Spotify dips a toe in web waters, but isn’t yet swimming

Spotify has moved a step toward embracing the web by introducing a new embeddable widget – but the launch highlights one of the biggest anomalies of the popular music service.

With the new Spotify Play web widget, playlists and song titles that are embedded on pages by web authors will, when clicked, play corresponding tracks in Spotify.

That will mean a new wave of streams for Spotify to serve and to pay royalties for – but it also means extra ears will be exposed to Spotify’s advertising, and an additional pool of free listeners to convert to premium.

Onlookers will welcome the iteration. Already, web content operators including Huffington Post, MSN UK, and Rolling Stone are using the widget to introduce a flavour of music to their text-heavy web pages.

The system is integrated directly in to Tumblr and is used by the independent but tacitly-backed And it solves a problem I personally have had in the past – how do you bring cloud music playlists to readers when there is a paucity of tools to do so?

But the implementation is jarring. When users click a web page’s Spotify button, it opens up the requisite Spotify desktop application in which to play tunes. In this sense, the Play button is little more than a standard link to a Spotify URL.

It calls to mind the internet’s “helper” applications of the late 90s (remember RealPlayer?), when hyperlinks had to open executables, before a time when the web browser could do so much itself. The gap from web to app makes you wonder what might be – far nicer to encapsulate the experience right there on a web page.

But the lack of a fully web-powered Spotify has not hindered its emergence as the world’s leading subscription music service, with over three million paying subscribers.

Spotify’s web-based rival Rdio has offered embeddable playlists since October 2010. But when was the last time you saw a website embed music from Rdio’s service?

Herein lays the anomaly…

Spotify is the result of excellent Swedish application design circa 2008. Since then, the company has iterated the product slowly, if at all, while using capital for globalisation and royalty payments. It has…

  • Outsourced the improvement of its lacklustre discoverability features to third-party developers, and its social backbone to Facebook.
  • Attracted criticism for its Android app’s stability.
  • Refrained from introducing an iPad proposition, while some rivals have done so.
  • Introduced third-party apps inside its desktop software with no apparent plan to bring them to the software that makes Spotify its real money – its mobile application.
  • The embed option should have been low-hanging fruit, accomplishable some time ago.

And, yet, none of this has mattered a jot…

Though its dependence on its executable application may seem retrograde, Spotify stands supreme as amongst the leading music services.

With new features like these to please web publishers, it may also become the web’s music engine of choice.