In 2015, Spotify was already the music powerhouse of the world. But something essential was still missing. From concerts, to parties to mixtapes to your lovers, music is a central part to developing friendships, bringing joy to people and feeling closer to them. By essence music is better with friends.
Social was key for various reasons: Retention metrics were better for people listening to their friend’s music, but it would also be a key opportunity to expose you to new music in smart ways.
Photo credit: Joel Sossa
Over time, we learned that direct destinations like smart playlists built from your friends were not necessarily what people were looking for. Users were not always in tune with their friend’s states. However, they enjoyed the feeling of having them around. So instead of thinking of social as a destination, we thought of it as a layer, an underlying presence of the people you care about and their music. So that you’ll never feel alone.
We knew we wanted to bring your friends to the Spotify experience. But we knew as well it needed to be subtle. People were coming here to play and enjoy music first. We wanted to build on that feeling, a never ending music party where all your friends were invited.
From Snapchat to Facebook Videos,the world was discovering the power of real time. We drew inspiration from these services to create a frictionless, discrete experience where the music never stops.
The previous activity feed was there but something core to the Spotify essence was music. A pulse. The feeling of the beat, that something was live and changing constantly. We quickly realized that the feeling of real time would become essential to the experience. The same way the catalogue would cater to every moment, the friend feed would change dramatically whether it is a quiet Tuesday afternoon or a lively Friday evening.
Behind The Scenes
I led the design of the friend feed in Q4 of 2015. I worked in collaboration with a Product Manager, A Researcher, and an army of Engineers to make this real. From the high level conception to pixel perfect implementation, I was there. The feature launched to millions of users in February 2016.
Instead of showing users listening past activity, we would show it all the ones that are active. Inactive listeners would gently be disabled. The focus was on the live. I collaborated with the backend engineers to build a live engine that would display the real time listening activity of your friends.
The ranking and the states were important, from the most to the least actives. Every time a new user plays a new song, he would “jump” on top of the list and push the previous one lower. 2 states, the “active now” and the active recently will be displayed, with access to their profile, the song and the context of the song.
The first time it worked, it felt like we turned the lights on. Suddenly, all our friends were around.
“The feature is really connecting you to your friends and actually creating the feeling of getting closer”
“It definitely feels more real time now.”
We slowly released the feature to Spotify employee, then 1% of our users. I sent a massive survey to gauge the reaction to the Friend Feed. Feedback where mostly positive, when asking what they liked, the concept of Real Time became the selling factor. It was not that much the music discovery than the feeling that they were around that was important. The play button would act as an instant friend jukebox that would allow be in their musical world for a while. And it required absolutely no work.
"Make us able to click on our friends name in the feed list to see what they have been listening to the latest 24 hours."
"The main reason why I would click on a album my friend was listening to was because the album artwork caught my eye, not my friends face"
Of course, we learned a ton on the way and things were not perfect. One of the biggest learning was to realize the high number of users who would not have enough friends to make the feed lively or interesting. It felt like a ghost town to them. This kickstarted a new project to help users find and follow their friends faster.
The Friend Feed is not one of these performence features which success relies on specific metrics. It’s mostly an “emotional” feature that provide a feeling of live. Which ties to the core principles of Spotify.
It drives users to more diversity on the profile of friends visited, create new channels to a wider spectrum of artists and playlists, and generally helps the flux discoverability of content, using an organic filter, your friends.
“Being able to see what your friends are listening to is one of the main reasons I use Spotify instead of apple music! The social feature on Spotify is unreal!”
The Feat of the Day become central meeting point fou our community and a reason to come back everyday. We implemented daily notifications pushes to remind our community to the feat of the day. We tracked metric for the number of challenges completed and the opening of our push we would send everyday to remind our users about it.
We explored various ideas such as: Rethinking messaging, anchoring to your friend’s music, creating a group listening experience. But the beauty of the Friend Feed lies in its simplicity and silence. Whenever you come, you can feel the presence of your friends and that you’re never alone.
“It is a feature that is so critical if we want to passively share and experience music on Spotify with our friends.”
“The friend feed brings all spotify users closer and opens musical horizons of so many”