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SoundUnwound ties music to social networks

Amazon is hoping to add a Social Networking dimension to their IMDb subsidiary via SoundUnwound. But could it be that Amazon is playing to the wrong crowd?

Music combined with Social Networking is a wonder to behold. Just look at the success of Last.fm. But music on the web can also be a litigious affair and a political playground, too. Just ask Pandora, who’ve been hobbled by US law and must watch as Last.fm play to the bigger crowd, one that’s global.

Music is also about as personal as media gets. I love my music and I’m more than happy to share my musical tastes with anyone who’s interested via my Last.fm profile. While I’m not as active as I once was, it can be a great place to find new music. So as a Social Network, Last.fm adds enormous value.

A relatively late entrant into the musical Social Networking scene would be an Amazon subsidiary and their SoundUnwound IMDb spin-off:

“Providing information regarding, and in the nature of, social networking services; online social networking services designed for people with a common desire to meet other people with similar interests; Social networking services for music enthusiasts.”

Sounds like Last.fm to me!

As a service, IMDb is great, which comes up “near the top of virtually any search you do on movie titles” on the web. However, what we do know is that Amazon’s strength isn’t in Social Networking, and neither is IMDb’s for that matter.

It’s clear that SoundUnwound would act as a convenient adjunct to the Amazon recommendation services, no doubt linking directly into their Amazon MP3 music download service. But what I have in mind is something both daring and different.

SoundUnwound as a web service and not a social network

Some of you may have heard of Gracenote, which amongst other things offers a huge song title database. If you’re using Apple’s iTunes and you’ve ripped a CD, chances are you’ve used Gracenote, which finds the titles of songs for you.

And by way of a smooth musical segue, it’s Apple and their preeminent, omnipresent iTunes that SoundUnwound would — although arguably tangentially — be pitching itself against.

For all of Apple’s sins, they really don’t need to go direct to the people to sell music. They surround themselves with the all-pervasive allure and weighty panache that almost forces people to gravitate towards them and their iTunes Store.

It’s highly unlikely that Amazon, by way of their IMDb subsidiary and in turn through their SoundUnwound social music network, could compete with that. And it’s not just a question of throwing money at a problem in the hope it will just go away; that’s what Microsoft has tried with their Zune portable music player, which in the end amounted to very little.

No, to compete with Apple, you must avoid competing with them .. head on at least, and look to their weaknesses, of which there are many. You just need to know where to look.

First of all, there are some relatively mature Social Networks and Social Media websites, all of which would benefit from some musical angle to their offerings.

As an example, look at StumbleUpon, Facebook or Pownce — spend some time & money on these guys, make the SoundUnwound work as a web service and fit neatly with their own services, and there you have a ready-made Social Network and micro-blogging platform where their audiences can share music with each other.

So while Apple enjoys the greater market share, they lack the presence that Amazon / IMBd / SoundUnwound could build with some canny deal making. Now throw in Amazons 1-Click purchasing into the mix and you’re off to a flying start.

What the guys at Last.fm have achieved is enviable, it really is. Also, Last.fm has a wonderful service and some amazingly ambitious plans. But even they are open to attack from a concerted push by Amazon.

Go out into the street and ask a bunch of people about Amazon and Last.fm and see what responses you get — it’s a question of brand over quality of service.

Even without their respective brands, there’s much more to Amazon than there is to Last.fm, and assuming they buy into Social Networks — which is always going to be easier than trying to build one, even one partially lifted from IMDb — they could make some serious in-roads into the social music networking scene.

So in the end, does Amazon make a song and a dance about a Social Network of their own, or do they sing along to someone else’s tune?

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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