Just as the hype around Spotify settles down, there’s another innovative new online music service to get your head around. The savvy and the sound-obsessed have been raving about London-based mflow for a couple of months now, and with good reason. At its official launch in April this year, it already boasted 12,000 active users.
Based on the sound principle that ‘music’s better shared’, mflow’s social-network-style structure allows you to connect with friends and push (or ‘flow’) streams of your favourite tunes in their general direction. In theory, they return the favour, and you receive their recommended tracks in a continuous, Twitter-like feed. Oh, and if your mates like your recommendations enough to click on and buy them, you get 20% of the profits. Neat.
Of course, there are catches. You can only listen to each recommended track once (in full) before buying, and any money you make can only be used to buy MP3s within mflow.
So why go with the mflow? Let’s look at the pros and cons of and weigh it up against the competition:
The Scandinavian service is almost synonymous with free, streamed music, but for much of its existence remained stubbornly anti-social. All that changed just a few weeks after mflow’s launch, with Spotify suddenly sprouting social features from every orifice, allowing direct importing of Facebook friends and sharing of tracks and playlists.
There’s no doubting Spotify is currently a more satisfying ‘hub’ for accessing music, with an ever-accessible and near-exhaustive library that mflow isn’t currently able to match. Right now you’d probably want to use mflow alongside Spotify, rather than as a replacement.
But mflow stands out because of its truly social nature, enabling the kind of serendipitous, non-hierarchical interactions that Twitter thrives on. You can ‘follow’ anyone from Zane Lowe to a random person that seems to have cool taste, and tailor your ‘flow’ accordingly. Just as you trust Twitter to filter your news, you’ll soon trust mflow to tell you what’s hot in your own tailored musical landscape.
In the face of competition from the likes of Spotify, Apple’s once-revolutionary music library is starting to look a little tired. iTunes is yet to introduce any real social features, and its recommendation engine (Genius) is patchy at best.
What it still does best is acting as your home for music. With iPods near-ubiquitous, the ease of interaction between devices means that few are likely to be unshackled from their iTunes dependency anytime soon.
In time, when mflow’s participation hits saturation point and its library becomes more complete, it may start to offer a valid alternative. The incentive element to recommending music is something which could hook people in, and away from the Apple Store. For now, prices are non-competitive: like Apple, mflow’s MP3s are priced from 79p-99p.
CBS-owned last.fm has been around since 2002, making it pretty ancient by our reckoning. Beloved of stats geeks for pretty charts that catalogue your listening, it’s also rightly lauded for a spookily intelligent recommendations engine.
Like the awkward kid in the loud shirt at the party, last.fm has always claimed to be social, while never really getting it. Social interactions are limited to archaic one-to-one messaging and the occasional snoop at whether your mate’s been listening to too much Lady Gaga. Where mflow has picked up tips from Facebook and Twitter on how to ‘do’ social, last.fm continues to languish in the era of Friends Reunited.
Last.fm, like mflow in its current form, is a tool to complement your chosen musical library of choice. It has survived because of the strengths of its key features: play counts and recommendations. Because of mflow’s greater understanding of the social era, and nifty little tricks like the incentive scheme, the new kid on the block may yet go on to challenge the big boys.