This Is My Jam started in 2012 as a project founded by former Last.fm colleagues Hannah Donovan and Matthew Ogle, incubated within music/tech startup The Echo Nest.
A year later it span out as its own entity: a way for people to share the tracks they were enjoying most, one at a time. It was partly a reaction against the “frictionless” sharing that was a popular concept in 2011 and 2012: fuelled by Facebook then, although arguably pioneered by Last.fm with its scrobbling.
Over two years, This Is My Jam built up a stash of data on songs that people truly loved, rather than just tracks they’d played. In August this year, on the verge of twin milestones of 200,000 registered users and two million posted jams, it launched a new feature capitalising on that: song screens.
That meant individual web pages for half a million songs, providing a way for visitors to explore the site and its users in more detail. It made This Is My Jam even more of a crate-digging rabbit hole to disappear down in search of new (or, often, old but new to you) music to listen to.
At the time, I interviewed Donovan and Ogle about the change, and This Is My Jam’s evolution in general. For various reasons – disorganisation mostly – I’ve only now managed to sit down and write it up, but bar one question that’s since been overtaken by a new announcement, it’s all still relevant.
Starting with those song screens. “This has been germinating for quite some time. We wanted to open up people’s Jam history, but because jams only last for seven days, we had to decide how we were going to do it,” said Donovan.
“We wanted to create something that had much richer content around it, so we started brainstorming around these song screens. Well, the codename was ‘clubs’ – sort of like a club for all the people who love that song.”
Donovan added that the more they thought about this idea, the more they realised that despite songs now being “the primary unit of consumption when it comes to music”, they’re still under-served online.
“It just felt that there wasn’t anywhere yet that felt like a really cultural ‘thing’ for these songs, as opposed to albums,” she said. With This Is My Jam’s users having posted nearly 2m jams, the company had plenty of data to work with.
What’s interesting about This Is My Jam is its focus – much like its former parent company – on the intersection of human curation and recommendation algorithms, rather than picking one or the other.
“It’s something we learned at Last.fm and The Echo Nest: you can have the best, finely-crafted algorithm recommending you great stuff, but you have to give people a reason to care and believe in the algorithm: person-to-person human recommendations,” said Ogle.
“That’s why we contextualise the song you’re looking at with the people you follow. You’re not just seeing five strangers: you see which of your friends have jammed it in the past… You don’t need to choose between algorithms and humans: you can marry them together with care.”
“We’re big believers in the balance between humans and computers,” added Donovan. “This isn’t a polarising issue any more. It’s just about nuance.”
Song screens was the first in a planned series of feature releases for This Is My Jam, as the site heads towards coming out of its current ‘beta’ tag. Ogle talked about twin aims of “monetising Jam, and making it a lot more friendly on the devices that we all carry around in 2014”.
At the time of the interview, the two co-founders weren’t quite ready to talk about their plans for This Is My Jam making money: “We’re looking at a bunch of options right now is all we can really say,” said Donovan.
But this is the question that’s been overtaken by more recent announcements, for in October, This Is My Jam made its first move into advertising: the Jam Sponsorship Program.
“True to our product’s values and design-centric approach, we’re creating a purpose-built program that’s beautiful, tasteful and effective. Not an addition, but a native part of the platform,” wrote Ogle in a blog post at the time. “The opportunity is one-at-a-time – meaning that sponsors get exclusivity in helping power the Jam experience and community.”
How about making Jam work better on “the devices that we all carry around in 2014” – smartphones, in other words? “We have a feeling that a lot of our users are enjoying jams on their phones,” said Donovan, who said that the company’s priority is a more responsive design for its site, to ensure it works well on a range of devices.
Monetisation and mobile seem like sensible things to focus on as This Is My Jam continues its growth from a cool discovery site to a sustainable business. But both Donovan and Ogle stressed that the culture of its community is key to that evolution.
“From day one, we were extremely mindful of guiding the community into a direction that we wanted to be a part of. I want it to be full of nice people if I’m going to be interacting with it every day!” said Donovan.
“That influenced how we wrote the community guidelines: these aren’t just any songs, they’re your jams: the songs that are special to you, so that people wouldn’t really tread on each other’s toes.”
Witness the question in This Is My Jam’s FAQ about why there isn’t a “scrubber” to skip to the middle of a song: “Aw, someone chose that song very carefully. Can’t you listen all the way through?”
“That’s right,” says Donovan. “C’mon, this is somebody’s jam!”