I created Pow Wow, a mobile application that let you build collaborative playlists in real-time, in 2012 after I left my job at Havas Worldwide. I worked on it for 2 years with an amazing team and learned so much. Unfortunately, we had to make the hard decision to shut down in the summer of 2014. Here’s a little snapshot of what Pow Wow was, why we thought it was cool and why decided to stop.
Picture the scene: you’re at a party, in the car or at the office and you want to play your new favorite song for everyone. But alas, someone else’s phone is plugged in. Changing the music usually ends up interrupting the flow and the good vibes. It’s a small social road-bump that, if smoothed out, would make for a far improved music listening – and sharing – experience.
How we resolved it
POW WOW was a mobile app that made DJing a collaborative experience, allowing entire groups of people to build playlists in real time. Whether you were chilling at home, at a party or on a road trip, you could seamlessly DJ with your friends. After joining a Pow Wow, users could add songs from their own devices onto one organized playlist. POW WOW placed a special emphasis on the songs users added by placing them at the top of the playlist. The app was best-suited for gatherings, anything from hanging with a few friends to a 200-person wedding. Only one person in the group needed a premium Spotify account to stream and everyone else could connect and start adding songs.
Unfortunately, we had just finished the entire redesign and technical analysis for V3 of POW WOW when we shut things down. We were never able to release the re-imagined product which focused on providing a richer passive music experience (i.e. primarily listening to music when you’re alone), greater transparency into the POW WOW community users and integrating other streaming services like SoundCloud, Rdio and Deezer to further reduce barriers to entry. Click Here to check out the latest designs and Click Here get a snapshot of some of the technical analysis we did. We’re really proud of the product we conceived and were saddened that our users never got to see it.
Why it didn’t work out
At first glance, the idea behind POW WOW really resonated with people. Most relate to the friction that can present itself when listening to music in groups. However, the problem we were solving was not big enough to justify a change in user behavior. Here are a some key reasons why POW WOW wasn’t able to get the traction we expected.
Asynchronous vs. Synchronous with Mobile Apps – Besides using your phone to communicate with other people in real-time (i.e. talking to someone on the phone, video chatting ect), the good majority of the products you use are based on asynchronous communication. Asynchronous communication and activities take place outside of real time, which results in greater flexibility for the user. They can respond or interact with whatever the relevant content is at their own leisure. This allows the product to easily integrate into a person’s routine or schedule.
However, POW WOW was fully synchronous. You could only build a Pow Wow (collaborative playlist) with your friends in real-time, which meant: 1) you had to be with them to create a Pow Wow, 2) you had to mobilize your friends to join and participate once you were with them. While real-time collaboration was the right choice for our product, we desperately needed an asynchronous aspect to our product so users could engage with the app and use it to listen to music before and after the Pow Wow. We were essentially competing with Spotifys and SoundClouds in that moment a where a person was deciding what service to use to play music with there friends. Since people use services like those on a daily basis, the easier and more familiar decision became the default. Therefore, even when the perfect occasion came along to use Pow Wow, people would opt for the more familiar choice because it was front of mind.
This actually transitions nicely into another reason why POW WOW struggled, and it fits in nicely with the issue of asynchronous to synchronous— it’s active vs. passive listening.
Most People Listen to Music Passively – It’s Just Easier