Spotify’s New ‘Your Music History’ Feature

This post was originally published on Medium on August 2nd, 2017.

Spotify’s new ‘Your Music History’ invites every user to take an audio trip down memory lane. Browse effotlessly, resurfacing songs from last week or last summer.

 

Users are guided to explore days of the past, jumping years in seconds. From June 2016, to April 2017, and back to November 2016. While browsing between these various dates, the world turns, tying you physically to that moment. Roger Yan explains…

“No memory of mine is as memorable as backpacking Europe earlier this summer. Spotify’s music history allows me to relive these memories, such as walking through King’s Cross train station in London”.

Additionally, your music history can be searched by music such as “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite” or “Blessings”, as well as locations such as “Work”, “Austin”, and “Jamaica”.

Check out the ‘Your Music History’ tab under ‘Your Library’ to begin exploring.

Thank you @ Roger Yan !

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Obtaining SnapChat Spectacles

This post was originally published on Medium on December 18th, 2016.

After avidly following the Spectacles vending machine releases on spectacles.com/map I saw news about the placement of a long term vending machine in New York City. Without much of a plan, I strolled up to the location of the vending machine at 5 E 59th St, New York, NY 10022 and decided to figure it out when I got there.

I arrived around 2PM on Monday, November 28th. The first thing I saw was the big, yellow Spectacles logo. As I approached the building I saw the inevitable line I had read so much about. The store didn’t open for two hours, but the line was already wrapping around multiple city blocks. I walked past the first ~30 people in line, looking for someone to talk to and pick their brain about how to obtain a pair.

Introduce my new friend Darryle. Darryle is a 29 year old New York native who stumbled upon the line one day unemployed and began coming back every single day to make a few hundred dollars. Darryle and I talked for a half an hour about how to obtain a pair, the line, and the Spectacles product itself. Darryle explained to me that he has been in line since 8AM this morning, which is about the time he arrives everyday. He explains that the first big group of people are a Chinese ‘family’ that works together and sells them on the streets around the building. The rest mostly are working for line waiting apps such as Same Old Line Dudes.

Regarding the actual release, Darryle informed me that SnapChat limited the vending machine to about 500 pairs per day from this location. They also allowed two Spectacles per person, so only the first 250 people in line are able to obtain Spectacles. And the line reached that number every weekday by approximately 9AM. Thus, a minimum of a 7 hour wait was required to obtain a pair of SnapChat Spectacles the traditional way. SnapChat employees were very organized in their handling of the line. They handed out wristbands at different times in the day and would later not allow anyone to enter the store without displaying every color wristband handed out that day. This air-tight monitoring of the line had not always been the case Darryle informed me. At first he said, they were not prepared for the masses and many people cut the line. Now-a-days they had it under complete control.

At this point I thought I was too late for a pair of Spectacles on this day, but was still enamored with the entire buzz surrounding the store and in the line. It was nothing short of electric. Darryle, some neighboring line waiters, and I engaged in a long discussion about the Spectacles themselves, the infinite use cases, and the future of recording our lives/memories. A fellow line-sitter showed off a pair of her new headphones that doubled as both headphones and external speakers. Everyone knew we were in the midst of something new and important. Their was a serious demand for something different and new. Something a bit more personal and emotional. A la the original iPod or iPhone.

Anyways, in this conversation Darryle made me aware that he did not actually work for a line waiting company, but simply would strike up deals with people face-to-face and ask for a cash tip on top of the credit card purchase. He said he had one ‘spot’ still up for sale today and offered it to me, which I happily accepted. He explained that he needed my credit card to use on the machine, but would give me his license as collateral. Somewhat risky, but he seemed like a great guy, so I did it anyways. We agreed on a $100 tip on top of the $145 price of the Spectacles. Somewhat steep, but I thought it was fair considering Darryle had casually mentioned things such as, “I haven’t drank water all day to avoid going to the bathroom.”

