcing a deal with Tiscali for a network in Italy and a network in the United Kingdom. What we do is, you come in, you search and you listen. Every song you listen to you, we pay a royalty for the underlying work, which is the lyrics, and we pay a royalty for the sound, which is to the labels. So, it's the right way to do things.

Now, how we monetize it, is through a Google AdWords-like search. We have something called MadWords and what that allows you to do is buy key words, musical key words. For example, you can by the key word Eros Ramazzotti and any time someone is searching for Eros Ramazzotti, you can put an ad either saying Eros Ramazzotti is in concert in Todi or something like that or you can say about the latest Eros Ramazzotti CD. So, it's a very music-centric contextual advertising system.



Robin Good: Excellent, my compliments to that. That seems to be the right way to go. In the meanwhile, I've gotten to your profile page and I do see what you're webcasting. There is not one button that says, "listen to Sampath", so, my frustration was that I could click on only on one of the songs that I saw being played then not just to the whole stream that is going on. Am I wrong on this?

Srivats Sampath: Robin, you've brought up a very good point. We just put a small speaker next to the channel; we should actually put a "listen" button right next to it. We'll fix that, it will probably happened in the next half hour.



Robin Good: Oh, that is great. Okay. Yes in fact, I see the mini speaker icons next to the individual songs, but again, my fear, one of the frustrations, a little frustration I've had so far in exploring this fascinating new universe that you have created, is that I never want to listen to just one song. Normally, I want to really get more coming after it, that is either representing the theme, the DJ or the type of music that is selected. I'm sure you have a lot of work going on, I have checked your forums, which are accessible to everyone through your browser-based technology and I see that there is a lot of work going on since you just released, also new version of the IM radio tool.

So, people can basically search and listen to music for free. I can stay, and I'm telling this not to you but everyone else, I can stay on the Mercora Music Radio Network and listen to the music I like for just about an infinite time without having to pay anything. As Srivats just explained, the use of contextual advertising, which is music-centric, allows for the whole business to be sustainable without asking people to pay to listen to the music.

There are some beautiful features along with some less functional ones that I really love. For example, there was an ability, once I found a band that I liked, to check out all of the collections of the record covers from that band and that is really fascinating for music lovers. There was just so much of that and, I guess, when I was a teenager, I would have paid any amount of money to have access to something of that sort. So, my compliments as I keep discovering new, interesting things.

Srivats Sampath: Thank you, Robin. This has been a wonderful experience for us. We are technologists, so we basically said, "Can we do a technology that will amaze and users?" We've been fortunate in that we have been able to do this and have such a broad user base that constantly works with us. They keep telling us, "Hey, add this feature please." "Remove this feature, this feature doesn't work that well." So, this is actually a collective effort, by not only us in the company, but also our users, who are very, very active in telling us what should be done and what should not be done.

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Robin Good: How many active users do you have now?

Srivats Sampath: We have a million active users in 140 different countries.



Robin Good: You were mentioning before, I guess some people might wonder about this reading the legal and privacy issues relating to your playback of music in a legal way, that you have to abide to different laws depending whether the user is in the United States, Canada or elsewhere. Is there anything important that normal users around the world, who are not in the United States, need to know about the webcast or the way they listen to the music through the Mercora Music Network?

Srivats Sampath: No. We take care of that for them. Well what we do is, like I said, we have two networks; we have a US and Canada network, and what we do is we put all the US people in the US network and we put the rest of the world on the Canadian network. When we launch the Italian and the UK networks on the eighteenth with Tiscali, what we will do is we'll put the Italian users on that network and we will put the British users on the UK network. But, in all cases, all these countries have what is called reciprocal agreements, so if there is an artist in Italy who is being played in the US, we pay royalties in the US and that royalty gets moves to Italy. So, these arrangements are already in place and we just pay the royalty where the listening is done and the royalty collection agencies take care of making sure that the money goes to the appropriate country.



Robin Good: Great information. What do you think, Srivats, are the key differences between what you are offering and some of the apparently competing services, that allow you to listen freely to music today? Let me mention a couple of those I like... one is Pandora and the other is Last.fm. What do think are the key different benefits of going to Mercora versus those others?

Srivats Sampath: Robin, that's a very good question. The most important difference is that our network is entirely, one hundred percent programmed by our DJs. So, they put up their playlists, they put up their mixes, they manage their stations, so it is very, very personalized. It is almost like I am listening to what you listen to or what your favorite music is. That is one.

