— Uneven Distribution.

What’s wrong (and right) with Guvera?

Last week Guvera started their limited beta. I gave it a shot, then I gave it a bit of a hosing on Twitter.

Within minutes, @Guvera replied with a somewhat unconvincing 140 character regurgitation of their business model. Within an hour I had a voicemail message from Josh at Guvera, wanting to have a chat about my experience.

It always impresses me when people are willing to track me down to find out more about my 140 character rants. It’s happened a couple times before, most notably with @RichardSlatter of Wotnews, who I’ve now caught up with quite a few times on their offering.

So I gave Josh a call back yesterday and had a chat about Guvera. I promised him I’d have another go of the site, and offer some feedback.

While I don’t normally write about specific sites or campaigns, I’m writing down my thoughts here. Not to publicly slam Guvera, but rather in the hope that the clever people who read this blog will be able to add even more value and help a startup out. And also because I think there’s lessons to be learned at a broader level by really pulling apart what ticks and what doesn’t in a new idea such as this.

A couple things before I start. I read this wonderful thought on Noah Brier‘s blog yesterday: “…critique is about identifying the germs of ideas worth development despite the current holes and mistakes”.  I’m hoping that the following is completely in the spirit of that thought. Also I’m going to use Joe Crump’s seven ‘Digital DNA‘ elements to try to keep this brief and succinct (and because I think these seven attributes are still completely relevant and slightly brilliant).

The Guvera experience, to my cynical mind, just doesn’t feel that genuine. It’s not like I feel like I’m selling my soul to the devil (or McDonalds in this case) in order to get my music, it’s just that I don’t feel like the brand presence is a truly authentic one. Nor do I really feel like I’m supporting artists by using the service.

I’ll make two concessions here. Firstly, I don’t think a younger and more mainstream audience would find the advertising as inauthentic as I do. And secondly, I see this as a challenge for the brands who are involved in Guvera to make it feel more authentic. This is still early days, but the quicker we can move away from visually intrusive billboard communication with a slightly related playlist, and to a truly personalised music experience enabled by the brand, the better. I just can’t see the service getting traction until that happens.

Adaptiveness is an absolute must have for me in any music site or app. If it’s not learning about me, and making recommendations, I don’t have much use for it. This is a hard thing. Last.FM gets it pretty much right, Pandora does an alright job, but outside of those two I have very rarely seen music recommendation done well enough that I seek it out. For this, I still stick to analog computing (an email list with about 40 friends who are music nuts, and Facebook), which is social behaviour which could be replicated within a service like Guvera (I’ll come back to that later).

But Guvera is still falling well short of the benchmark in adaptiveness regardless of cutting edge recommendation engines. I can log in to a WhatCD or Waffles account, search for an artist I like, and within a couple clicks be discovering other artists I’ve never heard, but might like. This is all done through fairly simple algorithms.

On the advertising side of things, I thing it’s tough to criticise the service for lack of adaptiveness at this point. (I also think it’s rather moot to focus too much on the advertising platform at the moment anyway, if Guvera can’t get the music service right, there will be no user base to advertise too). But this is somewhere I really do see potential. The way Guvera can be successful (and unique) is to create truly useful, authentic brand experiences. A truly adaptive platform will achieve this, and even in the cutthroat world of music services, I believe will succeed.

Which brings me on to relevance. Guvera doesn’t feel useful to me as a music fan. It’s existing core offers (free music & altruistic consumption) are available to me elsewhere, and even though it is only through separate channels (torrents & iTunes), the ease of both of those channels still makes them far more appealing.

But I can’t help but think these two core offers are not what is going to draw users in anyway. What will draw users in is a new experience, the challenge is that in almost every arena there is already stiff competition. Discovery (Last.FM, Pandora), socialness (Blip.FM, Facebook), endless choice (Spotify), all these things have been done, and done well. Which doesn’t mean they can’t be done better, and I actually believe the brand experience side of things is a real strength here. We know people are happy to brand themselves, so if Guvera can create social music discovery with a seemingly endless  selection, curated in part by brands I love, then they will have created something truly transformative.

