In my recent post on the future of Microblogging, I expressed concerns about the viability of twitter given that they are yet to find a business model. But perhaps I just wasn’t thinking laterally enough: earlier this week I stumbled across a novel approach to monetising microblogging. The new site Blip.fm brings music to microblogging in a way that initially had me scratching my head, but it is gradually starting to make more sense. Based on a recent post on the Microblogger’s blog, 140char, others are responding in much the same way.
Blip.fm works much like any other microblog, allowing you to post short messages and follow the stream of messages posted by others (if this doesn’t make any sense, have a look at this post on microblogging 101). The difference is that you have to choose a song before every post and you can listen to a stream of posts as well as reading it. Of course, blip.fm also has all the usual microblogging features, with some of the usual tweaking of terminology: you can follow (favorite) other users (DJs), post replies, etc. They also throw in the idea of giving a DJ “props”. Initially this can come across as something of a gimmick, much like “karma” on plurk, but it actually turns out to be an effective way of speeding up the network building process. On other microblogs you decide whether someone is interesting based on what they say. With blip.fm that decision can be based on what they are listening to. I suspect that this is actually a faster track to finding kindred spirits.
Music is not just blip.fm’s point of differentiation from other microblogs; it is also the way blip hopes to make money. Next to every track there is a “Buy This MP3″ link, which takes you to the Amazon music store. Blip.fm would earn affiliate revenue for any sales generated through these links, although how effective this is remains to be seen. While I suspect that very few people will click though to buy tracks, the plan would be to get the network of users (sorry, DJs) to such a size that even a small percentage of click-throughs would yield a decent income.
Online music can, however, be fraught with danger and getting clicks on the “Buy” links may not be the only challenge blip.fm faces. Back in April, the cnet blog Webware looked at two new music sites for creating online “mix-tapes” and questioned whether they were on solid legal ground. They were right to ask as muxtape has now been shut down, presumably at the hand of the RIAA. Of the two sites, muxtape always seemed to be sailing closest to the wind as they allowed users to upload tracks to share. Becoming popular very quickly would not have helped either.
The other mix-tape site, mixwit, took a different approach and, so far at least, is still up and running. You cannot upload music to mixwit; instead the site provides a user-friendly front end to the music search-engines seeqpod and SkreemR. This creates a protective buffer for mixwit in defending piracy complaints: they would argue that they can not be held any more accountable for infringing material than Google. Of course, the weakness in this argument is that vitually all of the content found on mixwit would be breaching copyright, while most material found on Google would not be.
Judging from the occasionally dodgy track names, I suspect that blip.fm uses the same meta-search approach as mixwit (although it does also allow uploads), so the fates of the two sites are almost certainly linked. I hope that they do both survive so that I can continue to embed my mixes in blog posts and keep blipping.
P.S. I’m a little short on props at the moment, do drop by and click on one of the little stars!
UPDATE: unfortunately mixwit has now been forced to close. I hope that blip.fm is not doomed too.