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Apple Shutting Down Lala, Another Great Startup Obliterated

First: I Was A Lala User
Second: Why Do Good Companies Ruin Startups?

I Was A Lala User

I’ll give Apple credit for giving a month of advance notice, but on the other hand (that first part was the first hand), why are they shutting down Lala before they launch iTunes.com? I must conclude that it means they’re going to change the business model and neuter features available on Lala.com and they don’t want to have to deal with migrating current users of the outstanding service. How very Apple of them. Not supporting legacy anything is a good deal if you can swing it. And – unfortunately for me – they can get away with it.

Now, I hadn’t bought all that many web songs on Lala, but it was not exactly a trivial investment – especially for someone like me who used to open up multiple BMG accounts to get 10 CDs for the price of 1 and 4 extra for “referring my friend.” I’m happy to give artists money when I feel they deserve it, and that’s precisely why I loved Lala so much. I could listen to every song on there – the full song – and then decide whether I wanted to buy it. For me at least, I think that probably led to more purchases than I’d made in a long time because I got sick of paying for music that I’d never heard and wasn’t sure if I’d ever want to hear again.

Now, I will get an iTunes store credit for the web songs that I’d purchased on Lala… better than nothing, but it kind of feels like buying stock and then having it exchanged for 1/10th of a share in a new company with the same stock price. I’ll use it, because it’s there and I hate losing money… but… then what? Use the new iTunes.com? Or…?

ReadWriteWeb evaluates a few alternatives including MP3tunes, MOG, Napster, and Rhapsody. I’m also going to check out eMusic since I supposedly have 35 free MP3s there… but, in terms of how I use Lala, I think that a combination of Pandora and Amazon will have to fill the gap… With Pandora, I can listen to unlimited full songs for free, and then when I find something I like, I can go over to Amazon and get the MP3. (I could do buy the songs from iTunes as well, since they do sell DRM free MP3s now, but I can’t help but want to avoid Apple since they are the ones who interrupted my music consumption system in the first place) The only issue with my new system is that I can’t just scan new releases, add them to my queue, and then buy the web song for any songs that I want to hear again.

Why Do Good Companies Ruin Startups

I never used Dodgeball so their acquisition and subsequent shuttering by Google didn’t really affect me. But then they took over Jaiku (My posts tagged: Jaiku) and basically shut that down (yeah, it’s still there, but there’s no real support for it any more). Now Apple has bought Lala and is shutting it down. Why?

The obvious answer is: talent grab. Everyone knows that these big companies are basically rewarding the talented developers who started the companies by purchasing their whole company for a significant sum of money. I can’t blame the developers for taking it. And I guess I can’t blame the companies for doing it. That’s just the way the business works. It just sucks for consumers who end up with a crappier end product (eg: Jaiku vs. Google Buzz) because the big company seems to restrict and/or slow the development of the new imitation products. As I mentioned above, the fact that Apple is giving people iTunes store credit for the web songs that they’d purchased on Lala is almost a guarantee that the web songs will not exist on whatever web version of iTunes Apple launches.

Another example: One of my favorite features of Jaiku was the ability to unsubscribe from specific feeds from specific people. So, if I follow someone on Twitter and don’t want to see their imported Twitter feed duplicated in my stream, I could unsubscribe from that and only get their other updates. I have not yet seen that in Google Buzz, and if it’s there, I haven’t seen a place to do it.

It’s tough because, on the one hand, I am very happy for the developers and I do think that they deserve to be rewarded for their hard work. I just don’t understand why, if a site is so successful that it warrants being bought out, it doesn’t continue to be run in that successful manner. Okay, I actually do understand why. I already said it in the second paragraph of this section. The big companies want to pull the talented developers off the successful site to recreate the site for them. So really, what I don’t understand is why the big companies don’t continue to run the successful site and do a better job of integrating it and turning it into what they want instead of just shutting it down and rebuilding.

HTML Is The Future

I declare that emphatically because I want it to be so. I’m sure I’m not the only code monkey out there praying that “write once, run anywhere” doesn’t leave us like ###… Even now web developers have to test across at least 3 different browsers,* but at least things are trending towards standardization and it’s becoming easier to create a web app that will behave the same independent of a user’s choice of browser.

Smartphones pose a serious threat to that ubiquity in the same way that the differences between Windows, Mac OS, and Linux made developing desktop apps an elephant-sized pain in the ass. Web developers have long wished and advocated for browsers that run everything the same way. While that is probably never going to happen, the difference between developing for IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera is much (much much) smaller than the difference between developing for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

if (Portability > Usability) then ?

