What killed Turntable.fm?

Nir's Note: In this guest post, Ryan Hoover, Director of Product at PlayHaven, utilizes my thinking on the "Habit Zone" to shed light on where Turntable.fm fell short. Ryan blogs at ryanhoover.me and you can follow him on Twitter at rrhoover.

Remember Turntable? When it first launched in May of 2011, the music service seemed to own the internet, growing from zero to over 420,000 monthly active users (MAU) only two months later1.Unfortunately, that growth didn’t last long as many of its early adopters ditched the service. It is now estimated to have only 20 - 50,000 MAU’s, a fraction of its early peak.2

As I described nearly two years ago, much of Turntable’s success was due to its well-executed social engagement loop; however, that wasn’t enough. So what went wrong?

Turntable failed to create long-lasting habits3,leaving it vulnerable to competitors who more quickly became a daily part of users lives. Nir Eyal, a researcher on habit design and blogger at NirAndFar.com, posits that habits form when users have a high perceived utility and use a product frequently. The most sticky products are used multiple times a day. How often have you checked your email or Twitter feed today? In other words, users need to value the product and use it often to form lasting habits and enter the “habit zone” as represented by the graph below.

One of the most common complaints about Turntable is its demand for attention. It is both its greatest strength and weakness.

Unlike traditional music services, Turntable is designed for social interaction where users listen to music together in real-time. Everything takes place in a virtual room, filled with head-bobbing avatars and DJ’s carefully curating their playlist. Users express their love or disgust for the music by up or down voting tunes while exchanging quips, debating song selection, and conversing through a chat feed. However, this interactive experience requires additional brain cycles that users often can’t afford.

Habit Zone

Music is largely a background experience, consumed alongside other primary activities such as working, running, or driving. In comparison, services like Spotify and Pandora are easy and far less demanding. Once Turntable’s novelty faded, its users returned to less obtrusive, “lean back” experiences that didn’t interfere with their day-to-day activities.

And that was Turntable’s fatal flaw - its infrequent usage compared to other competitors4due to the additional effort involved in using the service. If we are to assume users value both services equally, those used more frequently become the habit and take dominant position in the user’s mind.

Turntable is not in the Habit Zone

Habit formation is becoming increasingly important as not only a competitive advantage, but a bar for entry. All products, even those creating new markets, are competing against existing habits and habits are hard to change.

Habits, or a lack thereof, killed Turntable.5

This guest post was written by Ryan Hoover


Image credit: Emogo and currybet

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