Spotify's Awesome... If You've Never Tried a Cloud Music Service

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You go to a cloud music website. Up comes a box and you search for nearly any song you've ever heard. Can's "Paperhouse" from their album Tago Mago, say. Boom! There it is. You hit play and the music comes out of your speakers. Search for Erma Franklin's "Hold On I'm Coming." Again, there it is. Hit play. The music comes out again. This, you think, this is what the Internet was made for.

Many people trying the cloud music service Spotify, which launched (on an invite-only basis) today here in the United States, are having some version of this experience. Find your favorite song from middle school! Find that country song you hate to admit you like! Find obscure Frank Zappa albums! Find "More Than Words" by Extreme! That's led to a lot of understandable excitement.

I tried out Spotify today and it is impressive, particularly the speed at which it loads and plays music is astounding. But I'm definitely not blown away by the service, especially after hearing so much hype about it for so long.

This is why: my friend Wilson Miner works for RDIO, a competing cloud music service, so more than a year ago, I started listening to music in the cloud. Spotify's service is roughly the same. That is to say, the leap between the non-cloud music experience and the cloud music experience is much bigger than any difference between individual services right now. Once you've used one, you've gotten the big idea.

For me, RDIO works better than Spotify because I have a trusted social network of people whose musical taste I like, so what RDIO recommends to me is universally better than any top 10 list in the world. Spotify allows you to connect with Facebook, but as noted, I left that service a while back. Plus, I think the Spotify desktop app looks dated relative to RDIO's superslick Web app. Why would I switch? I haven't seen a single really compelling reason. If you're a current RDIO subscriber, have you found one? I'm willing to be convinced.

Of course, if you're just floating up into the cloud, there is one big difference between RDIO and Spotify. Both companies charge the same $5 or $10 per month for unlimited, ad-free listening on the desktop and mobile devices, respectively. But only Spotify has a free, ad-supported version, at least for now (if you can manage to snag an invite).

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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