Second is, when you bring in music, when people all over the world bring in their music, the catalog that you get is just amazing. We have a unique song catalogue that is more than ten million songs and at any given moment, you'll have between 100,000 to 120,000 channels of music. So, if you want to listen to rare music like Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker, you'll find it. If you want to listen to 1940s World War Two broadcasts, you'll find it. And if you want to listen to the latest hit song, you will find it.

So, the big difference between us and everybody else is that we are trying to catalog the world's music and audio and to make it listenable. Pandora and LAUNCHcast and Last.fm, try to program for you and have you listen to them. So, we are in the business of leading the listeners and the DJs to what they want to hear and what they want to webcast and we just provide the technology to make it happen.



Robin Good: What happens, Srivats, when I search for a specific band or artist and I click on the "listen to this artist" button, the music starts to play, and I believe the music, what ever songs from that artist are being found on the network, since I have had the experience of the music ending, would that mean that there are no more songs being played through the network, of that artist, at that very moment?

Srivats Sampath: Correct. Robin, what the artist's radio does is if you click on it, it will say, "I am going to continuously play songs from this artist." If it doesn't find anybody webcasting that artist after the first song is done, it will stop. Now, if you want a better experience, you can click on the "similar artist radio" button or the "similar artist radio" tab on the right. You can create a personalized radio station of all the similar artists of the particular artist that you collected. Now, what happens then is you have a better chance because you're not just looking for one artist, you are looking for maybe ten or fifteen artists.

That is a brilliant experience because that's how I listen, I go to the "similar artist" tab, I pick all the artists I want to listen to and I just create my radio station and I get about two hours of continuous listening of different kinds of artists, but who are all similar.

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Robin Good: That's great information because I've been wondering, once I've found some artists, what could I do with that incredible list of artists that was shown, and I am referring to the related artists button that you nicely display on the left column side of Radio 2.0, where we can switch on all those checkmark buttons, though I wouldn't know what to do with them. I have never clicked on the "similar artist radio" because I was already plenty frustrated that my artist radio was ending up too soon. So now, the circle is closing and I'm making more sense out of it.

For example now, I have made a search, I searched for Earth, Wind and Fire and I've got a search results page in which there are listed a number of songs from them and there is, at the bottom, "similar artist radio". The moment that I clicked it, the music started to play, and in fact is playing right now in my ears, and I don't see appearing yet that list with check marks to my side. I bet that if I go to "artists bio" I would see that, am I doing everything correctly?

Srivats Sampath: Robin, what you need to do is - this is a little bug in the user interface - but, if you look at the tabs on the top where it says "artist bio", "pictures" and then "similar artists", if you click on "similar artists" it will give you a drop down and you can select the artist and create your station. We going to take that and put that into the "similar artist radio" button, which allows you to program. What the button you clicked on did right now was it automatically took all the similar artists and started playing it for you.



Robin Good: That is so cool! Srivats, that is wonderful. You've got to bring it up because depending on how you land into these pages, you see different things. So, let's really give in to complaining right away about many aspects of the user interface not being immediately sequential or intuitive, as it is not difficult to move around. Let me tell you, there might be quite a bit of unexpected things, but they are in the right direction. I would especially be plenty generous with excusing your team because the number of features that are nice seem to exceed frustrations that a new tool like this may bring along the way. So, super cool and compliments for this custom radio station, I'm going to test that right away!

Srivats Sampath: Thank you, Robin.



Robin Good: Okay. Let me see, while the music may start again in my ears, I was wondering, also, about something else, that some other friends who have been using Mercora for quite a while, I have been myself your subscriber for over year and half now, have seen that you have recently been able to match up with Google Talk and maybe you want to explain to the listeners and readers what is the benefit of that companionship.

Srivats Sampath: Robin, what we did there was... what we found because Mercora is a social music network, you create your musical communities, a lot of our users came back and said, "Look, we already have our buddies on the popular IM systems, please provide us a very simple way to bring them into Mercora." So, we looked at different ways and we said, "The best way to do this would be to integrate with all the major IM systems." For example, IM Radio 5.0, you can log in with your Yahoo!, Google Talk, AIM, ICQ or even MSN identity and we will automatically import your friends in and you can invite them into Mercora.

Two advantages. One is you don't have to create a registration with us; we authenticate you with your primary IM system. If the authentication passes, then we'll let you into Mercora, so it's a single sign on. The second big advantage is it's very simple to create your music social network because your buddies from your IM accounts are automatically imported into the system and you can pick and select the ones that you want to bring into Mercora and we will send them a message saying, "Hey, Robin has invited you to join Mercora, please join Mercora." As soon as they join, then they automatically show up in your friends list.



