By all indications, social music platform Rexly shouldn’t be around anymore. Investors in San Francisco were skeptical about music: “Telling someone you want to do a music startup is not always the most welcome news in Silicon Valley,” says cofounder Joel Resnicow. On top of that, a competitor launched just weeks after they started building the service: Ping, by none other than Apple. “At the time, we thought, ‘okay, this is the end of Rexly,’” Resnicow recalls.
But Rexly is still around, almost a year later, because it’s not so much a music startup as a data startup.
“For us, it’s all about the data,” says Resnicow, who interned at Twitter and Hulu. “That’s the real product challenge–what can we do to compel users to share?”
For starters, Rexly integrates with iTunes to track your listening and purchasing. Those actions make their way into your friends’ feeds, though you can change your settings to hide an unfortunate ’80s obsession. Unlike iTunes’s Ping, which couldn’t work out an agreement to use Facebook Connect, Rexly inputs your friends from Facebook. And also unlike Ping, Rexly is a web app—and, soon, an iOS app. That means it can pull data from a variety of sources, ultimately adding movie and TV recommendations from platforms like Amazon and Netflix.
While researching the recommendation problem—including Resnicow’s work at Stanford and chats with Netflix staff—the Rexly team realized that algorithms output radically different recommendations based on only slightly different data. So they chose a unique approach to music discovery.
First, users pick up to six friends whose tastes will heavily influence their recommendations—a departure from sites like Turntable.fm, which let you explore the tunes of unlimited music junkies. Also—jumping off the “like” bandwagon—the Rexly algorithm focuses on actions you take that show real engagement, like spending time listening to a whole album or spending money on a song. This helped the early indie band The Lighthouse and the Whaler gain visibility within the platform, and Resnicow and cofounder Bradley Lautenbach donated to help them fund an album.
As a self-proclaimed data company, Rexly may face a challenge from the world’s largest data company, Google. Google is making a move into cloud-based music with the beta Google Music, which has sparked chatter about its conspicuous lack of “social.” If Google decides to link its music service to Google Plus, it could become a mega-sized competitor for Rexly.
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