In November 2015, the news broke that the streaming music service, Rdio, was being shuttered, with key parts of its technology to be acquired by Pandora. It was the kind of thing you could see on the horizon, hoping it would arrive later rather than sooner.

Twitter users speculated over what could have triggered its descent. Soon enough, The Verge pieced together a picture of Rdio’s final days.

Sharks in the Stream

The consensus was that Rdio had spent too much time and attention on building the product, at the expense of marketing the service. Streaming is a numbers game, after all, and Rdio’s user base was considerably smaller than Spotify’s 20 million paying customers. It had also been unable to offer a free ad-supported tier until 2013, whereas Spotify had one in place since 2008. By the time Pandora acquired Rdio, the streaming service was hemorrhaging money—reportedly around $2 million a month.

Signal to Noise

Rdio’s demise was caused by one of its most distinguishing traits: its approach to music. Instead of focusing on top 40 hits—a surefire way to appeal to a larger demographic and ensure profitability—Rdio was the place you went to hear the music Indie labels were producing and sharing. Rdio had a reverence for albums in a time when mainstream singles and playlists were king. It focused on music discovery based off your specific tastes (i.e., pictures of your friends’ faces popped up beneath new releases, so you could see recommendations from others), as opposed to Apple Music’s tastemaker DJs. These were the kind of features the fostered brand loyalty and left many of us saying, “R-D-I-O, check ‘em out,” to our coworkers and friends.

Rdio's attention to detail and user experience made the service a joy to use over the past five years. Its thoughtful user experience was heavenly in comparison to the table cell hell of iTunes. I didn’t get lost moving through its 3-4 major screens; its interface had a restrained elegance that placed a premium on being easy to use. Some of its bells and whistles (full screen color blur based on album artwork) were captivating and have been widely copied (it was iOS 7-ish before iOS 7). Compared to Spotify’s blacklight, dayglo vibe, Rdio was arguably a minimalist masterpiece.

Perhaps in response to some of the post-mortem analysis, Wilson Miner, former design lead at Rdio tweeted:

“We spent the time on that feature and all the others because we believed it mattered. If that's a mistake, it's one I plan to make again.”

Whatever the case, we salute you, Rdio; to many, you made the right “mistakes”. Here’s to making them again.

Brian Zeiders

By Brian Zeiders


Published on December 03, 2015