Mercora Reinvents Model, Spins Social Networking Angle

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Streaming radio innovator Mercora is now giving its model a facelift, and rebranding itself in the process.

The company, best known for offering a streaming peer-to-peer concept, is now unwrapping a music-focused social networking play.  The company is changing its name to Social.FM, according to pre-release information shared Tuesday afternoon.  Instead of a simple list of radio stations from at-home deejays, the spruced-up version layers friends, comments, and a more visual interface.  “We are trying to allow for the social discovery of music,”said Social.FM chief executive Srivats Sampath in comments to Digital Music News.  “We are trying to reach out to you and establish a network with you.”

The refresh immediately elicits comparisons to Last.fm, a recommendation and music-focused networking startup that recently fetched $280 million from CBS.  But the recent refresh is part of a far broader web 2.0 revolution, one that has now absorbed Mercora.  The move puts the company into a more forward-leaning chair, though labels and other rights holders may be unenthusiastic about the stepped-up approach.  Mercora has always crafted radio stations from personal digital music collections, a seemingly innocent, non-interactive play.  But labels have raised some concern about functionality that enables users to start a particular station with a specific song.

Now, Social.FM makes that process much easier by offering quick searches of entire song collections.  In fact, the process is far more engaging, and features a flipbook-style approach that resembles the recently launched iPod functionality, Cover Flow.  As a result, users can easily simulate an on-demand streaming experience, though Sampath pointed to a conciliatory relationship with labels.  “If the labels do come back and say this is interactive, we would agree to give them higher royalties,” Sampath noted.