And I guess the lack of a transformative experience was the root of my disappointed tweet. After what was no small amount of hype, Guvera just didn’t raise my expectations of what music could be (and yes I realise that they will eventually branch out into video and other media, but if the music isn’t right, I don’t think the rest will follow). I think some of this is because it is actually quite a complicated offering. I’m sure a lot of people were like me when they first used Spotify or Pandora or Blip.fm or even MySpace and thought “Damn, I had this idea, why didn’t I ever get around to making it happen?”. Guvera though, I certainly didn’t have this idea. Which is not to say it’s destined for failure (I certainly never had the idea for Twitter of Foursquare), but rather highlights two clear things for me.

Firstly, the unique story of Guvera needs to be communicated to the average user. If the value of brand interactions, the altruism of artists getting paid, and what I hope will become the social and discovery aspects of the music are all communicated as a whole, Guvera is a truly unique and interesting experience. What telling that story does is gives people the desire to spend an extra couple of minutes trying it out, a vital extra couple minutes to work out just how stuff works and why it’s valuable to them. At the moment, users are just dumped in to a search box.

Secondly, they need to listen to their users. Complex user experiences like Guvera can succeed, but invariably do not follow the path that their creators intended. People will find value in areas that the developers didn’t expect, and may ignore the features that those close to the project think make the site brilliant. Twitter is a great example of this (hashtags, replies, retweets, lists are all a result of user evolution of the service), and already we’re seeing signs of FourSquare taking a similar path. Both are services which superficially offer little immediate value to me, it’s only through continued exposure and exploration that they become must-haves. I think startups like Guvera can learn a lot from that.

Overall my Guvera experience wasn’t immersive. I didn’t loose track of time. In actual fact, I found myself pushing through to try and spend a bit more time on the site, just in case I wasn’t ‘getting it’. I think there’s a few factors to this, in terms of the user story and experience as I mentioned above, but also the interface, usability and design side of the site. But all of these things are improved post-beta in any service, and I actually don’t believe they are as crucial as many believe in the success of a startup.

What is critically missing at this stage to make Guvera a truly immersive experience is the socialness. And this means both the digital socialness (using data) and analog socialness (using my friends). I’ll briefly go over the key areas I think could be improved upon here, because they’re pretty obvious and I can only hope that they’re already in a roadmap.

When I signed up, to get credits to actually listen to any music I had to fill in a survey of my likes and dislikes. I get this, it’s to build a profile for potential advertisers, but it’s a massive barrier and I think completely unnecessary. It can be overcome in two ways. Firstly, pull all the data you can from my Facebook or Twitter or Shelfari or Last.FM or Flickr or Dopplr profiles. Seamless and painless. Then give me a bunch of credits and let me get on with using the site. Then, over time use data to build my profile up. But please don’t ask me to build up a profile of myself, it causes severe existential crises.

Once I was using Guvera, I felt very much like I was in a room on my own. I was favouriting channels and (trying to) download tracks, but this activity was very much in a vacuum. Why could I not tell my friends on Twitter or Facebook that I’d just become a fan of DJ Hero playlist? And why could I not see (and interact with) other users currently on that channel? And if this whole system is going to work on a credits basis, why are you not utilising me to tell my friends (who no doubt have similar musical tastes to me) about a channel, then reward me if I get them on board as well?

Finally in terms of socialness in the real world, there’s still a long way to go. When we talk about ideas spreading via social networks, it’s easy to fall in to the trap of thinking that means a ‘Share on Facebook’ button. It doesn’t. The way I share things like Guvera with my social network is by telling them about it over a beer, showing them on my iPhone. Guvera needs to get out of the browser and become a service that people can make their own, carry with them, and truly become a social platform.

Before I finish, I’d like to say absolutely nothing about the Guvera model of artist payment. I don’t actually believe it’s right. I don’t believe it’s sustainable. And I don’t think that it matters one bit to the success of the site.

I’ll finish up with a thought on the advertising side of things. The reason I’m writing this, the reason I’m willing to give Guvera a go, is because I’m really interested in the brand side of the service. I actually don’t know how I want to use it, but I know it could be really exciting. We didn’t believe that people wanted to be friends with brands on social networks. We were wrong. My instinct tells me that I don’t want brands encroaching on the single largest and most personal part of my life, my music. But I know, deep down, somehow, I’m wrong.

