Long before it was possible to pick up Adele's "25" at the checkout line in Whole Foods, collectors have been scouring the last bastion record stores for hard-to-find gems.
Whether you're new to hunting or a veteran digger, the new app from invaluable music database Discogs aims to make the process go a lot smoother. Discogs began 15 years ago as a hobby project, but has since grown into the largest physical music database in the world with a catalog of over 6.5 million recordings and 4 million artists. Additionally, it is one of the largest marketplaces for physical releases with 10 million items for sale.
Entering a record store can be akin to a zen-like trance - perusing rows of dusty records, ogling at album art, eventually happening upon that one golden goose of a record. It's all good fun; it can also be a bit overwhelming. There's a lot to manage: am I paying a fair price? What other releases came out on this label? Wait, do I already OWN this?
The company's new app aims to bridge the gap between IRL shopping and the massive Discogs database. I spoke with Discogs COO Chad Dahlstrom and App Product Owner Kirsten Stoller about the app's potential to change how we shop for vinyl.
How does this fundamentally change the way we shop for vinyl?
Chad Dahlstrom: It speeds up digging. Your wantlist and collection will be readily available as well as a quick way to price check albums.
Kirsten Stoller: We hope that the Discogs app makes music and music information more readily available to music-lovers around the world. For me, using the app as a price guide changed the way I shopped for vinyl. Whenever I'm digging through used records and rare releases, I can check the general value of a release. More often than not, if the release is at a fair price, I will opt for the instant gratification of an immediate purchase from the brick and mortar vinyl shop.
What features set the app apart from the mobile site? The barcode scanner sounds like a game changer.
KS: The barcode scanner, offline Wantlist and Collection access, and Wantlist and Collection filtering are currently the main features that set the app apart from the mobile site. For this initial release we focused on the Discography, just like Discogs did when it was launched 15 years ago.
We have so many other exciting feature ideas that we are investigating! Native mobile apps can tap into cameras, geolocation, and push notifications and that allows us to develop a better Discogs experience in new and innovative ways!
What was the biggest challenge in developing the app, technically or otherwise?
CD: Defining what to build first. There are so many features we could imagine but we wanted to go for what would be the most useful to the most users right out of the gate.
KS: Prioritizing new features and app improvements. There are so many intriguing new feature ideas and a never-ending list of feature requests from our community! So it's a challenge to decide what app features will be the most high impact improvements.
As a site, Discogs has been growing and adding features for 15 years, the Discogs app will likely never include full site functionality. Not only does that seem like a daunting proposition, but the app design should remain simple to use and easy to navigate. With that being said, we want to be sure the App includes the features our community wants to see most.
Discogs, at its core, is all about the community. To what degree has the community been involved in the app's development?
CD: We've worked with the community on feedback and features to build. They have helped drive the roadmap.
KS: I've been engaging with our community in our App Forum, reviewing every single feature request that is submitted via our App Survey, and personally responding to all emails that are sent in about the App. So very involved, I want to be sure that our App is a reflection of what our community wants to see. Some of the top ideas from the community that we are investigating include:
• The incorporation of the Discogs Inbox (integrated messaging). We could potentially integrate Wantlist notifications so that app users can segment their Wantlist and receive push notifications for when their "most wanted" Wantlist items are listed in Discogs Marketplace. This would give Discogs app users first chance to snag a marketplace deal before another buyer beats them to it.
• A VinylHub integration. There are so many game changing ways a VinylHub integration could make discovering new record shops when you're traveling an easy and interactive experience! I'm traveling around Asia this month, and VinylHub has been such a great resource to inspire me to check out different shops as I travel around!
• The ability to quickly start a database submission using your phone's camera.
• Reverse Image Search for album covers and vinyl record center labels. This feature would allow Discogs app users to use their cell phone's camera to search for releases via related images from across the full Discogs image database. It's a fun problem to work on, but very difficult to get right. There are so many different types of album artwork, and some don't have artwork, so the only thing we have available for those is usually labels, and there is often low cardinality in those images. But it's an exciting challenge that we hope we can get right in the future!
The app went through a thorough beta testing - what has changed since the beginning of that period from the Marketplace and Database perspectives?
KS: We took our community beta tester's advice, and we added Collection and Wantlist filtering, access to Collection folders, a full image gallery for releases, artists, & labels, and made several other updates and improvements. We haven't yet fully integrated the marketplace experience in-app, however the transition from the app to the mobile site is smooth, and completing a purchase via the mobile site on a phone is relatively streamlined.
Was renewing the VinylHub platform an independent decision or directly related to the progress on the app? How do you see these two entities collaborating moving forward?
CD: Vinylhub ultilizes a new platform we built in order to allow our users to catalogue other highly requested items. That same platform now allows users to also catalog audio gear like record players, books, comic books and movies.
How you would convince an old-school collector to give this app a chance?
CD: Ask them if they have ever accidentally bought an album twice because they forgot which version they had. Ideally we could show them how useful it is in a store to manage your collection and check prices quickly.
KS: Check out how easy it is to scan a barcode to search for a release in the database! No more typing on a tiny keyboard on your phone - just tap to scan a barcode using your phone's camera, and if that barcode is in the Discogs Database you'll either be directed to the appropriate release or receive a list of possible database matches.
How do you see the app and Discogs as a whole evolving in the future?
CD: There are so many opportunities from integrating vinylhub to adding mobile submissions to the database. In the end our users will tell us what is most important next though.
Thank you to Chad Dahlstrom and Kirsten Stoller for taking the time out to chat with me! Download the free app here.