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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Uvumi builds a community for musicians and fans - Interview + tour

Uvumi builds a community for musicians and fans - Interview + tour

In theory, the Web is supposed to level the playing field for new musicians; its democratic nature lets them find their own audience, without having to beg for the approval of a record label.

Of course, real life turns out to be much more complicated than the theory. It may not be a nice thing to say, but there is a lot of bad music being made. Of course that's very subjective, but by "bad" I mean music that very few people would find enjoyable. Maybe we can call it "niche music," or "the product of budding musicians trying to find their way." At any rate, a random stroll through MySpace makes the point abundantly clear; as a listener, it's not always easy to find the good stuff.

That's where Uvumi comes in; the site operates in a niche quite similar to TheSixtyOne (which was previously covered here), and tries to make it easier to find new music from indie and unsigned artists. Compared to TheSixtyOne, the site takes a decidedly different approach, both in looks, and in communication and interaction from the developers.

I first heard about Uvumi as part of the backlash against TheSixtyOne's re-design (see comments), and I recently decided to check it out. One of the first things I noticed was Uvumi's active blog (updated once a week or so), and specifically, this blog post from Marshall, the head developer for Uvumi. It is a 537-word post in which he warns users against some impending downtime, and carefully explains why it's coming and what he's doing to minimize it. This really stood out for me. It is in stark contrast to the latest post on TheSixtyOne blog, which is a 113-word post that is almost two months old, and essentially mocks the users who did not like the redesign.

[More thoughts, an interview with Marshall and screenshots on the next page]
Uvumi's design is very simple, and almost utilitarian in nature. It seems as though music really is the focus here, rather than any sort of visual bling. In other words, if the music won't keep you here, the visual flare certainly won't. On the plus side, there are virtually no banners and ads at the moment (but they might appear in the future).

The emphasis on music also continues in the way that users interact with the site; this is not a "game" with points. Users can "favorite" songs, but that doesn't have much of an impact on its ranking. There are per-genre "charts," and songs place on the charts based solely on the number of plays. The logic is that if users listen to a track, it means that they like it. It's a very solid and simple premise, IMHO.

Users can tag songs, and you can see what tags the song already has. One innovative feature is that you can see what a song was "most tagged" as. This means that if a given track can be tagged as either "alternative," or "sad," and a greater number of people chose "alternative," you'll see that at a glance (see the gallery to get a sense of what I mean).

My main issues with usability are not being able to pop the player out of the window, or get an m3u file of the current playlist. Also troublesome is the fact that the title of the current track does not appear in the window title. You can't see it even if you're within your browser, but just in another tab. You need to switch back to Uvumi to find out what you're listening to. Other than that, the whole thing is very slick and simple to operate.

I interviewed Marshall over email, and here's what he has to say:


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