17 comments
  1. Stephen Phillips says: January 12, 20106:41 pm

    While you don’t normally write about specific sites or campaigns, you really should do it more often. This type of deep, thoughful, constructive feedback is gold. The Guvera guys should be applauded for trying something new . I hope they can pull it off.

  2. Ned Dwyer says: February 11, 201012:05 pm

    I tried out the Guvera beta today and was pretty underwhelmed. I think it’s initial shortfalls can be put into three categories: lack of content and poor user experience design but more importantly I had to ask the question “How is this better than the thousands of other music discovery and listening services?”.

    How does Guvera make it easier for me to find music I want to listen to, or find new music that I don’t know I like yet? Or is this simply an attempt to try to find a way to shoehorn brands into the music experience, creating a solution for the commercial side before thinking of the users?

    The lack of content problem means that when I search for some fairly mainstream artists I’m getting really poor results back. No results = I can’t find what I want = I’ll go and look elsewhere. The Rolling Stones, Cut Copy, the Presets and Kylie (Minogue) all came up with either no responses or really poor results (a couple of remixes or completely different artists). Building a decent search engine is not easy but it is important. I also hope for their sake that they’re creating a log of “nil” results for their own reference.

    I know they’re trying to cut deals with labels so they’re restricted by content but there are other ways. Blip.fm for instance pulls in their music from youtube videos (amongst other sources).

    I think the user experience design falls down where I am struggling to work out how I can play my new music. I just want to search and play the music I like – it’s hard enough to find the music I want on Guvera without having to work out how to play the tracks.

    On a more detailed inspection I did find the “random” page though which returned a much better results page, with a lot more interesting content and better brand association (Contiki https://www.guvera.com/s/f/channelRender?execution=e3s1). Perhaps this should be elevated above the search function until that has fixed?

    Well that turned into quite the rant, hopefully it’s more signal and less noise.

  3. mrSilkie says: March 17, 20107:42 pm

    :|
    get on with it, today i downloaded one and a half (almost $20 worth of music) for FREE, if you would like to have a whine about it then go ahead but i can see this becoming a part of my daily internet crawl.

  4. Musicfan says: April 2, 20103:10 pm

    I tried it didn’t like it. found only a couple of songs I liked which I already had anyways. Couldn’t find any new songs I liked, agree search function wasn’t working well at all. It was hard work to use the site to find music I liked. Its a time waste thing using the site i could find the stuff I like 10x faster on other sites and know I could get the songs where as they have limited selection and poor interface for finding songs, they just basically throw you into a music store with no categories and make you sift through artists trying to find good songs you might enjoy. I tried finding good songs on ITunes then typing them into Guvera and couldn’t find almost anything that I like on Itunes. So I wasted 45 mins of my life on a service with one of the worst user experiences I’ve seen yet. They need to go back to the drawing board and redesign there user interface in a big way. Perhaps most popular branded channels on the front page based off the type of music you prefer. If I put in hip hop & pop & rock, show me the most popular Macdonald’s pop songs playlists or Harley Davidson rock songs playlists. Anything to help find useful songs. They have along way to go, I hope there $20 million cash is used to improve there site dramatically instead of on just advertising a bad experience.

    I wouldn’t want to one of their investors after seeing what they created. I wish them all the best of luck I hope they can rethink the site and improve it 10 fold. Would be great to use this instead of torrents & Itunes

  5. Public Address Announcer says: April 8, 201011:45 pm

    Its free!!! I’m not going to whine about free. Sure things could be easier, but its in BETA. Did I mention its free? I found Paul Kelly and Peter Gabriel songs that I couldn’t even buy in Napster, or Rhapsody. I got some older Genesis songs for free that I can only get via eMusic.com by paying for a WHOLE album. For the popular songs, eMusic makes you buy the whole album. Guvera lets you get the single track. Sure, I’m a bit confused about how the credits work, and what the maximum allowed to download is, and how often they’ll be reset, but its in BETA, and its FREE. Unlike other commenters here, I was able to find The Rolling Stones just fine. Will they have the latest and greatest most sparking new songs? No, prolly not. But, that’s ok. It will allow me to fill in some gaps or finally allow me to get some tunes that i previously only had on vinyl and didn’t want to shell out the money for digital. Its free. I like it.

