Rdio Redesign Puts Social Discovery Front and Center

At an event today in Austin during the SXSW Interactive festival, music streaming service Rdio introduced a brand new overhaul of its user interface and user experience. The Spotify competitor now has over 15 million tracks in its database, VP of Product Design Malthe Sigurdsson told the crowd, and the new look and feel is designed to emphasize the service’s social and human aspects.

After outlining some details about Rdio’s reach and availability, including the news that the company should expand to around a dozen countries throughout the next 12 months, Sigurdsson turned his focus to the limitations of computer-powered recommendation engines for music. “Machines can’t do it alone,” he told the crowd in Austin. “They still don’t have taste.” It’s a limitation he said leads to a cold feeling among users of music services, as does “staring down the barrel of an empty search field” when left completely to their own devices.

As a result, Rdio’s redesign puts the social interactivity elements front and center, with suggested users and activity timelines displayed more prominently, as well as clear visual breadcrumbs showing users where suggestions are coming from in terms of their Rdio network. The site also features an adaptive layout, which uses responsive web design to tailor the Rdio interface to whatever browser users are accessing the site with. Rdio also introduced the ability to add entire albums to a playlist, one of the most-requested features from users.

In an interview with Rdio CEO Drew Larner, he told BetaKit that he believes the changes will help Rdio further differentiate itself from the rest of the market, including competitors like Spotify. “We’ve prided ourselves on design and user interface, and doing our best to stay ahead of the curve in terms of delivering something that we believe is the best product in the market,” he said. “With what we’ve done today, we feel like we’ve maintained that or continued to move that forward.” Larner noted that the front-and-center nature of the music content itself, as well as the increased profile and streamlined interactivity of the social features especially help further that goal.

We also asked Larner about competitor Turntable.fm, which revealed today it has booked deals with the four major record label companies, bringing a stamp of legitimacy to its product. Turntable.fm, which lets users DJ in virtual online listening parties, also offers an extensive listening library and focuses on social interaction. “There’s existing companies who are launching new products like us and expanding into new territories, and there are new companies launching new products, and I think that’s going to continue,” Larner said. “The tipping point that people have been talking about for years, in terms of the move from ownership to access… we think is closer on the horizon than it’s ever been.”

Rdio also offers an API which allows third-party developers to access and use its library to provide alternate experiences for its subscribers. Anthm, a social music DJ app designed around local spaces, has already partnered with Rdio to offer a service roughly similar to that of Turntable.fm, so it’s conceivable that other future apps using the API could also help Rdio stay competitive with offerings like Turntable.

Another key competitor for Rdio is obviously iTunes, the 300-pound gorilla in the room. iTunes still dominates the digital music industry, and has made some early steps towards a streaming model with the introduction of iTunes Match last year. One thing that’s immediately apparent about the Rdio website redesign is that it bears a striking resemblance to iTunes. One observer during the event live stream even went so far as to call it “what iTunes should’ve been by now.” We asked Larner about the resemblance, and though he wouldn’t specifically comment on any visual resemblance, he did say that “as people move from the ownership to the access model, responding to a product like ours and comparing favorably in that regard is certainly a compliment.”

Rdio, which launched in August of 2010, is currently available to users in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal and Denmark, and will roll out to more countries at a rate of about one per month according to Sigurdsson.

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