After wrapping up the conversation, I hung out at Starbucks for an hour only to return eagerly at 3:45PM to witness the commotion that was the opening of the store and the ensuing transactions between line waiters and people like me who were waiting for them to come out. More SnapChat employees had arrived by now sporting all black attire featuring fitted jeans, tight black t-shirts, big black puffy jackets, and expensive boots that retailed for around $500. All 5 employees were dressed the same.

All of this was causing a bit of a scene in a busy Manhattan area and dozens of people stopped outside the store to take pictures, ask questions, and figure out what this product was that was generating this level of interest. Over-and-over again SnapChat employees described the product to passer-by’s as sunglasses that record first person video. Their job for the most part was line maintenance though, so they responded to questions quickly and abruptly. I thought SnapChat missed an opportunity to set up a Spectacles information booth or at least some sort of handout for these people to understand the product a bit more. I found myself explaining the product to many people and answering more questions because I had nothing better to do and enjoyed the conversations.

At 4PM they began letting groups of ~20 in at a time and soon after they began coming out. For the first half hour members of the large Chinese group came out and would exchange them among one another with those who spoke better English essentially auctioning them on the street nearby the Spectacles store. I was offered one for $200 and gawked at the slim, $55 markup for 10+ hours of waiting in line.

Around this time an older women around 45 years old approached me and asked me what all the commotion was about. I explained the concept for the 5th or 6th time that afternoon and she immediately saw the value. She described to me that she had two teenage sons who were on the SnapChat app religiously. As I’m talking to this women, multiple of the Chinese sellers offered the $200 price once again. In an instance the women asked me, “Is that a good price? Should I get them? Will they like it?” I respond assertively. “Yes. Yes! YES!!.” She then grabbed her wallet, took out $400 cash, bought two, thanked me, and went on with her day. I was a bit jealous she got two pairs for cheaper than me and so quickly, but enjoyed the whole exchange nonetheless.

I even jumped on one of the Chinese sellers offer for another $200 pair that I’m gifting to my 17 year old younger sister next week for Christmas. I anticipate the best big brother award soon after. Soon after, Darryle exited the store, we exchanged credit card for license back and we want on with our lives. I thanked him for helping me out and he thanked me for waiting patiently.

Takeaways

  • If you want a pair of SnapChat Spectacles go to the location at 4:05PM with $200 cash. You will be able to get a pair within minutes.
  • The Spectacles release was a combination of Apple and Supreme. From Supreme, SnapChat utilized their limited release strategy and the all black, designer-only ‘uniform’ their employees wore. From Apple, SnapChat utilized their focus on design, marketing, packaging and ease-of-setup.
  • SnapChat has an equal understanding both the technologist and the hype beast; two very different, but emerging and influential personas in the millennial world.
  • SnapChat’s decision to base themselves in Los Angeles, through small offices scattered throughout the Venice neighborhood is genius. Employers such as Google and FaceBook sponsor subsidized housing for their employees who often live with their co-workers and take the company owned bus two and from work. The result, an extremely limited experience of the world or culture at large. SnapChat employees, on the other hand, are forced into the outside world for apartments, food, and commuting each and everyday.

Welcome To College (Login Through FaceBook)

This post was originally published on Medium on February 16th, 2016.

It is no surprise that FaceBook, having started on a college campus, has a massive presence on college campuses today. To see for yourself, sit in the back row of a university lecture hall where you’ll see the dark blue of FaceBook occupying the majority of laptop screens. Over the past few months I have observed some important firsts in my use of FaceBook in a university setting.

I am currently attending Bond University in Australia on a semester exchange from my home university in the United States. While FaceBook Groups and FaceBook Events existed at my home university, it does not compare to how deeply FaceBook is integrated into student life at Bond University. Below you’ll see a weekly newsletter all Bond University students receive from the the Student Life office.

