Spotify outage not related to today’s update, company is working on a fix

This morning, Spotify announced the rollout of a redesigned app for its Premium users. Now, the service is down. The streaming music provider is experiencing an outage today, according to reports from social media and various outage-tracking websites, including DownDetector. Spotify had failed to acknowledge the outage on its Spotify Status Twitter account, but the company has now confirmed the outage directly with TechCrunch.

Spotify’s Twitter customer support team is also responding to customers to let them know the company is aware of the problem and working on a fix.

Many of the impacted users appear to be complaining about their Spotify mobile app not working — something that led people to believe the outage is related to the app redesign that went live earlier today.

Spotify tells TechCrunch that’s not the case, however.

The company isn’t offering information about what is causing the issue, nor any other details, but says it’s working to bring the service back online.

According to Down Detector, Spotify began having issues as early as 8:22 AM ET. But its chart shows a clear spike later in the morning heading into the afternoon.

Its outage map shows a heavy concentration of reports in the U.S., but U.K. tabloid publications noted the outage is happening there, as well.

Meanwhile, the website Outage.Report claims to have received hundreds of reports of Spotify issues beginning around the same time of ~8:00 AM ET. Reports hail from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the U.K. and 26 other countries, it says. A third service, IsItDownRightNow.com, also reports the Spotify.com website is currently unreachable.

We’ll update with more information as it becomes available.

We won’t be listening to music in a decade according to Vinod Khosla

Depending on who you ask, the advantage of technology based on artificial or machine intelligence could be a topsy-turvy funhouse mirror world – even in some very fundamental ways.

“I actually think 10 years from now, you won’t be listening to music,” is a thing venture capitalist Vinod Khosla said on stage today during a fireside chat at Creative Destruction Lab’s second annual Super Session event.

Instead, he believes we’ll be listening to custom song equivalents that are automatically designed specifically for each individual, and tailored to their brain, their listening preferences and their particular needs.

Khosla noted that AI-created music is already making big strides – and it’s true that it’s come a long way in the past couple of years, as noted recently by journalist Stuart Dredge writing on Medium.

As Dredge points out, one recent trend is the rise of mood or activity based playlists on Spotify and channels on YouTube. There are plenty of these types of things where the artist, album and song name are not at all important, or even really surfaced. Not to mention that there’s a big financial incentive for an entity like Spotify to prefer machine-made alternatives, since it could help alleviate or eliminate the licensing costs that severely limit their ability to make margin on their primary business of serving up music to customers.

AI-generated chart toppers and general mood music is one thing, but a custom soundtrack specific to every individual is another. It definitely sidesteps the question of what happens to the communal aspect of music when everyone’s music-replacing auditory experience is unique to the person. Guess we’ll find out in ten years.

What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

Apple joins the open-source Cloud Native Computing Foundation

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the home of open-source projects like Kubernetes, today announced that Apple is joining it as a top-level Platinum End User Member. With this, Apple is joining 89 existing CNCF end-user members like Adidas, Atlassian, Box, GitHub, the New York Times, Reddit, Spotify and Walmart.

Apple, in typical fashion, isn’t commenting on the announcement, but the CNCF notes that end user memberships are meant for organizations that are “heavy users of open source cloud native technologies” and that are looking to give back to the community. By becoming a CNCF end-user member, companies also join the Linux Foundation .

As part of its membership, Apple also gets a seat on the CNCF’s Governing Board. https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomerdoron, a senior engineering manager at Apple, will take this seat.

“Having a company with the experience and scale of Apple as an end user member is a huge testament to the vitality of cloud native computing for the future of infrastructure and application development,” said Chris Aniszczyk, CTO of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. “We’re thrilled to have the support of Apple, and look forward to the future contributions to the broader cloud native project community.”

While you may not necessarily think of Apple as a major open source company, the company has open sourced everything from the XNU kernel that’s part of the Darwin operating system to its Swift programming language. The company has not typically participated all that much in the open source cloud infrastructure community, though, but today’s move may signal that this is changing. Apple obviously runs its own data centers, so chances are it is indeed a heavy user of open source infrastructure projects, though the company doesn’t typically talk about these.

Barack and Michelle Obama are developing podcasts for Spotify

Spotify just announced a partnership with Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground.

Through this deal, Spotify says the Obamas will “develop, produce, and lend their voices to select podcasts, connecting them to listeners around the world on wide-ranging topics.”

