Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review of "The New Soundcloud"

Last month, SoundCloud rolled out their redesign, referred to as "The Next SoundCloud" while in beta, now called "The New SoundCloud".  My initial reaction was averse, and I switched back to "Classic SoundCloud" as soon as I figured out how. I still wanted to give it a chance, so over the past few weeks, I've been switching back and forth to note the changes and make a more thorough, considered description of my issues with the redesign in hopes that some would be addressed.

User Menu
First, a bit of good news: Some of my complaints were apparently also voiced by enough other members of the community that they have already been addressed:
  • There is now easy navigation to the groups you participate in from the top or the side menus. (When users first identified difficulty locating their groups, the initial response from the SoundCloud blog was to either do a search or enter the group URL directly.)
  • Internal links are partially fixed: Links to other SoundCloud users in track/group descriptions can be made with Twitteresque @name notation. Links to tracks are not quite so nice with partial URLs showing. (I preferred the human-readable long name as it appeared in "Classic", but at least this is better than bare URLs which were showing up at first.).
  • User profiles now show whether a user is paying for a premium account as they did in "Classic" . This is important for a couple reasons: SoundCloud is ad-free and it's good to know who's keeping the lights on. Also, when considering whether to collaborate with another member, it's good to know that they take their effort seriously enough to spend €29 per year on it.
  • Who to Follow has been removed, or at least exiled to the user menu...  Harvard University, Neil Young? How did those get there anyway? Were they paid placements? Since I'm paying for the service, I really didn't want to see them.
The undercurrent to my issues with the redesign is the sense that the New SoundCloud is apparently meant to appeal more to music consumers, but this was accomplished at the expense of creators or collaborators (i.e. paying members). This is even reflected in some of the terminology used, for example:
  • What used to be called the Dashboard is now called the Stream, which is to say you're no longer driving but drifting.
  • The tagline "Share Your Sounds" has become "Hear the world's sounds".
Getting to the point though, here are the key issues I've identified:
Three sounds at a time!
  1. The Stream view is simply not compact enough. So much screen real estate is consumed by graphics, AlbumCoverCloud would be a more apt name. On my 1440×900 monitor, I can only view three (yes three) sounds or sets at a time. Maybe this could become a per-user option.
  2. If a followed user uploads several tracks and groups them later, they show up as individual tracks in the Stream in addition to the group.  For example, I follow PRI's program The World. Their postings currently occupy the top fourteen slots on my Stream, nine of which are member sounds of the most recent set.
  3. There is no way to dismiss tracks or sets from the Stream timeline as there was in Classic. I don't always want to hear every sound posted by every user I follow, so I want to clear it out to see what's beneath it. In combination with items 1 and 2 above,this means endless scrolling to find something buried under a new post.
  4. Even unfollowing users does not remove tracks once they have appeared in the Stream. When I first saw how The World appeared in my Stream, I unfollowed them, but to no avail. Once their posts got in my stream they stayed there.
  5. There is no direct path to Exclusive Tracks. I exchange stems (as private sounds) with other users I am collaborating with, and if I don't get around to downloading the files right away, they get drowned in the flood described above. Since private sounds are not typically included in users' Spotlighted sounds, it's even hard to locate them within the sender's profile.  Exclusive tracks would be most effective if integrated with Messages.
  6. There is no direct link to the list of users you follow or of those who follow you. (You have to first to your own profile, and the two lists are at opposite sides of the page.)
  7. There is no way to see into the contents of sets without navigating away from them in the stream. Fortunately the new player doesn't stop when you do this, but an expand button would be the best improvement.
  8. There has been a loss of finer control over the Spotlight (a paid feature): With Classic, some content could be excluded entirely from the Spotlight and only visible through tracks or sets. All public content now goes into the user's profile front page; the user can only control sequence with promote/demote buttons.  It's not clear if this feature was given away to free subscribers.
  9. There is no direct link to the advanced search or to search specifically for users,  groups or sounds instead of an unrestricted search. Usually you know which you are looking for. The best choice would be a flickr-style tag search with dropdown.
  10. The new Repost option is not a bad idea, but it needs an option to hide reposts from particular users who become repost-abusers. (Trust me they will appear!).  Twitter has the hide retweets option and it's better than simply unfollowing compulsive retweeters.
  11. There used to be a configuration option for the dashboard to include Favorites from users you follow. An actual improvement would be to make this a per-user option. There are some users whose tracks I want to see, but whose favorites I don't. I guess the intent is to repurpose Favorites as a semi-private bookmark collection, while Reposts become the new way to pass sounds along to users following us.
  12. This is actually an issue that exists in "Classic", but should still be corrected: There is no way to make an embedded "widget" based on your profile "Spotlight."

Click progress bar to jump back to the sound.
What are my favorite improvements in the New SoundCloud? A sound continues playback as you navigate elsewhere, and you can now click on the playback progress bar at the top menu and jump directly back to the song that's playing.