FaceBook Events

These events range from small club gatherings, to large university-sponsored events, to campus parties, and sporting events. In these email blasts you’ll notice these events feature a name, a time, a location, and little blue link. Each and every one of those links is attached to a FaceBook event. The above photo of the email blast is a very average week featuring ten events. Eight out of the ten events feature links to a FaceBook event.

You can get the sense from the above screenshot of a particular FaceBook event that this strategy is very successful. Likely due to this immediate massive exposure through this e-mail, these events become very popular and thrive through FaceBook. When I look around at students computers in my classes at Bond University, a plethora of them have FaceBook up, but more specifically they have these very events up. They’re looking at detailed event description, judging the popularity of the event based on the number of people going, and discovering if any of their friends are interested in attending the event as well. There’s been many occasions where someone has attempted to explain an event to me before they pause and just say ‘I’ll invite you to the event on FaceBook’. Even if you’re almost certain you don’t want to attend an event, but don’t completely rule it out, students will choose the ‘Interested’ option. This essentially sets a reminder for FaceBook to notify you the day of the event, while simultaneously letting all of your other FaceBook friends now you’re willing to be convinced into going.

At my home university that is Carnegie Mellon, events are not handled the same way. Sometimes the event is explained entirely in the e-mail blast and sometimes the event links to an external webpage featuring more information. There is no ‘Interested’ button that automatically reminds you of the event and there is no social-ness that allows friends to see you’re somewhat interested in going to the events.

FaceBook Groups

Forget e-mail lists, campus clubs are entirely run through FaceBook groups at Bond University. When I attended Club Sign-On Day and showed interest in various clubs, I expected to write my email down as I’ve done with Carnegie Mellon’s Activity Fair in the past. Instead, I was repeatedly told to, “just join the group on FaceBook”. So I did, and when I joined these groups I saw the benefits of running a club through FaceBook. Messages spread much quicker as students are much more likely to check a FaceBook notification than a new e-mail. Club leaders gauged interest for various things by simply demanding members to, “comment on this post if you can attend”. Below you can see the ‘Bond University Soccer Club’ FaceBook group; the only form of communication between the organization and its members.

Final Thoughts

And last, but not least is that for the first time, I am watching FaceBook monetize the growing importance of FaceBook at universities. No campus organization would self-declare as a FaceBook advertiser, but when FaceBook simply suggests for you to ‘Boost Post’, that doesn’t suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. For the first time earlier this month, I was shown a sponsored post from the UNICEF branch at Bond University where they promoted an important, upcoming event. Similarly, I was also shown a sponsored post from a local rapper promoting his music video. The importance of this can not be understated. This is FaceBook at its finest, providing an advertising solution that can not be found anywhere else in the world. Without FaceBook, the campus UNICEF and the local rapper would likely have advertising budgets of $0. Instead, they have an advertising budget, solely devoted to FaceBook.

Currently, FaceBook has around two million different advertisers on its platform, while Google has four million, and Twitter for comparison sakes has about 60,000. Due to new advertisers such as the one’s I have just described, FaceBook is slowly, but surely closing the gap on Google.

An Interview With Kai Roberts

This post appeared in the May 2013 issue of The Cut Magazine.

It was mid-August last year during convocation when I first heard a song by Kai Roberts. He was performing the opening song Celebrate off of his recent mixtape Carnegie Café. Over a year later Kai has released Carnegie Café as a free download online and after listening to a few songs it becomes evident why it has taken this long. I got the chance to sit down with him recently and discuss the year plus long project that became Carnegie Café.

Part One: Who is Kai Roberts?

Kai started rapping in the 10th grade and has since performed sporadically in Pittsburgh at venues such as Street Live and District Live, in addition to everywhere at CMU. He began with a group of his high school friends who called themselves H.N.T. Since then Kai has continued rapping and producing with members of H.N.T. as well as other CMU students. Carnegie Café is his second album after Kai his solo debut, Life, Lights, and Passion. When asked about the two projects Kai stated, “I feel like there was very related material.”

Part Two: How did Carnegie Café come together?

