All the World’s a Feed
Some thoughts on Spotify’s new vertical scroll Home feeds
In the beginning (well, 2006) was Twitter and the Facebook News Feed, with its vertically scrolling mixed-media feed of activity. Then came Instagram (2010), with a more focused single-media feed of photos. Then Vine (2013), with its silently autoplaying 6-second video loops. Then TikTok, né musical.ly (2014), which dialled up the audio, took the video full screen and made the jump from scrolling to swiping (thanks Tinder), resulting in a low-effort, immersive experience more akin to TV channel surfing, only with bite-sized content optimised to hook the viewers in the first few seconds of viewing.
Much has been made (rightly) of the role of TikTok’s prescribed content format (short-form vertical video), its democratisation of commercial music as backing track and its algorithms in creating a sticky experience, but the impact of moving to full screen video and from a scroll to a swipe is often overlooked.
Like linear TV before it, it exploits a simple truth about human decision-making: that the cognitive effort involved in actively picking something is greater than the effort involved in simply saying ‘not this, something else’.
It was an insight not missed by those at Meta and Google tasked with responding to the TikTok threat, who copied the UI pretty much wholesale with Instagram Reels (2020) and YouTube Shorts (2021).
Fast-forward to now and Spotify’s announcement last week of new Home feeds, which owe much to TikTok and its imitators.
A shift away from the horizontally scrolling rail based UI popularised by Netflix, in addition to a mixed-format Home feed, there are dedicated feeds for Music, Podcasts & Shows and Audiobooks, accessible via lozenges at the top of the screen.
The UI of the feeds is something of a greatest hits of social app design patterns from the last 10 years, complete with a few direct rip-offs (e.g. Instagram Stories-style dashed line progress indicators).
The discovery cards that populate the feeds aren’t quite full screen, but they do scroll one at a time, encouraging a TikTok style swipe interaction rather than the continuous scroll of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Unlike TikTok, the audio is switched off by default and toggling it on doesn’t persist between feeds or sessions, which feels like a miss, especially when users have actively opted in to an audio discovery experience by tapping one of the lozenges.
Also unlike TikTok, the cards have just two visible CTAs: Add and Play, with other actions, including Not Interested and Share, accessible via that stalwart of digital design, an ellipsis icon.
Beneath eight tiles of recommended mixes, the Music feed is entirely comprised of discovery cards, most of which cycle through up to five 30 second clips from a playlist or album. Many of the clips have short (5-7 second) looped video snippets or animations. Whilst these look like placeholders for full video and should by rights be too repetitive to hold your interest, they are - like the TV you can see but not hear in the pub - weirdly mesmerising.
The awkwardly named Podcasts & Shows feed (wouldn’t just Podcasts have covered it?) is topped with eight tiles of podcasts you’re following with blue notification dots indicating those with new episodes.
Aside from the occasional ‘Popular with listeners of…’ horizontally scrolling rail of recommendations, the Podcasts & Shows feed is entirely comprised of discovery cards autoplaying 45-60 second previews, which present a ‘Continue listening’ button once the preview has finished playing.
The previews are AI-generated by default, but Spotify Execs were keen to present them as a canvas for creatives at their Stream On event last week.
I can’t help wondering how all this preview listening is going to affect podcast analytics. Are podcasters going to see a spike in short duration listening requests as a result of this UI (anyone know?) What about all the pre-roll ads that are going to by bypassed by users tapping the ‘Continue listening’ button?
As is inevitable with any major UI update, there’s been a fair bit of hand-wringing about the changes.
My instinct is that this UI is going to work well for Spotify. Whilst not quite as dangerously addictive as TikTok, it’s a less arduous browsing experience than the traditional horizontal rails and it’s easy to spend longer than you intended swiping through music or podcast previews, effectively being advertised at.
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