Higher Ground was founded in 2018 as the Obamas signed a content partnership with Netflix. The company’s initial slate for Netflix was announced just over a month ago, covering everything from a Sundance documentary about industrial development in Ohio, to a scripted anthology adapted from a New York Times series profiling noteworthy names who didn’t previously receive Times obituaries.

Spotify, meanwhile, has been getting more serious about podcasting with the acquisition of startups Gimlet and Anchor, as well as by hiring longtime media executive Dawn Ostroff as its chief content officer.

Like the initial Netflix announcement, the release from Spotify doesn’t include launch dates or information about specific titles. As part of this collaboration, the production company will be launching Higher Ground Audio, a new division focused on podcasts.

“We’re excited about Higher Ground Audio because podcasts offer an extraordinary opportunity to foster productive dialogue, make people smile and make people think, and, hopefully, bring us all a little closer together,” said the former U.S. president in a statement.

Every Final Fantasy soundtrack is now on Spotify and Apple Music

Just in time for your road trip to LA for E3, Square Enix has suddenly made the soundtracks to every main Final Fantasy game available for free to listen to online. Just log into Spotify or Apple Music and search for “Final Fantasy original soundtrack.”

I just checked and Final Fantasies I-XV and some sub-sequels are all there, some in original and remastered versions, plus plenty of popular (or not) side titles like FF Tactics (come out on Switch already!) and Type-0. There’s even the soundtrack for the ill-considered 2001 movie, The Spirits Within.

No X-2, unfortunately for the few who liked that one (usually very intensely), and a few of the other non-main entries (like Tactics Advance and A2) are missing right now but perhaps only late to arrive. So it’s not every every Final Fantasy, but close enough that I don’t feel bad about putting it in the headline.

There’s been no mention of it on Square Enix’s social media channels, even the Final Fantasy-specific one. But it likely has to do with a special concert being given this week for FF VII, the remake of which is almost certain to appear at E3.

I’ve listened to a few tracks and it all seems legit. The only thing is that many of the titles are in Japanese — so it might be difficult to pick out your favorite character’s theme or what have you if you don’t, you know, speak that language.

Now you can at last create a greatest hits of Nobuo Uematsu’s FF work and access it from anywhere. It’s been a long time coming.

Slack narrows losses, displays healthy revenue growth

Workplace messaging powerhouse Slack filed an amended S-1 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday weeks ahead of a direct listing expected June 20.

In the document, Slack included an updated at look at its path to profitability, posting first-quarter revenues of $134.8 million on losses of $31.8 million. Slack’s Q1 revenues represent a 67% increase from the same period last year when the company lost $24.8 million on $80.9 million in revenue.

For the fiscal year ending January 31, 2019, the company reported losses of $138.9 million on revenue of $400.6 million. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1 million on revenue of $220.5 million the year prior.

Slack is in the process of completing the final steps necessary for its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, where it will trade under the ticker symbol “WORK.” A direct listing is an alternative approach to the stock market that allows well-known businesses to sell existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors directly to the market, instead of issuing new shares. The method lets companies bypass the traditional roadshow process and avoid a good chunk of Wall Street’s IPO fees.

Spotify completed a direct listing in 2018; Airbnb, another highly-valued venture capital-backed business, is rumored to be considering a direct listing in 2020.

Slack is currently valued at $7 billion after raising $1.22 billion in VC funding from investors including Accel, which owns a 24% pre-IPO stake, Andreessen Horowitz (13.3%), Social Capital (10.2%), SoftBank, T. Rowe Price, IVP, Kleiner Perkins and many others.

Spotify is building shared-queue Social Listening

Want to rock out together even when you’re apart? Spotify has prototyped an unreleased feature called “Social Listening” that lets multiple people add songs to a queue they can all listen to. You just all scan one friend’s QR-style Spotify Social Listening code, and then anyone can add songs to the real-time playlist. Spotify could potentially expand the feature to synchronize playback so you’d actually hear the same notes at the same time, but for now it’s a just a shared queue.

Social Listening could give Spotify a new viral growth channel, as users could urge friends to download the app to sync up. The intimate experience of co-listening might lead to longer sessions with Spotify, boosting ad plays or subscription retention. Plus, it could differentiate Spotify from Apple Music, YouTube Music, Tidal and other competing streaming services.

A Spotify spokesperson tells TechCrunch that “We’re always testing new products and experiences, but have no further news to share at this time.” Spotify already offers Collaborative Playlists friends can add to, but Social Listening is designed for real-time sharing. The company refused to provide further details on the prototype or when it might launch.