From start to finish Carnegie Café sounds as one put together, professionally recorded album. In days where Juicy J can record Bandz A Make Her Dance as his lead single to Stay Trippy in a hotel room, it can sometimes be overlooked when a complete album like this comes out. Kai attested that the music studio at Carnegie Mellon as well Tufts Sound Recording were where the recording took place.

Carnegie Café largely came together last fall when Kai was taking a leave of absence from CMU. Speaking on how the album was created, “I had some of the beats left over [from the making of Life, Lights, and Passion,” while others were produced, “Right when I had the idea for the song”. I have found often that lyrical rappers may produce some of their own songs because it allows them to more clearly get their message across. Kid Cudi and J. Cole both recently produced their entire albums that came out in 2013.

With Carnegie Café Kai was attempting to get out, “My raw emotions that I was feeling during that leave of absence.” In this sense, Carnegie Café became Kai’s largest way of venting these emotions that he was feeling. Kai did admit to making some sacrifices to allow Carnegie Café to have a broader appeal, but for the most part the material is raw and directly from this time in Kai’s life.

Kai was not always able to open up as he does on Carnegie Café and even admitted to being quite shy in middle school and high school. Kai attributes college and the anxiety he was feeling to how he was able to open up.  He went on to say that, “The anxiety I was going through pushed me to challenge my fears.” It was not easy for Kai to overcome these fears, but he repeatedly told himself, “You know other people are going through the same stuff,” and he was right. Who at Carnegie Mellon can not relate to anxiety and stress after all?

Part Three: What’s Carnegie Café like?

The title itself hints at the majority of the subject matter; life as a student at Carnegie Mellon University. The songs contain a multitude of lines referencing the focus on schoolwork, the lack of social life, and of course the stress culture among other things. With the additional themes of popularity of relationship struggles, I feel that any college student can relate to parts of the album, specifically students at CMU. Seriously, I challenge and college boy to not laugh the first time they hear “About Those Grades”.

Although Kai, was experiencing negative emotions at the time the album is in no way depressing. Throughout the album, tidbits of humor are spliced in and uplifting songs are mixed in with the more emotional ones. Touching upon his own music he stated, “Kai’s music will be humorous to some extent, serious to some extent, it will be introspective. That will stay consistent, but I feel like the way I do it might change.”

Kai mentioned that he likes to, “Play with this idea of coming out of a dark place and reaching a light.” He went on to say he does not know where it came from, but that both of his albums relate to the concept in a way.

I believe Kai has improved greatly on his ability to convey this message from his first album to his second. The individual songs may have their own meanings, but Kai ordered them to convey a greater meaning in the end. An example is how in “Popular”, Kai questions what it means to be cool and popular, but this message is only a portion of the whole story.

Kai himself described chronological order of the album in an excerpt here; “[It begins with] me coming into college, me getting into the music grind, after a while realizing college is a little more real than I thought it was, and then the second half is me developing into the ‘I’m going to be myself and I’m going to keep positive’ mindset I have now.”

Part Four: Takeaways

I was truly inspired to write this piece after becoming friends with Kai Roberts on FaceBook. Kai would post these lengthy statuses’ that were very inspiring and garnered dozens of likes and replies. His sheer honesty on a public platform such as FaceBook showed just how passionate the subject matter on Carnege Café was to him. It immediately became evident that this was not a normal hobby, but it was a large part of Kai’s life. Music is not only Kai’s source of venting his own emotions, but also his source to inspire the next depressed college student to recover and look at life positively again. He proclaimed to me that, “It’s really refreshing to hear me actually inspiring someone.” Thus, I cannot finish this piece without noting some of the biggest takeaways Kai intended this project to have. Hopefully, this piece will reach someone who will be inspired. I know I will be playing songs from Carnegie Café throughout my time at Carnegie Mellon and likely afterwards as well.   

