Napster blames Micrsoft for it's own failings
Napster got itself some publicity last week when their Chairman CEO Chris Gorog publically blamed Microsoft for their inability to dent the market share of Apple's iTunes Store. I posted previously about the Napster user experience. I don't doubt that a lot of Napster's failure is down to the failure of Creative and iRiver to make mp3 players that are as innovative and desireable as the various iPod models, but there's plenty Napster could do to improve their service. They don't have the right to sit there and say "we have this service that's so much better than iTunes, why is nobody using it?" First of all they need to understand that because they provide a subscription service they're not going to sell nearly as many tracks per-user as iTunes Store is. Secondly, they need to sort out the audio quality issue - 128kpbs WMA is not good enough when you are paying £0.79 for around 3 minutes of audio. Lastly there are a number of things in the client application that really need a revamp:-
- The interface uses multiple instances of the Internet Explorer control. The problem is that it switches between them almost instantly, then it loads the new content in. So you can hit the back or forwards buttons on the toolbar and get the incorrect pages appear before the correct pages are loaded. I don't know why they thought using multiple IE controls would be a good idea - maybe it works well on their LAN were the new pages get loaded intantaneously, but when you are on a slower internet connection, it sucks.
- What also sucks is that the main front page displays a "Working..." animation while it loads. I'm sure they thought it would look nice to have all the content appear at once in a flash, but it really slows things down massively. Browser writers put a lot of effort into making web pages render progressively as the content loads because it makes the whole experience more fluid. The Napster designers have seen fit to undo that work because they don't want to it become too apparent - at least on the first page - that they are using browser controls in their application.
- Quite often the web page part of the display that shows the album name, cover and related artists loads fine, but the grid-view below it where the tracks are supposed to be listed, doesn't get populated. I guess the data is comming from different servers and one of them isn't very reliable. Anyway, it sucks also.
- The recommendations system is fairly useless. They need to take a long look at Amazon.com's system. That managed to predict much of my CD collection after I'd listed about 10 albums. I've listened to countless albums on Napster now and it still recommends stuff that I've never listened to and never will listen to. Oh, and unlike Amazon, it doesn't have a "never show me this again" button for recommendations that are way off.
- The radio station system is broken as I detailed previously.
- The Napster catalog is too simplistic. It groups tracks into albums and assigns albums to artists. To be fair it does have the smarts to assign tracks to artists as well, so that when you search by artist you get the tracks they contributed to compilations as well. However there is no way to browse albums that are not by a particular artist. Searching for "various artists" doesn't get you far either.
- Another problem with the catalog is that every collection of tracks is an album. That includes CD singles and EPs. So you can get a band that's only a few years old with 20 to 30 albums and most of them are just multiple single releases. And it's not clear in the user interface which albums are real albums and which are just singles. They need to colour them differently or something and also add a checkbox to the page to filter out albums that aren't real albums.
There are probably lots of other things that are wrong with Napster as it stands, but another problem is the lack of marketing. Very few people I speak to know that Napster runs a legal download service now. It's also difficult explaining the subscription service. Napster really needs to do a better job of getting the word out if it wants customers.
Oh, and I'm posting all this to my blog because Napster is one of those companies that puts as much distance between itself and it's customers as possible. They have a "user feedback" form, but there's no conversation with that - they might read your comments, they might not, either way you're not getting a response from them. They have a forums system build into the application, but there are no staff to be seen there - it's just all 15 yearolds slagging each other off. Maybe I should recommend them a copy of Scoble's Naked Conversations.