Flock was an education. The brainchild of Stefan Nikolic, a high school classmate. It wasn’t the first web application I’d worked on, but certainly the most ambitious. We wanted to build a platform where people could listen to music and share what they loved most with their friends. (This was before Spotify had any social media integrations)
The elevator pitch was Twitter for music. We had a main feed populated by tracks that the user’s friends were listening to and sharing. Users could listen to music while exploring the feed and searching for the next song they wanted to listen to. One of the best features of the platform was the tag cloud. Underneath the playback controls for the current track, we displayed a user-generated cloud of hashtags. Users could agree (basically an upvote) with an existing tag or add their own. Our early adopters were on the dub-steppy/electronic end of the continuum, so some of the most popular were #womp, and my personal favorite #picardbetterbetherewhenigettospace. Make it so.
Narrated by Stephen Barlow
It’s an immeasurable blessing to have an active community of users on a small platform. Stefan and I spoke directly with folks to take feedback and get suggestions - many of which we ended up implementing. Single Sign On was one of the bigger lifts for the platform - and we spent a lot of time tweaking the onboarding experience. It’s still a challenge with any platform that allows a user to curate content based on subscriptions/follows/etc. Twitter and Pinterest start out with suggestions - reddit has a default subreddit list - etc. You can provide users a place to start, but you have to encourage them to make your product their own for them to keep coming back.
Toward the end of our development, we pivoted toward attracting new artists, and providing them a tool to distribute their music and gain a following. Soundcloud was great for artists to showcase their work to their existing fans, but at the time, it didn’t have a strong discovery or exploration component. That was Flock’s real strength - we created rabbit holes you could listen your way down and discover new music you never knew existed.
Robert is simply a brilliant designer. His eye for elegant aesthetics is matched with a sharp intuition for user psychology and a very analytical design process. From t-shirts to full user interfaces, Robert's designs are consistently striking and beautiful while remaining thoughtfully practical and efficient.
We kept the site fun - the background was an illustration I created of the our unofficial mascot - a Flock bird constructed of spare turntable parts. The plan was to open that space up to the community and hold a monthly competition for artists to showcase their work - in the vein of indie album art and concert posters.
Flock was the start of my UX career - learning that the users came first (Derezzed was big at the time). Music was a risky industry to disrupt - we were in the market at the right time, but got overshadowed by the giants entering the space. But that’s the start-up story at it’s finest, and I loved every minute of it.