We’ve learned four lessons from creating Spotify’s desktop app: Spotify Engineering

August 4, 2021
Published by Spotify Engineering

TL; DR Over the years, Spotify’s brand has expanded to include a number of products, from mobile apps to web players to car accessories. But sitting in the main part is our main product, that started it: the desktop app. In the first episode of our podcast series, “Spotify: A Product Story”, host and chief R&D officer Gustav Soderstrom explains how the app (and Spotify in general) came about – and product lessons should take you away from that journey. . So to improve our user experience Spotify had to completely rethink peer-to-peer (P2P) networking and read on to find out why everyone needs a little magic to stand out from their competitors. And of course, check out the podcast yourself to learn more about how Spotify got better, how Spotify got done.

How do you steal from a pirate?

Let’s go back to the mid-2000s. At the moment, music piracy was not a new phenomenon, but it was a new popular one. You no longer have to physically steal records, tear up the radio on a cassette, or even burn a CD. With peer-to-peer technology, it only took an internet connection and some software, and you can stay away from catching a song for yourself for a while, with almost no chance of being punished.

Of course, download speeds can be painfully slow, programs are somewhat malicious, and the album you pirated may be substandard, incomplete, or secretly accompanied by a virus. But, hey, it was quite convenient and low risk, all things considered. It was, most importantly, absolutely free. What can compete?

In the first episode of the podcast, Daniel, co-founder and CEO of Spotify, remembers what it would take to defeat piracy in his own game when he first came up with the idea of ​​a company:

Daniel: I think if you could take the idea of ​​downloading all the music in the world for free or at a very low price like in Napster and Kaza and you married it to the iTunes user experience, so it looks like you had all the music in the world on your hard drive – it’s piracy. Would be a much better experience than that. And then I think everyone will come back to it.

In other words, when it comes to pointing out your product strategy, Us The first lesson is an important rule of survival: convenience outweighs everything. For most people the appeal of music piracy, after all, was not to intentionally sabotage the record industry or stop a revenue stream for artists – it was free and relatively convenient. After realizing this, Spotify’s mission was set: if we could provide those same things with a better user experience while still generating revenue, then and only then, would we look forward to success.

Grow up or go home

But exactly how we can create a user experience That Good? How can we actually defeat the pirates in their own game? There was a clear improvement in speed; Waiting for hours for a slow connection to download an album was a big pain, no matter how free it was. But when we looked at the technology and equipment there, it was not immediately clear how something good could be done.

Luckily, Spotify co-founder Martin Lorentzon ran to someone who knew how. Write Lud Strigius, the creator of Torrent, one of the world’s most popular bit torrent clients and, ironically, one of the biggest drivers of music piracy. If there was one that could promise to push the limits of what client-server technology and P2P networking can do, it was him.

Little wonder, that, Ludde was fielding offers from the left and right Silicon Valley. Nevertheless, he did not rush to accept any of them. When he puts it on the podcast, “When I find a project that interests me enough, I can’t really stop working on it. So the problem is actually finding these projects.”

Bad news for other companies, but great news for us. You see, it’s always good to remember Our second lesson: Great ambition attracts great talent. This is why companies always have to keep goalposts. When Daniel and Martin first approached Lud for a hard sale on Spotify, a company whose goal seemed impossible to achieve again at that time, Ludd just signed up.

The rules are advice only

And that’s Spotify’s problem – and it wasn’t long before the solution was identified.

Ludde: Doing it in the browser was not even an option. At that time there was no competitive way to do this in the browser. The browsers were not mature enough.

Basically, if Spotify runs on a browser, it will only be able to run as fast as the browser-based Internet, which included our competition. This means that if we go that route, we will never have a better experience than piracy.

Fortunately, Ludd knew in advance Us Third product lesson: Don’t be afraid to break the rules. The problem was bigger than finding the right technology; For Spotify to be what we want it to be, we need to custom-build everything in our entire infrastructure. In short, we have to go to the whole stack.

Not to go into too much detail here, but at the time, most of the Internet was made up of “thin clients”, such as web pages or Flash-based clients that ran in browsers, and used more common, standard protocols such as HTTPS. Seeing its limitations, Ludd and a team of engineers ran in the opposite direction, creating “Fat Client” alone, creating completely new protocols, and hybridizing client-server and P2P technology to their own ends. (Watch Episode 01, “How do you steal from a pirate?”

Do you want to see a magic trick?

If we can’t secure the licensing agreements we need to play music on our app, then those ambitions will be nothing. We knew our technology was cool and groundbreaking, but would anyone else? The music industry was being destroyed by the same peer-to-peer technology used in the Spotify desktop app. Why would they want to make a deal with someone who seemed like an enemy?

When Michelle Qadir joined Universal Sweden in 2008 with new technology that could potentially help the ailing music industry, she originally saw Spotify setting up a meeting as another start-up, to get her attention. It was, until he saw the product in action.

Michelle: There was a kind of pure magic in the meeting that happened [Daniel] Compared. He started playing a song in the software, and the song played so fast, so fast … I mean, I don’t know if people will remember, but the playback was slow then. Even if you have an MP3 on your computer and you play it, you know, Winamp, iTunes, it was faster. And we were like, “You have files on your computer, don’t you?” And he was, “No, it’s in the clouds.”

This is our fourth and final lesson: One thing to differentiate yourself from your competitors. But if you can pull off something that no one could have imagined – a magic trick – now it’s fascinating. Not just captivating enough to change the minds of potential users, but an entire industry that is stuck in an embarrassment.

So, sure, those four lessons, but why stop there? The podcast series “Spotify: A Product Story” shares all these stories and dozens more, filled with insightful insights and product strategy lessons from employees, collaborators and musicians who created Spotify today. Join host and chief R&D officer Gustav Soderstrom and watch all episodes here.

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