  1. Anti-cool/Be Yourself (Examples: Popular & Stressed Out):
  2. Be Fearless (Examples: Believe & Keep It Moving)

If You’re Reading This, Rap Has Changed

This post appeared on The Cut Magazine’s online website in July of 2015.

J. Cole released his most recent and most successful album, 2014 Forest  Hills Drive, this past December without a single and with almost no promotion.  Drake released the Internet­shaking If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late via a  tweet to an iTunes link this past February, selling over 500,000 digital copies within  three days. What began in 2013 with Beyonce’s overnight release of seventeen songs and music videos has been adopted by the biggest stars in hip­hop. The traditional, lengthy album release process that often includes radio­friendly singles gaining consumer attention before a marketing blitz around the album release date is clearly being replaced.

Even smaller hip­hop acts have abandoned the traditional album release and opted for something unique. Nipsey Hussle’s past two projects have been priced at $100 and $1,000 respectively. Wu­Tang Clan shocked everyone when they came out and said there would only be a single copy of their next album that would be put up for auction. Currency released his latest album this month for free, but also offered fans a $100 package that included the album, a look book, and clothing.

This odd behavior surrounding albums and their release has been a long time coming. While albums have historically been the cash cow of the music industry, music sales have fallen to account for only 6% of musicians’ yearly earnings. This number is likely even lower in hip­hop, where the release of free mixtapes is the norm.

Today’s music world exists as a part of social media, a place where Drake can reach 22.3 million followers with a single tweet, all of whom can spread the news to their friends (the release tweet currently has over 110,000 retweets). The ridiculousness of Nipsey Hussle and Wu Tang’s album releases are designed to be blogged about and turned into click­bait headlines all across the Internet. For many hip­hop artists, the time and effort involved in a formal album release is increasingly diminishing. With the success of J. Cole and Drake’s recent albums, it has become clear that a change is occurring in how rappers release their albums.

Finding Your Interests With the Help of Social Media

This post appeared in an old technology blog that can be found here.

At no time in history has their ever been this amount of information available online, for free. It will grow larger tomorrow and the day after, and so on. Every piece of knowledge or opinion I have about technology has come from reading this free information. When I began exploring my interests in high school I did not start with technology, but naturally gravitated towards it as I grew evermore fascinated. Recently, during a technology discussion with my roommate, a third buddy chimed in, “I wish I was this passionate about anything.” (This ‘buddy’ of mine is no slacker either, but is actually receiving his Master’s from CMU in Electrical & Computer this spring.) This comment really got me thinking. It has become second-nature for me to ponder the web in search of the endless questions that fill my brain daily. Between searching on Google, TechCrunch, and Quora, I have been able to answer many of the questions, sparking further questions, and continuing the process. While I am more curious than the average person, I believe that most of my curiosity today is a result of finding and exploring interests at an earlier age.

In my opinion this lack of true interests is a direct precursor to statistics often found in the news such as, “53% of recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed.” I would like to think that for many jobs, passion will shine through more so than your college or work experience. I am a firm believer that is does not matter where you come from, but with a passion and desire to learn one can succeed in almost anything. While it is never too late to get passionate about something new, I believe we must look to the youth and discover how we can get them passionate in new ways than before.

When I talk to my younger siblings and proclaim that they do not have to join and devote countless hours towards the next Vine, Instagram, QuizUp, Candy Crush, etc. they push back and insist that “everyone is on it”. I understand where they are coming from and fully realize that they are not going to be downloading any educational/news apps in the near future.

The Solution

Encourage high-school and college students to begin using social media outlets as more than just a means to interact with their friends.

**I will focus the rest of this post on Twitter, but the same process can be applied to FaceBook as well.**

Social media is gigantic. Whether you are a proponent for Facebook, Twitter, or something else the chances are you are on one of them and you check it often. I hesitated to sign up for Twitter for a long time because I did not know what it is or why I needed one. After joining it I quickly noticed that I was using it for a different purpose than my friends. Today kids use Twitter mainly as another source of interacting and entertainment (as if their is not enough already.) Tweets are often about pet peeves, occurrences, opinions, and jokes. When kids are not just following their friends they follow pages that make them laugh or random fact pages.

