Posted on February 15, 2016 by

Youtubify – not quite a Spotify clone

Youtubify is the name of a new piece of software, presented as a “Youtube music engine”. As the suffix -ify makes clear, the intention is to create a kind of Spotify clone.

Anobody who installs Youtubify on a server can create something that appears like their own music streaming service – without having any license for the music. Dozens of such clones are already up and running, Torrentfreak reports. The most public is to be found at youtubify.vebto.com which does not even require registration; immediately after loading the webpage, playback is ready to begin.

Without doubt, the record industry is already preparing for legal action to stop Youtubify. The outcome is not clear. It might be possible to target the distributor of the software, an anonymous user named Vebto using the market place Envato. But when a piece of software is out in circulation, it is unlikely to disappear (although it should be noted that Youtubify is not open source).
Another route of legal action would be to target every server where Youtubify is up and running. However, there is no guarantee that this would succeed in every jurisdiction. In particular, it is far from certain that the Russian judiciary is eager to help the US/EU record industry in the current political climate.

Youtubify is, after all, just an interface, an alternative way to access Youtube. (The next logical step would be to also create support for Soundcloud and Bandcamp.) It is not really true that everybody can now “create their own music streaming service”. On the back-end, every single clone using this software still relies on one single streaming service. However, it should be noted that Youtubiby also includes functions for statistical surveillance of music usage.

But from the user’s perspective, isn’t Youtubify still a clone of Spotify? That depends on what kind of use that we understand as central to the concept of music streaming services. This raises the question of what Spotify has to offer its users.

One possible answer is “music”. Most people in Sweden would probably still think about Spotify as a music service, in the sense of an service delivering songs and albums on demand. But over the years, especially after its US launch, Spotify has transformed itself towards offering something much broader.

Jeremy Wade Morris and Devon Powers writes in an excellent article titled “Control, curation and musical experience in streaming music services“, recently published in Creative Industries Journal:

Ultimately, we suggest that digital music services no longer sell discrete musical objects, nor do they focus exclusively on content offerings. Instead, services sell branded musical experiences, inviting consumers to see themselves and their attitudes, habits and sentiments about music reflected by the service they choose to adopt.
/…/
The control users have over the choice of music they listen to, over the platforms they listen to music on and even over the files themselves is exchanged for a branded musical experience that foregrounds instant, multi-platform accessibility. The stream, despite attempts by providers to position it as ever flowing and always on, is just as often an opportunity to separate, segment and differentiate among different levels of consumers, and different groupings of musical consumption activities.

As of today, Spotify wants to be a service that offers a seamless flow of music, following the user through different moods, activities and times of the day. This is a concept built on access to big data, and it does not seem like Youtubify can offer anything close to that. In fact, its interface more looks like a clone of early Spotify, based on the idea that the individual listener will always know what music she wants to listen to.

In other words, the proliferation of Youtubify servers opens up a truly interesting question: Are users of music streaming services simply “in it for the music”? Or are they, on the contrary, really desiring a “branded musical experience”, functioning as an algorithmic mirror of their own life?

This blog post, written by Rasmus Fleischer, is based on a post published on his Swedish-language blog.

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