Spotify announced today it's updating its recently launched shared-queue feature, Group Session, to support remote usage. Essentially a "party mode," the feature first debuted in May, offering a way for participants contribute to a collaborative playlist in real-time and control what's playing across everyone's devices. Spotify explained at the time that, despite social distancing measures, the feature could still be useful to small groups, like families quarantining together, for example.
But today's update brings Group Session into the COVID-19 era where people continue to spend apart.
Now, Premium users will be able to tune into the same playlist or podcast together at the same time, even if they're not in the same place. Before, users would have to be in the same physical space for the feature to work. It had also involved a barcode users would scan with their own device to add to the party playlist.
Now, groups of two to five people can join a remote Group Session by clicking on a "join" link sent out via messaging apps, SMS, or social media from the Group Session's host. This link is accessed from the "Connect" menu in the bottom-left corner of the play screen in the Spotify app. From here, the host scrolls down to the option "Start a Group Session" to get the link to share with friends or family.
Invited participants can click the link or scan the Spotify code, as before, to join in the session.
Once in, hosts and guests can pause, play, skip and select tracks on the queue or add in their own choices. As one person makes a change to the Group Session, it's immediately reflected on all participant's devices.
Group Session had been spotted in development last year, well before the coronavirus outbreak arrived. It was originally envisioned as a feature that could tempt Spotify's more social users - like party-goers or college roommates, for example -- to upgrade to a Premium subscription in order to join in the fun of being able to add to and control the shared queue. But with social distancing measures still in place, few people have need for a party mode feature today.
Likely, Spotify saw the feature was under-utilized due to its requirement for users to be together in person, so expanded it to include remote usage.
However, the bigger limitation is that Group Session is limited to Premium subscribers.
In practice, that means many of the people who have time to sit around and (virtually) hang out with friends listening to music -- often, young people on free accounts -- can't even try it. Instead, Group Session should allow free users the ability to participate on these collaborative playlists, but to a lesser extent than paid subscribers. That would allow all of Spotify's users to try out the addition, but still deliver a push to upgrade to those who found the Group Session feature useful.
The company could even tie the Group Session to a paid video ad experience that allowed users to participate for a limited period of time, after first viewing a sponsor's message.
The Group Session option continues to be in public beta, which means it's still being tested and developed. Spotify says the feature is available globally to all Premium users today.