  6. Gay says: April 12, 201012:15 pm

    It’s Gay. Totally Gay.

  7. Roger Lintzeris says: April 29, 20105:51 pm

    That was a really good read Nic.

    You mention that “The Guvera experience, to my cynical mind, just doesn’t feel that genuine”. For me, in ingenuity started with the name.

    Guvera is (obviously) a slight variation of the famous Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. Icon, idol, overused Che Guevara. The Cuban diplomat for socialism, yes, socialism – standing up against capitalism, etc etc… you can see where I’m going with this. It wasn’t a good start.

    Then I tried the site…….and well, your article sums that up really well.

    For sites like this to work it either needs to appeal to the pointy end of music lovers who can then trickle it down to the mass (Hype Machine, Grooveshark, torrents etc), or the mass jumping on board straight away (Apple iStore). Unfortunately if the BETA doesn’t change dramatically, I don’t think this will appeal to either.

  8. Sarah says: July 13, 20101:27 am

    I tried Guvera in the hope of trying to find some more unknown artists which i couldn’t find on any torrent sites. Totally the wrong place to go.
    The only artists i could seem to find were really popular ones, which can quickly and easily be found through torrents.
    I think the problem is the sight is just not popular enought, with artists or fans, to get any decent range of music.
    I dont think I will be returning to the site anytime soon.

  9. Dave says: September 25, 201012:15 pm

    Good article, but personally, I heart guverra and hope their social experiment pays off!

    I expect most of the critical points raised here will vanish as Guverra evolves into a full fledged product. Even in the past 3 weeks I’ve found the selection of music has got noticeably bigger.

    I’m hoping brands will jump on board so that I get free downloads in return for customer-loyalty.

    You question how Guvera is different from the other two music avenues. It seems pretty obvious to me.

    1) Itunes – annoying Apple-oply with clear profiteering at user expense and paralyzing content management of YOUR music

    2) Torrents – generally illegal

    3) Streaming (firstlisten) etc – do not generally allow you to download music permanently.

  10. J says: November 22, 201011:44 pm

    Everyone is whinging sooo much!!!

    ITS FREE MUSIC!

    Everyone complains when they have to pay for it, then when its there for free they still find something else to complain about.

    If its so ‘gay’ and boring to use go pay for your music! Simple.

    I think its great…

  11. john says: January 25, 20118:20 am

    Great article…. I think you will find that Guvera will no longer be!!!…and investors will be upset and advisors will need to be careful…do a search on web “investing in guvera” and check out the prospectus issued in November 2010…they are losing $700k per month and the auditors report is damming….this project was ambitous at best for a start up and best left to the big players…..maybe some resaearch and updated article

  12. paul says: January 25, 20118:27 am

    very interesting….I also read this prospectus …if they cannot raise the capital they are history…I would hate to be an investor …and I would not be investing…could be some serious fallout for those involved in this if it does not kick on..
    did I read it right only $17k in income over the last 12 months and expenses of approx $6 mill…wow

  13. DJ says: February 27, 201111:25 am

    Thanks for the heads up John and Paul…Nic is it possible to provide another update of the status of guvera???…

  14. Guy Fox says: April 2, 201111:16 am

    I think this is a solid idea and they seem to have a well thought out concept. After over a year now in both Australia and the US they don’t seem to be listening at all to their users as you point out. The product is dated, complicated, offers very few actual downloads and I haven’t heard anything of substance about a mobile platform, which is a must in this competitive area. I want to support this company because they are tryings something innovative but they’ve spent a ton of money with little to show for it in my view and are light years behind other digital music offerings.

  15. DJ says: April 4, 20117:35 pm

    I think the issue is money…I am a disgrunted investor and the whisper is they are bankrupt…therefor cant afford the development…the model is flawed..I took a punt and lost

  16. Gay says: April 7, 20115:03 pm

    DJ This makes me so mad. For a company to come up with an idea that is dated and try and flog it to make money by ripping off investors is disgraceful.

  17. would love to know more about the company as i am investing aud $250000 soon. says: December 18, 20131:55 am

    would love to know more about the company as i am investing aud $250000 soon.

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