There is a reason that desktop-style web apps are popular. Yes, people still use Outlook, Thunderbird, and many other fat desktop clients for email, but there’s a reason that there’s 300 million people using Yahoo Webmail, Gmail, Hotmail, and AOL Webmail (I extrapolated that number from these percentages of market share), and that given the choice, 49% of people choose Gmail as the best email client. There’s also a reason that Google has basically given a big fat middle finger to native iPhone apps with their Gmail client in HTML5 (and now Google Voice web app, also in HTML5). There a reason that there’s a lot more “mobile touch” web sites than there are iPhone and Android apps. There’s a reason that I get practically all of my links from Read/Write Web and not Read/Write Native Smartphone App.

That reason is Portability. That is: I can run a web app from anywhere on anyone’s computer (or phone) as long as I’ve got internet access. So, while a client like Outlook or Thunderbird offers a slightly faster response time and some extra features, if you use one of those and don’t use a web-app version in addition to the desktop client, you suddenly sound like someone who doesn’t really know how the internet even works (do you really want to be the person who says: “I have to check my email on my home computer”?)

And for the second part of the equation: Usability – the gap between web app and desktop app is getting smaller every day. Web developers continue to push the limits of what web-based applications can do with respect to speed and user interfaces. Sure, web apps (even the good ones) are slow compared to native apps when they’re running on a (relatively) slow phone with a (relatively) slow 3G internet connection. But the speed of the phones and the connections is improving even faster than the speed of the apps themselves.

So, now take the difference in Portability (we’ll say this difference is a fairly large positive in favor of web apps) and add the difference in Usability (we’ll say this is slightly negative with respect to web apps) and then add in the fact that you can write a web app in one language and have it run on every single phone and computer with internet access and see if you don’t come out with a conclusion that says: HTML is the Future.

And, if you want some awesome tips for developing in HTML5, check out Alex Bosworth’s post.

* Yes, all you Opera and Safari heads, I said at least.

The Album Is Dying A Slow Death

It’s like The Internet is a disease and it’s slowly damaging the organs of the album. One by one it goes through the body of the album, taking a chunk here and there. The album isn’t on life support yet, but it will be soon enough.

From Read/WriteWeb:

Radiohead’s frontman Thom Yorke announced that the band will no longer release full-length studio albums and instead focus on downloadable singles.

Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins aren’t quite ready to go all the way there, but instead they’re breaking the album into 11 EP’s of 4 songs each. That way Billy can still fulfill his artwork and concept fetish by including pictures, paintings, etc. with the EPs while making the music available to people who don’t share his proclivity for the visual aspect of the theme.

dyptych4

While The Smashing Pumpkins method is already familiar to them (see also: The Aeroplane Flies High), Radiohead’s declaration shows an awareness of changing methods of distribution as compared with the “old world” ways. The reason we have albums in the first place is because records (and tapes, and CDs) only held a finite amount of material before their storage space was exhausted. Today, even fairly low end computers come with 80-90GB of storage, which is enough for several albums even for loss-less quality distribution. We no longer have the limitations that made the album a necessity in the first place, so why continue on with the tradition?

If you say “because of the recording industry” then it really only further serves to show how far the industry’s head is under the sand. Here’s a great example: Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 (which I like) is $10.99 on iTunes. But each of the individual tracks is $1.29. So, to buy the album as singles (with the Radiohead model) you’d pay $19.35. Yes, I realize that by releasing singles, labels run the risk of not having people buy all of the singles, but since The Blueprint 3 has 15 songs on it, each person would only have to buy 57% of the songs (8-9 of the 15 songs) to get the same amount of money.

If you’re a ruthless music company exec, why are you basically giving people 6-7 songs for free?

Do you really think that people who might otherwise download the entire thing for free are going to instead pay $10.99 because it’s a better deal than buying each song individually? No. They’re still going to download the whole thing and pay nothing. But the people who would pay $10.99 for the album, I’m guessing they’d also pay $10.32 to buy 8 of the songs individually. Especially if you release one single a month for 15 months, I bet you get a pretty high conversion rate. Then it’s only $1.29 a month. That’s not a big deal. Seems like a much easier sell than trying to convert an entire $10.99 (or $19.35) all at once.

The album is dead. Long live the single.