The feature is reminiscent of Turntable.fm, a 2011 startup that let people DJ in virtual rooms on their desktop that other people could join where they could chat, vote on the next song and watch everyone’s avatars dance. But the company struggled to properly monetize through ad-free subscriptions and shut down in 2014. Facebook briefly offered its own version called “Listen With…” in 2012 that let Spotify or Rdio users synchronize music playback.

Spotify Social Listening was first spotted by reverse-engineering sorceress and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. She discovered code for the feature buried in Spotify’s Android app, but for now it’s only available to Spotify employees. Social Listening appears in the menu of connected devices you can open while playing a song beside nearby Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices. “Connect with friends: Your friends can add tracks by scanning this code – You can also scan a friend’s code,” the feature explains.

A help screen describes Social Listening as “Listen to music together. 1. On your phone, play a song and select (Connected Devices). You’ll see a code at the bottom of the screen. 2. On your friend’s phone, select the same (Connected Devices) icon, tap SCAN CODE, and point the camera at your code. 3. Now you can control the music together.” You’ll then see friends who are part of your Social Listening session listed in the Connected Devices menu. Users can also copy and share a link to join their Social Listening session that starts with the URL prefix https://open.spotify.com/socialsession/. Note that Spotify never explicitly says that playback will be synchronized.

With streaming apps largely having the same music catalog and similar $9.99 per month premium pricing, they have to compete on discovery and user experience. Spotify has long been in the lead here with its algorithmically personalized Discover Weekly playlists, which were promptly copied by Apple and SoundCloud.

Oddly, Spotify has stripped out some of its own social features over the years, eliminating the in-app messaging inbox and instead pushing users to share songs over third-party messaging apps. The deemphasis in discovery through friends conveniently puts the focus on Spotify’s owned playlists. That gives it leverage over the record labels during their rate negotiations as it’s who influences which songs will become hits, so if labels don’t play nice their artists might not get promoted via playlists.

That’s why it’s good to see Spotify remembering that music is an inherently social experience. Music physically touches us through its vibrations, and when people listen to the same songs and are literally moved by it at the same time, it creates a sense of togetherness we’re too often deprived of on the internet.

Delane Parnell’s plan to conquer amateur esports

Most of the buzz about esports focuses on high-profile professional teams and audiences watching live streams of those professionals.

What gets ignored is the entire base of amateurs wanting to compete in esports below the professional tier. This is like talking about the NBA and the value of its sponsorships and broadcast rights as if that is the entirety of the basketball market in the US.

Los Angeles-based PlayVS (pronounced “play versus”) wants to become the dominant platform for amateur esports, starting at the high school level. The company raised $46 million last year—its first year operating—with the vision that owning the infrastructure for competitions and expanding it to encompass other social elements of gaming can make it the largest gaming company in the world.

I recently sat down with Founder & CEO Delane Parnell to talk about his company’s formation and growth strategy. Below is the transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):

Founding PlayVS

Eric P: You have a fascinating background as a serial entrepreneur while you were a teenager.

Delane P.: I grew up on the west side of Detroit and started working at the cell phone store of a family friend when I was 13. When I turned 16 or so, I joined two guys in opening our own Metro PCS franchise. And then two additional franchises. And I was on the founding team of a car rental company called Executive Rental Car.

Eric P: And this segued into tech startups after meeting Jon Triest from Ludlow Ventures?

Delane P: He got me a ticket to the Launch conference in SF, and that experience inspired me to start a Fireside Chat series in Detroit that brought in people like Brian Wong from Kiip and Alexis Ohanian from Reddit to speak. Starting at 21, I worked at a venture capital firm called IncWell based in Birmingham, Michigan then joined a startup called Rocket Fiber.

We were focused on internet infrastructure – this is 2015-ish – and I was appointed to lead our strategy in esports. So I met with many of the publishers, ancillary startups, tournament organizers, and OG players and team owners. Through the process, I became passionate about esports and ended up leaving Rocket Fiber to start a Call of Duty team that I quickly sold to TSM.

Eric P: What then drove you to found PlayVS? Did it seem like an obvious opportunity or did it take you a while to figure it out?

Delane P.: What esports means is playing video games competitively bound to governance and a competitive ruleset. As a player, what that experience means is you play on a team, in a position, with a coach, in a season that culminates in some sort of championship.