Rdio, my old and faithful friend, it’s sad to say good bye…

If you’ve seen the bad news recently, Rdio has filed for bankruptcy and Pandora’s lining up to buy its assets and collect its people.

I’ve been a subscriber to Rdio since 2012, swapping almost immediately after signing up to Spotify. I found the Spotify interface overblown and complicated, but most importantly I’m a full album listener, and Spotify’s tendency to show a dappled list of available and disabled songs from 5 copies of the same album registered for different license zones impeded my listening mojo. I swapped to Rdio and never looked back — only to hipster-sneer every time I had to use it at a friend’s.

The Verge’s article goes into depth about the reasons Rdio got to where it is now, and it also highlights a lot of the strengths of the product, namely the polish of the product and its community focus.

Album artwork presented very nicely. Being an album artwork fan myself, it was great to see this emphasis on design.

When I first started using Rdio, I loved the clean white and blue interface, and that I could see what my friends on Rdio were playing most recently and in general as I explored the attractive album artwork layout. I discovered a lot of new music just by listening to what they were checking out, and having friends who are passionate about new and interesting music meant I was finding lots of cool stuff on the backs of their habits. After a year or so I noticed Rdio changed this feature into more “trending overall” rather than just restricted to my friends by default. I didn’t like it so much, but I adapted. I think they’ve put back in the feature to show trending by people you follow now, so that’s good (but a bit late, really).

Another great feature I liked was reading artist bios and album reviews within the interface. When I see or hear something great, I almost immediately go to Google or Wikipedia to read more about it, so that it was already within the program was convenient and helpful. Even better are the comments section in Rdio. Unlike the racist vitriol present on YouTube, Rdio commenters are the sort who bandy about differing opinions and expressions that are respected. It basically feels like a big friendly listening party without the trolls (in my experience, anyway).

The SongKick integration showing the upcoming music show in a user’s area was really really good. Inspired, even!

Another newish feature which I had only seen recently was an integration with the SongKick service. Viewing an artist or album you’d see when their next show was in your neighbourhood. Probably the best feature ever to bridge the commercial divide between streaming service and real music listening.

The Rdio “radio” service was great too. A way to mindlessly listen and explore new music from old and new artists, even starting from a known and respected artist, song or other user to then be served algorithmic recommendations was a feature I appreciated on many occasions. It was great for composing playlists when feeling like one’s music knowledge or memory wasn’t entirely up to par, or investigating a friend’s musical choices. It certainly helped jog my memory when constructing the Ultimate Dad Anthems, Volume 1 playlist.

The radio feature was great for listening to algorithmically generated playlists inspired by an artist or other Rdio user.

Rdio’s “ace in the hole” product feature for me was the remote capability. I could control Rdio from any one of my devices, and it was a feature that was built in almost from the start. If my iPad was in the lounge plugged into the stereo, I could control it from my computer and from my mobile phone. I don’t think Spotify had the equivalent, except maybe from a third-party app (which from memory were quite unreliable).

I think I could definitely fault Rdio for some things, but for the most part I respected their product and interface design decisions. I originally had an account for listening on mobile too, but found my listening habits were firmly rooted in the desktop app/web version, so I downgraded my account. It meant that I couldn’t listen via the web browser on iPad or mobile phone though (they force you to use the app), and that was frustrating.

Originally when Rdio launched it was a paid-only service. As a contrast, when Spotify launched they had a free service which was funded by ads—perfect for trialling before subscribing, or just not subscribing at all and accepting the ads.

I found that Rdio’s paid-only decision hurt any recommendations I gave to friends who were non-Rdio members as Rdio only offered a free 7-day trial. Eventually though Rdio relinquished the 7-day trial, offered a free radio service (i.e. automated algorithm radio picks based on song or artist choice) that had ads interspersed.

I still don’t think this was a great idea and it was probably one reason they couldn’t convert enough Spotify/free listeners to paid, but that’s just my thoughts on the matter. When competitors offer a free ad-run service that lets listeners choose what they listen, why then use the limited (and conclusively inferior) service?

At one point Rdio turned on a notification feature to communicate when an artist you follow has new music available on the service. I’m someone who loves to remove all the notification numbers because they really bother me. There was also no real way to disable it, and it caused me grief having a red number permanently above my Rdio app icon.

So that’s just me speaking as a single user of Rdio’s music streaming service and product. While you can most certainly fault them for whatever product and business missteps they took (again, The Verge’s article has a good break-down of this), at least the product, from my consumer’s point, was strong and fit my usage patterns well.

It’s a shame that there will now be a large Rdio-sized hole in my music listening experience, and the search is now on for myself and my other Rdio pals to find an equivalent streaming service that can come close to the design and social services that Rdio pioneered.

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