Rhapsody Acquires Napster, Apple Terrified

This week on: Battle of the Forgotten Media-Player All-Stars!

Wow, maybe doctors could deliver this news to test your yawn reflex.

It’s rare that something is so unbelievably boring that it transcends being ignorable and actually makes me want to write something about it, but man, did the folks at Rhapsody pull it off.  Now that I think about it – I never thought of Rhapsody as having “folks at” before now.

Both music service-cum-companies have hovered so far down the food-chain of cultural relevance that I’m sure those of you who are old enough shared my first thought which was – “Wait, there is still a Rhapsody AND a Napster?”

The whole thing is so low-rent, it smacks of having happened on EBay.   “In your cart: (1) Napster – size: small, and (3) Pair Mens Socks – Black.”

Like those Batman sequels with the nipple-suits where they started pulling in 3rd tier villains like Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze, you wondered who the bozos were that went for that.

I mean, once it went “legit” who the hell kept using Napster anyway?  BestBuy – of all companies – bought Napster.  Someone at BestBuy must have thought that was a big idea.  “Gentlemen, my kids seem to know all about this ‘Napster’.  Can you imagine if we had  the Napster?  Why, we could appeal to ‘generation x’ and bring our brand into the new millennium using the world wide web.”

And then there’s Rhapsody.  That was RealNetworks big entry into digital music services so many years back.  I imagine through some crap,-how-can-we-get-something-out-of-this-before-it-tanks deal, Rhapsody was spun out of RealNetworks just last year.

RealNetworks was a big thing back in the 90s.  But you never hear about them anymore.  What happened?  Ah, the legend of Real Networks.

RealNetworks had the de facto cross-platform online media player, RealPlayer.  But they were also the guys who would stop at almost nothing to hijack and infest your computer, your browser, your system preferences, your subscription settings and anything else they could get their stealthy little hands on.  After installing the Real Player app or plugin you’d open a file and suddenly realize that all your preferred offline applications had also been usurped by Real Player.  It was your responsibility to locate and uncheck various territorial features that Real brazenly snagged without your consent.  You were consistently inundated with ads and offers and reminders to upgrade (and pay) or make Real the default for this or that.  You would have to research methods in your OS for wresting control back to the default apps that you wanted default.  They pioneered the method of designing web pages that appeared as though you were downloading a free version of the app – only to realize that the free version was almost outright hidden and you’d downloaded the for-pay subscription version instead.  Upon launching, you’d wonder why it was asking for a credit card for a 30-day free trial when you could have sworn the download button you clicked was for a “Free Version”.  Real seemed to stop at almost nothing to unwittingly force you to use their app.  To out-smart you.  To trick you.  To intentionally exploit a population of computer noobs who were themselves not expert users.  Which was most of the general population at the time.

And these tactics partly worked for a while because at the time there was no overt, popularly accepted etiquette for this kind of interaction.  I think it’s fair to say, in fact, that along side malware, Real Networks played a pivotal role in shaping the intuitive distrust in downloading and installing that many users have today and more so, the related etiquette that companies who offer downloads, newsletter subscriptions, messaging options, installers and uninstallers exhibit today.

Ultimately – it was Real’s surreptitious disrespect for users’ true control (breaking the 1st Interactive Axiom) that undid them as a standard.   If only Real Networks had focused their effort on continually improving their product in line with users’ best interest and respectfully trusting that users would gravitate to the best solution, they might be a, uh-hem real player today.

Well Real learned the hard way what happens when you disregard the 1st Interactive Axiom.  As their big lead began to tip downward, they moved too slow to strip themselves of the aggressive methods and then did what they could during the last decade-plus to keep up with Apple’s iTunes, having acquired Listen.com and founding Real Rhapsody.  But like so many others, the reliance on multiple 3rd parties to assemble a user experience ecosystem (media player software, content, and portable hardware) was an utterly doomed strategy.  They all tanked-  Real Networks, Yahoo with Yahoo Music, AOL, E-Music, etc. under inconsistent quality and confusing user experience which lacked anything resembling simplicity.

Now Rhapsody, has what’s left of Napster’s user-base.

…and I’m wondering if there’s any peanut butter in the kitchen…?

Oh sorry guys – um, that was the end.  Cool?  I promise next time I will have some actual news.