Robin Good: Wow! I didn't know you were able to do a single sign on for all those instant messengers. Do you want to repeat them slowly again, because I was aware only of Google Talk?

Srivats Sampath: Sure. We started with Google Talk because that was the easiest one to do because it is based on open standards. But, what got us started on doing the speech, it was a lot of users came to us and said, "Listen, we're very lazy. We want to have everything automated and if you're going to ask us to build our social music network, don't make us go work by inviting everyone and typing in their e-mail address and then sending them an e-mail and waiting for them to come online."

So, what we did was we built technology that would basically authenticate you with all the IM systems, so if you're a MSN IM user, you just have to enter your MSN identity and MSN Passport into the system, we will authenticate you with MSN and if MSN says you're fine, we will then say, "Okay, give me Robin's friends on the MSN IM system." That list comes in and you can pick the friends you want to invite into Mercora, you hit a button and they all get an instant message or they get an e-mail depending on if they are online or not.

Now, we do that for all the major IM systems and we did that because we've gotten to a stage where every single web site wants to ask you for your identity, your credentials, your e-mail address and we said, "Listen, that's not what it's about." It's about allowing a person to get immediate access to the network and to get access with an identity that they are familiar with and use frequently and that's why we took this route.



Robin Good: So, I can log in to the Mercora Radio Network with any of the log in identities that I use on the different instant messaging systems that I have?

Srivats Sampath: Correct.



Robin Good: That's another big wow. That's such a big wow that I don't know if I want to go on because that really puts me KO, on the ground. That tells it all to somebody who has a vision for the future of what the Internet should be. Well, you've got it right there. I'm speechless; I'm totally in pleasure right now. Thank you, Srivats, for sharing that with all your users. I absolutely wasn't aware, nor was I able to find this information on your site and I'm so glad that it came out through our conversation and I can write about it. In fact, my question was originated by this.

Originally, at the time when I first discovered you and your network, I signed up with the user name, Robin Good, I put up my profile page, my picture and so on. Then, some months later this Google Talk thing came up and my perception or understanding or misunderstanding was that I had to have a new log in, which became the same log in and as my Google Talk, so now I'm logging in all the time with this Google Talk log in, thinking that is what Mercora is now understood to be my log in.

So, I become totally surprised when I search for Robin Good in the network and I can find myself in the old profile with the picture and everything, but I don't know how log in to that guy, which is me. So, I guess that is all part of memorizing properly the passwords, but now I've cleared up why I have more than one identity available there.

Srivats Sampath: Yes, Robin. We have so many features that we are rolling out so fast, we sometimes don't even tell our users what's new and available. That something we have to fix and we will. I'm so glad we are doing this interview because you're asking all the right questions and I am going, "Oh my God, I've got to put that on the web site now."



Robin Good: Good! I really have cleared up lots of thing. The universe you have created is really up for exploration since there are really many changes going on. I really only want to leave you without too much extra pressure, as there are so many things to refine and to make perfect as they are meant to be.

One other little thing I had noticed, for example, was your "I feel lucky" Google-like type of button up on the top. I always thought that outside of the geeky techie world, very few people understood ever what that "I feel lucky" meant on the Google site and never used it. I feel that it is a pity that also here there is a more explicit button that says, "tune in" or what ever is more appropriate for a non technical user to immediately understand but power of all that.

But, my compliments overall, Srivats. This was really interesting, I appreciate all your time and patience to explain all these things and I look forward to come back and ask for more if you guys are going to keep me updated with all the new secret releases.

From Robin Good, live here in Rome, Italy, this is all for today. Thanks to Srivats, CEO and cofounder of the Mercora Radio Network. This is all for me today. I leave it to you for the final remarks and for pointing again to the URLs where you want all the listeners to go to and experiment, try out your great social music network. Thanks again and over to you.

Srivats Sampath: Robin, thank you so much and it was a pleasure talking to you about our product and company. So, people who are interested can go to www.mecora.com or they can go to www.radio2-0.com and give us feedback. There's a feedback button on the right, there are forms.

We can't build this without your help and improve this without your help. So, thank you so much and thank you for listening to our story.



To find out more about Mercora Radio 2.0 go to:

http://www.radio2-0.com

http://search.mercora.com/index_search.htm

Robin Good -
 
 
 
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posted by Robin Good on Thursday, April 13 2006, updated on Thursday, May 28 2009


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