Pandora Becomes a Social Network

Pandora is rolling out a new version of its popular internet radio service this week that doesn’t rely on social networks such as Twitter or Facebook: It is a social network — or at least it will be, when the new, faster-loading, HTML5-powered version of the site goes live.

Pandora announced the serviceon Tuesday, which is rolling out now to premium Pandora One subscribers ($3 per month). Later, users of the free, ad-supported version will see the changes too.

This is serious business, now that Pandora is a public company; if these tweaks cause traffic to dip, Wall Street will make the startup, which counts approximately one sixth of the U.S. population as active users, pay.

TechCrunch is enamored with the changes, and waxes poetic, having received a preview from Pandora CTO Tom Conrad. If you prefer the quick version, here’s a summary of the changes the company announced today:

Profiles and Music Feeds: Pandora has allowed users to maintain profiles (here’s mine) for years. The new version emphasizes them much more, allowing each user to create a Facebook-like profile page where friends can leave comments. But the activity feeds are the most important new social feature. When you “friend” someone on Pandora, you will see what they’re listening to, talking about, or rating, in a constantly-updated activity feed. Rather than relying on outside social networks, Pandora will have its own.

Playback bar: With all of this friending, commenting, reading, and navigating, Pandora needed a good way to keep letting you listen to music, which, after all, is still the point of the service. To cope with that, the new Pandora gives you a playback control bar that follows you around the site so you can skip, pause, and rate songs.

Faster load time: If you’ve created lots of stations on the current Flash version of Pandora you know the thing takes forever to load. This new version ditches Flash in favor of HTML5, and judging from the above report about Conrad’s demo, the new Pandora loads much, much faster. It’s about time.

Automatic recommendations: When a user searches for stuff on the new Pandora, it will autofill recommendations tailored to that user: genres, comedians, and auto-completed artist names based on the stuff it knows you like.

Better metadata: To learn more about a song, you’ll be able to click the artist name for a bio, expand the album art, and read the lyrics as you listen.

Back button: The new version’s use of HTML5 instead of Flash means that as you do all of this stuff, you’ll be able to use your web browser like a web browser, instead of a Flash app with its own discrete controls. In more simple terms, this means you’ll be able to use the Back button, finally, to navigate to the previous page without leaving the site and silencing the service.

Sharing: Because the new Pandora is an HTML5 web app, stations have their own URLs. You can share those however you want — or, use the service’s own sharing feature to send stuff to Twitter, Facebook, or Pandora’s own social network.

Pandora’s social evolution seems like a solid move, as services like offer new social features. From the looks of things, the new Pandora appears to be a big improvement in just about every way, although it still lacks a way to let users listen together to the same thing at the same time.

Here’s Pandora’s summary of the new features:

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