The story of a now reborn streaming media service is an illustration of how strange things can get in the digital realm, where startups battle with established companies and millions of end-users, some of them experienced hackers, throw themselves into the fray.
Reports from Ars Technica are showing that a group of developers have effective rebuilt the toppled GrooveShark music playlists platform that was torn down in April, based on copyright infringement issues. Now some Israeli programmers have built something called StreamSquid that works pretty much like GrooveShark, although with different methodologies that are supposedly a lot more legal. As an additional bonus, these intrepid coders have even helped GrooveShark users rebuild their music playlists, although we don’t really know how many of them asked for that assistance.
Unfortunately, the good news could not come at a sadder time, as just one day previous, tragic news of the sudden passing of Grooveshark’s co-founder – Josh Greenberg – made headlines. Josh was only 28 years old.
A “Battle Royale”
One thing that StreamSquid is doing is addressing those intellectual property problems that bedeviled the original platform. When Warner Bros., Sony and Universal heard that GrooveShark was facilitating the uploading of MP3s, they filed suit against the company in 2011. In fact, GrooveShark did fail to secure licenses for artists for most of the music on the platform, and founders apologized, but that didn’t stop the authorities from yanking their site from the web.
The studios weren’t going to let that slide, and there’s still a bit of concern over whether they’re going to allow the new setup — instead of working with the MP3s directly, StreamSquid links up users to supposedly authorized versions of music on YouTube or other platforms. But the usage of YouTube is in itself a kind of strange thing — there’s a kind of gentleman’s agreement that people can log onto YouTube videos of music that’s been carefully dubbed from other digital formats, but it remains to be seen whether studios will allow third party services this kind of surreptitious access.
Rebuilding the Playlists
StreamSquid creators are proudly trumpeting the fact that they’ve recompiled a lot of the playlists of people who have been missing their music since GrooveShark went down. But this is also generating some questions about what exactly is going on within the platform, and how it interacts with users in a world where less than perfect privacy is always circumspect.
GrooveShark founder Ofir Yosef estimates that the group rebuilt up to 80 to 90% of the original database of playlists — the company previously had about 20 million users, so that’s no small talk data set. But Yosef and others are closed-mouthed about exactly how they got this data, which raises issues about how companies, even small ones, are looking into how users take advantage of services.
For example, think about what would happen if that data wasn’t mined by a small team of startup creators, but by marketers at some place like Google or Yahoo. You might hear a lot more noise about privacy rights, because there’s the issue of companies going in and messing around with proprietary data generated by the end-users. Companies that can’t be 100% clear and transparent about how they get data often get in hot water later when privacy issues come up.
The Water Cooler
One thing’s for sure — the GrooveShark story has generated a lot of interests in public forums. Posters talk about the copyright issue, the debatable value of GrooveShark services, and its relationship with end-users, as well as the tragic death of founder Josh Greenberg just hours before the regeneration of the streaming service. It’s all very mysterious and complicated, and will serve as a kind of bellwether for aspects of the digital music industry, and the ways that startups establish themselves in a chaotic web world.