Six Ways Lala Can Be an Even Better Music Service

By  |  Friday, October 24, 2008 at 12:58 am

On Monday evening, when Harry published a review of the newest incarnation of the Lala music service, I opened a new Firefox tab and headed there to see if his praise was justified. After over 72 hours of using Lala, I can say that I’ve found the music store I have been looking for since the Internet began.

Lala looks like it’ll meet success just the way it is. But it still lacks some features that could take it from a valuable Web 2.0 newcomer to a household name in digital music distribution–one that could be just as powerful and popular as Pandora or Last.FM. It is in that spirit that I offer these ideas for an even better Lala.

1. Solid Desktop Integration

The benefits and disadvantages of moving any desktop activity into the realm of cloud computing are pretty well established by this point, and apply to Lala. With cloud-based music consumption, you get features like automatically synced music collections, (almost) universal access, and cross-platform use. But there are plenty of things about managing a personal music collection that make desktop clients extremely desirable. One of the most potent keys to iTunes’ success is its simple, unified, and elegant user interface. Furthermore, the psychology of music listening favors simple standalone application running in the background, away from areas of hectic keyboard and mouse activity. And browsers inherently lack support for features like effortless keyboard navigation, global shortcuts that work outside of the specific window, and extensive tweaking of the interface.

As a result, the fact that Lala only works in the browser might hurt the company in the short run, at least until cloud computing becomes pervasive. Thankfully, the existence of frameworks for developing Rich Internet Applications on the desktop, such as Adobe AIR, gives me hope that Lala could make the move to the desktop relatively easily. Lala should keep one aspect of its UI even on the desktop: its unified interface. While I do have some gripes with its current design, the look of the site is integrated across almost every page, an approach which many desktop applications would do well to mimic.

While it may seem contradictory to praise Lala as a Web 2.0 service, but then demand a desktop version, it is important to realize that frameworks like AIR and Google Gears were created, in part, to blur the line between web and desktop. Similarly, treating Lala as a cloud service that can be accessed via either the browser or the desktop will make for an easier transition for most users.

2. A Strong Advertising Campaign

My firm belief is that Lala is a Web 2.0 product that the majority of people can appreciate and use daily. To spread the word about it, the founders of the company will need to use a substantially different approach for advertising and evangelicalism than that of a typical Internet company. Buying ads on blogs, Web banners, and Google AdSense will push the product to a key demographic, to be sure, but to reach beyond the digirati Lala will need ads that reach people who aren’t entrenched in the Web.

I’m talking about ads on the radio, on the sides of buses and in subways, and ones that use real, in-person campaigns to spread it by word of mouth. In this area I am reminded of one of the first ads that the Firefox community made for the New York Times. I emphasize the egalitarian nature of these potential ads because there is a huge population just waiting to discover Internet radio. Think of every person you have ever met that has a computer at work, but spends their days listening to the radio. Secretaries, customer service agents, sales clerks, and security guards are potential Lala users. Pandora and Last.FM have become popular among millions of people, and I think there is a lot of room for growth for Lala here as well.

3. Universal Mobile Integration

If it isn’t already obvious by this point, Lala’s music platform absolutely screams for mobile integration. Harry mentioned that there will be an iPhone app for Lala, which sounds promising. Lala cofounder Bill Nguyen told me that the company plans to move into more mobile platforms as the opportunities become available. The faster that they can move onto more mobile platforms the better. iPhone users are certainly a great market for this kind of music service, but I could easily see Symbian, Blackberry, and Android users going nuts for it as well. Some folks have even already mentioned the appeal of Lala on netbooks like the Eee PC because they can have access to vast collections of music all without to pay extra cash for a bigger internal hard drive. Nguyen mentioned in our conversation that the service works well even on slow connections like EDGE because of Lala buffers the song before it starts playing it.

4. A Killer Recommendation System

One of the most interesting competitions happening on the Web is the contest between DRM-free MP3 online stores like Amazon,, Napster, and Rhapsody and the music behemoth that is iTunes. Apple’s music service has an appealing, if imperfect, interface, but it also has an impressive recommendation system, which keeps you constantly browsing their collection in search of more artists and songs. Of the two factors, I would argue that the latter plays a much more bigger roles in keeping users loyal to the iTunes music-purchasing experience.

To succeed, Lala should mimic iTunes’ approach. With the low cost of Lala music–you can buy a streaming version of a song for a dime–the service has a unique opportunity to keep their users in its store for very long periods of time. Lala should not only give people the music they want but show them the music they didn’t even know they wanted. Lala should aim to be the Wikipedia of music: I’ve been known to pop open Wikipedia looking for an article on Descartes and end up two hours later knowing the detailed history of the Chicago subway system. That’s what Lala needs–a system that effortlessly allows folks to start on a Coldplay song and end their day grabbing a Ray Charles album.

5. Social Networking Everywhere

I must admit that I’m impressed by many of the social features Lala already has. You can find friends through your e-mail, share songs with them, send them songs as gifts, and follow their music choices as you try to find more songs you’ll like. Features like these should live not just inside Lala, but also outside of it. Facebook and MySpace pages that pop up with running playlists of what your friends are listening to on Lala could be one of the best ways to spread a popular service. One example of an incarnation of Lala on Facebook, for example, could be a widget or plugin that allows interested people to listen to five free songs from their friend’s library, just to get a sample. Not to fear, though, since Bill Nguyen told me that Lala already has exciting plans in this area.

6. Appeal to Niche Markets

If there is any one truth that I believe we will take away from the current Internet boom, it’s what Gary Vaynerchuk said so precisely: that “niche markets can go crazy.” The audiophiles who want streaming at 192 kbps and the folks on low bandwidth DSL in the country know that they have very particular wants, but if Lala were to make the extra effort to satisfy them, they will become its most vocal evangelists. Too many Web 2.0 products have kept themselves from my personal recommendations because their service is “good enough for most people.” But the best services don’t want to bring in “most people”, they want everybody.

Oh, Yeah, One More Thing…

Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, recently said on an episode of the Cranky Geeks podcast that he understands Pandora’s role as a service that promotes music and helps to sell it. Can Pandora and Lala make my day and forge a partnership?



3 Comments For This Post

  1. AG Says:

    Re #5, the current Facebook widget (four tracks, all streamable) pretty much rocks; I find I change mine as much as (and for the same reasons as) I do my status. I’d personally love Sidekick integration — yes, it’s a niche, but it’s a niche that loves its music. Flock integration (I’ve converted and it’s at least partly Technologizer’s fault) would be nice too; obviously it’s well-behaved in the browser, but it would be amusing to have a feed in the sidebar that tells me what everyone’s up to…

  2. Sean Says:

    Man, Pandora + Lala would be amazing! Imagine if you could click to add a song to your web collection from pandora. That would be perfect. I discover music through Pandora all the time, and being able to decide to keep a song for 10c would be close to ideal.

    Get that iPhone out Lala!

  3. darvvin Says:

    All Lala has to do is create a radio station option based on your collection, and as long as their suggestion engine is strong as Pandora’s, there will be no more need for Pandora. There is no need for LL to buy or merge w/ P.