Thursday, April 11, 2013 Releases Piki to Help Find Music Recommendations From Friends

Seth Fiegerman/Mashable has the best and worst luck of any startup. After launching its social music streaming service in early 2011, Turntable received the kind of media exposure and hype that most companies would kill for. But a few months later, the service's traffic dipped and people started questioning whether it was the next big thing or the next big flop.

Since then, Turntable has continued to try building momentum by signing licensing agreements with the four major record labels, releasing an Android app and optimizing its website to allow for thousands of users to listen to music in the same listening room, effectively creating a true, virtual concert space. It's unclear, however, whether any of these updates have really moved the dial much on the public's perception of the company.

At the end of last year, Turntable unveiled the beta version of a brand-new product called Piki, a standalone music discovery app for iPhone, that appeared to be the startup's most exciting announcements since the launch two years ago. The app promised to create a "hand-picked radio" of the songs and artists that their friends love, a simple and novel option at the time considering that popular radio services like Pandora were driven by algorithms rather than relationship.

Turntable took its time with the app, testing it with beta users for the past four months and tinkering with the features before finally releasing it publicly in Apple's App Store on Thursday. The app is fun and pretty simple to use. Each user can pick a track by typing in the name, selecting a song from their iTunes library or using a Shazam-like feature to scan a tune that's playing nearby, and add a note or "reaction" to their pick. You can then follow users on the service — and search for people you're connected to through Twitter, Facebook or — and Piki will create a radio station based on the tracks that have been recommended.

The problem is that during the few months in between unveiling the app and launching it, the market for streaming music apps and websites has become decidedly more competitive. Big companies like Apple, Google and Amazon are all rumored to be working on streaming options of their own. Facebook redesigned its News Feed to include a subfeed for music that shows your friends' listening activity and Equala, a new startup, launched a free app for iPhone and Android that also creates music stations based on what your friends listen to.

That's not even the worst news for Piki. The really bad news is Twitter.

In an interview with Mashable, Turntable's co-founder and CEO Billy Chasen described Piki as comparable to the idea of a "Twitter for music," by which he means that you can follow users and reshare their song picks. That's not a bad tagline for a product except for the fact that Twitter is rumored to be extremely close to releasing a music app of its own that would also, probably, be like Twitter for music. Even so, Chasen believes there's room in the market for Piki to succeed.

"I don't know yet what Twitter for music looks like," he says, referring to Twitter's rumored app. "There's tons of music apps out there, and they all hit on really different chords. I think most people listen to many of them."

The goal of Piki, Chasen says, is to "find a middle ground" between services like Pandora, which are powered by algorithms and services like Spotify which provide millions of songs on demand, but minimal discovery options to figure out what is actually worth streaming. Piki provides an intuitive solution, but the app's success will depend on whether it can attract and hold onto a broad enough user base in the face of growing competition from big and small companies.

Turntable has been scaling up its team for Piki and the flagship service and now has 22 full-time employees. The team is actively working on an Android version of Piki to be released in the next couple months and a web version to come in the next few weeks.

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