Random fact pages are a start, but the next step is getting kids to follow more pages that stimulate them intellectually. What if high school students used Twitter to gauge their interests far beyond what the high school education does. I for one majored in business because I was good at math, enjoyed AP economics, and had an entrepreneurial spirit. However, if I began exploring my interests earlier, I would have discovered my passion for technology, and likely majored in Information Systems or a similar major. I can imagine a viral video called ‘The College Major Test’ where people follow Twitter pages related to their majors and have shocking revelations. If you find it a hassle to read the Psychology Today tweets then you probably should not be a psychology major. Obviously there will be some clear exceptions, but in general it should be a decent barometer.

When I went to organize the vast websites I visited for news I downloaded Feedly and set it up with all of my sites. Over time I continuously found myself visiting Twitter more than Feedly and eventually decided to just delete Feedly altogether. Why? Twitter presented the information in an easier to read format and it did not feel like a task because interesting articles were mixed in with funny tweets from celebrities and friends. The thing in my body that urges me to follow and read more technology articles is a clear indicator that I want to pursue a career that relates to technology. This is the type of realization I hope future students can have.

The Cloud and the Average Consumer

This post appeared in an old technology blog that can be found here.

I have recently began trying to find a solution to the mess that is my collection of photographs and videos. I am a huge Apple proponent, but iCloud has not been the seamless answer it was promised to be. In my search I found  a history of successes and failures in that space, with no dominant solution. An example is Everpix who was able to build a great product the tech-savvy loved, but was not be able to grow fast enough and eventually ran out of money. Today, apps such as Loom and Trunx attempt to solve the media collection conundrum, while Evernote is creating software to store information online that was once stored offline, and Dropbox wants to be the cloud storage juggernaut.

All of these companies (with the exeption of Trunx yet) have software built across all devices to encourage ease of use. I am currently a Loom, Dropbox, and Evernote user and I will agree that they all work seamlessly as advertised. However, I am a 20 year old college student who avidly follows the tech world and is frequently downloading new applications and visiting new websites. I have discussed the cloud with friends from high school who make faces when the word “cloud” is mentioned in reference to technology. They proceed to curse and ask/scream WHAT IS IT?

These cloud-based companies understand the problem and attempt to make their products as simple as possible to retain first-time users and turn them into paying customers. Their efforts have thus far failed in my opinion and I am not positive what the answer is. What I do know is that the average consumer is not going to be able to comprehend the cloud and all of its superpowers all at once. The cloud will be better off advertised as a solution to a specific problem.

For example, I plan on signing my family and friends up for Loom to do away with all of the phone storage/iCloud banter I hear about from time to time. Most people my age frequently capture life events on their iPhones through pictures or videos and would like a better way to organize them. When I downloaded Loom for a friend for the first time, auto-uploaded their photos, and signed in for them on Loom.com, his face grew astonished when he saw his precious photos appear online in an easy-to-view format. He proceeded to ask questions about how it could be that easy, to which I explained to him the powers of the cloud with a concrete example that he had just witnessed. I believe that is the first cloud product my friend had ever used (exception possibly Google Drive), and because of how it was introduced I believe he will be much more likely to use cloud-based products in the future. In addition, he will likely go to his college and turn his friends on to the app as well (true organic growth).

I believe cloud-based companies should be able to grow in a more organic way such as Loom has to my friends and I. Dropbox’s invite a friend and get more storage method is more of a growth ‘hack’ than true growth. These companies need to boil their ‘world-saving’ solutions down to a single issue the average consumer may have and make it easy for them to solve it. Over time, the consumer will likely grow more accustomed to the product and use it to solve other problems they may have. I use Evernote to store interesting tidbits I read all over the web, but until Evernote can boil down all that it is into individual solutions, it will not grow to the levels it otherwise could.