AfterDawn.com

Conclusions

Although SpiralFrog has some warts, for me it's a good enough start to invest a little time in it. While I'm not in what the company considers their core market, I think my experiences show that it has potential uses beyond steering teens away from P2P. Either it, or another similar service, could emerge as an even more customizable competitor to Internet radio.

The Good

I've been using SpiralFrog regularly for close to a month now. Obviously that means so far I find it worth the effort. Although 1 million songs sounds like a lot, it's not nearly a complete selection, and they plan to reach 2 million songs early next year. Still, there are complete or near complete discographies for many artists. I've downloaded extensive collections of songs by CCR, Rainbow, and Steely Dan, as well as tracks from the Deluxe Edition of one of my daughter's Garbage CDs. While not a substitute for higher quality recordings in at least CD-Audio format, I've found it to be useful to fill in some of the gaps in my music collection due to my limited entertainment budget.

User Feedback

SpiralFrog memberships must be renewed at least once every 30 days, although you can renew daily if you'd like. As part of the renewal process you're asked to rate various aspects of your experience, including finding and downloading music, as well as their recommendations and you're general opinion of the website. You're also asked to vote on potential new features.

In my experience they also pay close attention to user feedback submitted through their Website. When I started working on this review I submitted feedback indicating what I was doing and detailing some specific criticism I planned to include. My feedback was sent on a Saturday and I was contacted by a SpiralFrog representative on Monday about speaking with a company representative. While you may not get a call from the company, I was assured that all technical comments go directly to the technical staff.

Ads

The ads aren't intrusive and didn't ever affect my experience, although I certainly noticed them from time to time.

The Bad

There aren't a lot of truly bad things about the service. In many areas I feel SpiralFrog is "almost there" or "headed in the right direction."

The Ugly

There are a lot of areas I feel SpiralFrog could use some improvement. Certain areas seem more pressing than others, but fortunately the company's immediate priorities seem to be in the right place.

Queue Management

Right now management of your download queue is a mess to say the least. The first big problem is the inability to reorder the queue, allowing songs to be downloaded in whatever order you choose instead of being forced to keep the order you add them in. Currently if you want to download entire albums, but certain songs from each one first, followed by the remainder in normal order, you have to find each album, select the higher priority songs and then go back to each one to select the remaining tracks. This is particularly important because you can't yet save your queue for downloading later. Queue management is one of the company's highest priorities, and I expect to see both addressed soon.





More Music

Unless you have almost everything there's always room for more. Once again this is something the company is working on, and they've indicated they expect to have 2 million songs available some time next year.


Searching

Searching for an artist on SpiralFrog can be daunting sometimes because there's no option to order hits by relevance. Instead an alphabetical listing is presented, similar to the list of all artists, but narrowed down to your search criteria. For example, as a test I searched for the band War. Three entries for artists with the exact name War were on page 57 of 75, which I had to find by starting from the last page and working my way backwards. I'd like to see those entries as the first three listed since they're exact matches.


Mix Lists

It should be easier to select music for a Mix List. Simply providing the standard alphabetical list would be enough. When I created a mix list for the band Drivin' N' Cryin' I got an 86 page list of songs from a search on 'For You'. When I tried to narrow down the results with the band name I got none at all. I suspect the strange punctuation in the name is the cause, but I wasn't able to find any music under that name (or variations on it such as Drivin 'N' Cryin or Drivin' N Cryin').





HTPC Support

As the owner of a Windows Media Center Edition PC I'm always interested in integrating web based media directly into my HTPC experience. Unfortunately this is tricky since the only way to get access to the MCE remote is through the Media Center application itself. Add to this the complication of potentially supporting other HTPC software like BeyondTV and Sage TV and you can see why it's not an immediate goal of theirs. I've been assured that this is a feature they're constantly considering, but basically it's going to wait until it makes financial sense, which means not for a while.

Multi-Computer Listening

Because of the DRM SpiralFrog uses, in order to playback the same song from two different computers I have to have different copies for each. This isn't entirely bad since I already have some music on my workstation in case I'm disconnected from my network. I can live without the home network for a while, but I can only go without my music for so long.

No iPod or Zune Support

One thing that will probably disappoint many people is the incompatibility of Microsoft's PlaysForSure DRM with the iPod or even the (Microsoft) Zune. Although SpiralFrog isn't trying to compete with iTunes, I'm sure it's no coincidence that they decided to use DRM which allows copying to mobile players, so this is something that could use some attention if they want to take advantage of their core market.

Written by: Rich "vurbal" Fiscus
Last updated: 25 March 2008