Idea: digital radio stations for companies, open source projects, and other tribes

Sep 17, 2013 • Karen

Music makes the people come together
Music mix the bourgeoisie and the rebel

People listen to music in a lot of ways. One way to classify music delivery systems is on two axes -- who chooses what music is being played, and how many sets of speakers can listen.

One chooses, one listener:

This the most common case, replicated more or less faithfully in the cloud.

One chooses, everybody listens:

Also pretty traditional.

  • Radio stations
  • Internet radio streams

Group chooses, one listener:

These requires a large collection of music on a group-accessible machine. Arguably all the 1-to-1 things could fall in this category too, if everyone at the party can access the physical computer for choosing the music.

In this setup there are multiple individuals in the room (presumably), but no streaming to other places or anything, which is what I mean by "one listener."

  • iTunes AirPlay
  • client175 on a media server, or similar
    • A subvariant lets members of the group upload songs to the server if it doesn't have them already. Code for America's office in 2011 had a homegrown music application that would allow this. Of course, it's not exactly legal.

Group chooses, many listeners:

Now we're getting somewhere.

    • Not the whole group can choose music--Turntable only allows up to five DJs in a room, who each only get to play one song at a time. If you are DJing and you stop paying attention to it, your queue can run out of music. Also has the playback restrictions that radio stations have (can't have too many songs by the same artist in a three hour period, etc).

  • Github's Play
    • Combines iTunes with Nicecast to stream the same music to everywhere Github people work
    • Requires the central machine to have All the Music. (But you can upload your own to it. Legality, schmegality.)
    • As far as I can tell, the music stream is not accessible to non-Github employees--though whether that's technically enforced or just not publicized is unclear.

  • hubot-rdio
    • Play clone that uses Rdio as the backend instead of iTunes
    • AFAICT only UI is via chatbot
    • Almost certainly violates the hell out of Rdio's terms of service

What category can't I find an example for? Group chooses, *everybody* can listen.

Imagine if teams and open source software projects and affinity groups of all sorts could have the same thing Github has for its employees: a collectively-curated music stream that every member could listen to, near and far. It would get its music legally (via some sort of collective or radio-tier account) from a cloud music provider with access to nearly every song ever digitized. It would have a simple, responsive web interface for adding and deleting songs from the queue, and if the queue ran dry, some sort of reasonable shuffle mode. It would be based on free software, without iTunes or Nicecast as dependencies. And finally, the resulting stream of music wouldn't just be accessible to members. It'd be accessible, if you wanted to link to it publicly, to everyone.

Imagine if you could tune into Radio Firefox, Radio Google, Radio Valve, or Radio Dreamwidth. You could learn something about a project or company by listening to its music, and maybe grow to like them more.

For larger companies, perhaps, there could maybe be many streams, one per team, with an master company stream which would broadcast one team's stream at a time, at a set time each day for each team.

I imagine this sort of service would be especially valuable for remote teams (including FOSS projects). Music is an ancient way to make groups of people feel closer together. It would be another mode through which to get to know your colleagues far away.

Sadly, there's no such thing as a corporate or radio-tier Rdio account. Or for any of their competitors, as far as I can tell. (Hence why both hubot-rdio and play pirate their music sources instead, and why they're not public streams.) The only way to build this legally would be to buy and build a suitably vast music library oneself. Which seems like a waste of money and resources, to make everyone do that. I'm sure it's a pain for traditional music radio stations as well, at least the non-hideously-corporate ones. Rdio et al, why won't you take their money? :P

Perhaps it's worth building this anyway--with everything but the music sources.