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DLS Review: My experience with the updated Grooveshark

grooveshark

I'm a long-time Grooveshark fan. I was a VIP subscriber for a few months, too, and I was generally impressed with the service. So naturally, when Lee told me yesterday that they've undergone a revamp, I was stoked.

There appears to be no post on Grooveshark's own blog covering the update, so I decided to take the service on a random spin and just cruise around the interface in order to look for some of the changes.

In case you're unfamiliar with Grooveshark, it's one of the coolest Internet radio services around. All-you-can-eat music, full albums, great quality, no audio ads – it's generally pretty kick-ass. However, I must admit that this current iteration left me somewhat ... underwhelmed. After the fold you can find a ton of screenshots showing some of the changes (and issues), as well as a widget that I made for you with a bunch of Ben Folds a cappella cover versions (just because I love you guys). So, ... here we go!


At first, I tried to log on. I tried to use an incorrect username, and I got the following error message (with Chrome):

All I can say is that it's
pre
tty
inter
esting.

Finally, I recovered my login info and logged on with my normal account. Then, just about any new feature that I tried to use (i.e, fullscreen mode, crossfader) popped up this dialog:

So, yeah, it's great to be a VIP and everything, but I just wish that I could try out the VIP features for a limited time before paying. Alas, ... that is not to be. Still, at $3/month it's very affordable. Okay, so off I go to register for a VIP account.

Now, here's something I like: the typography on the registration form boasts epic proportions. It's seriously massive. Grooveshark's design is pretty slick, and something about using huge typography makes the whole form feel simpler. It's very nice.

Another cool thing about the form (and Grooveshark's policy) is that you can easily uncheck the box that says "Make subscription recurring." That's great, and it's something other monthly sites should really have. Grooveshark is confident enough that you'll like the service that they don't feel a need to automatically renew by force. I like the attitude.

Okay, so I fill in the simple form and submit it. At which point, I got this:

Yup! An "unexpected error!" It wasn't the "expected" error that I've come to know and like over the years. This one's totally unexpected, and what's more -- it's apparently inexplicable, too. I tried a couple more times. I suspect that it has something to do with my bank refusing to authorize the $3 for some reason (which is a matter for another post, really), but that's just my speculation. At this point, I actually got a friend to pay for the service (!), and then it worked. It's a good thing that they have that "non-recurring subscription" box.

Alright, so now I was finally a Premium member, and I set out to discover what insanely cool things Grooveshark had in store for me. Here's one of the features that I was unable to use before: the crossfader. Clicking this button adds a nice, leisurely crossfade effect between songs. Even when I added a new song to play immediately, the last song did not cut off; it elegantly faded away while the new song started playing. It's not a three-second crossfade, either, and you can't configure the duration (this isn't Foobar2000, after all). It feels more like a five or seven-second crossfade.

The other major new feature (for Premium members only!) is the full-screen mode. I was actually so disappointed with this one that I had to take three different screenshots just to show you that it's not a coincidence. First, let's start with the "CoverFlow" mode, which is the first view that pops up when you go to full-screen:

As you can see, most of the songs in my playlist did not have album art, which is fine, and I don't completely fault Grooveshark for it. But this mode is the default -- it's always the first one you see, and many of the tracks on the service don't come with album art. If you can see past the non-images, when you try scrolling, you'll find out how un-CoverFlow this thing is. The scroll feels jumpy and jagged, and there's no zooming or flipping whatsoever. I've seen smoother scrolling created in JavaScript, much less in Flash. It was very, very meh.

Disappointed, I switched to the next mode. This is a "vis" (music visualization). This first one is called Spores. As a vis, it's okay looking, but it's tiny. I don't have a huge screen; it's a 22" wide-screen monitor, and the visualization took up a tiny space in the middle. I took a screenshot of the whole screen so that you could see what it looks like. What's the point of a full-screen mode if you have to squint to see anything?

I thought maybe it was the music I was listening to. Maybe Ben Folds doesn't have what it takes to make the Spores dance wildly all over the monitor. Okay, so I tried another visualization. This one's called Electric Fadeout, and here you can really see that the app simply doesn't use your monitor. I mean, there's a "window" in the middle of the screen, and that's it. It's not a large window, either. And this is a VIP feature that I was unable to see before subscribing. That's rather on the lame side.

On with the tour! This is the Community feature; it lets you follow people and see what they're playing. You can also see who's following you. It's actually very nice, especially since you can subscribe to people's playlists.

Once you have a playlist up on the screen, there's a live-search bar at the upper-right corner. Live search works very well. It's super-fast, and it does exactly what you expect it to (narrow the list down according to your criteria). It filters by artist, album, and track name, so entering "yo" gave me both a Yo La Tengo track called "Green Arrow" and a track by Guitar called "Tokyo."

Multiple selection is another nice feature (possibly new). You can select multiple contiguous songs with Shift or specific songs by Ctrl. You can then add all selected songs to your playlists, share them, like them, etc.

Here's another handy improvement: The Radio feature is easier to spot now. I tried the Bluegrass radio, and it's quite neat (if you happen to like Bluegrass, which I do). They put it on the bottom-right toolbar, so you really can't miss it.

The song progress bar now has five different sharing buttons: email, widget, Facebook, StumbleUpon, and Twitter. One amusing UI quirk is that the panel keeps moving as the song is playing, so you have to chase it with your mouse to click whatever sharing option you want. Amusing, but it might get old after a while.

You can also share any track on the search results/playlist page using its menu. This doesn't involve chasing any UI element with your mouse, and it's really quite straightforward. The Friends option provides you with a direct URL for the song (on Grooveshark, sadly, rather than on the much cooler, Grooveshark-powered tinysong) as well as an email form. You also get Widget, Twitter, Facebook, and StumbleUpon buttons, even though there are already menu entries for Facebook and Twitter.

Alright, that's it for now! The main reasons for upgrading to VIP are supporting the service itself and making the banners disappear. Don't expect too much from the VIP-only features (unless you really like crossfading your music).

And last but certainly not least, I present you with a respectable collection of a cappella cover versions for Ben Folds classics. It's awesome stuff! Just hit play, leave this tab open, and move on with your day.

Tags: grooveshark, itunes, music, musical-web, radio

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