An Inside Look at Turntable.fm

July 18, 2011
Digital Surgeons

At Digital Surgeons, Turntable.fm is constantly providing the background music to our creative thinking and design work. This site is going far, and we don’t just say that because we’re able to DJ from our workspace. We have a lot of love for the music service.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, Turntable.fm is a browser-based chat room and music streaming service where users join rooms and can virtually “DJ” their songs to others via a room’s “DJ spots.” Users fight over open turntables while other room occupants listen to the music rating it “awesome” or “lame” while they setup their own queue of music and anxiously await their opportunity to play their queue to the world of listeners. When someone “awesomes” your song, you get points to unlock cool avatars like the “Deadmau5” mouse character or the coveted “superuser” based on popular electronic music DJ/producers Daft Punk.

Too many “lames” and your song will get skipped.

The site was born out of the near failed startup Stickybits, a barcode tagging startup founded by Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein.

With most of the $2 million dollars in Stickybits funding wavering they performed what is being called one of this years biggest pivots in small startup history. They launched Turntable.fm and in little over a month gained more than 300,000 users.

They’ve already raised $7.5 million in funding and investors are beating down their door talking about being valued.

Considered to be the “biggest threat to startup productivity” (tweeted by Fast Society’s Andy Thompson), the site has been said to be an open tab for every programmer in the Silicon Valley with hot startups like Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook setting up their own rooms like “Coding Soundtrack”.

Turntable isn’t just for startup geeks to search out an anthem to accompany their coding, it’s quickly becoming a great way for artists, bands and aspiring DJs to broadcast their latest track digitally. Quick Tip: If you’re an artist uploading music, be sure your mp3 has ID3 tags or else it will show up as “Untitled”.

So far, Turntable.fm is invite-only beta. But having a Facebook friend with an ‘in’ (like us) gets you instant access.

Considering the viral nature of music, getting “social” should be a cinch. However, many have tried and failed either as a result of licensing (imeem), or lack of adoption. Remember Apple Ping?

Pandora was ahead of the curve, known for pioneering their “music discovery” engine that recommends and plays similar songs based on your interest. Despite their recent $2.56 billion dollar IPO valuation, they need to take notice because their product lacks the engaging social environment that turntable’s animal-bobble heads add to the mix.

With the explosion of Turntable.fm, the recent release of Google Music, and Spotify now available to U.S. viewers, the landscape for music streaming is changing faster than dot com geeks’ cups of coffee.

How’s it work? It’s about to get techy.

Client-side aka “Front-end”

A first dig into the code shows us they are using a combination of Google Analytics and Chartbeat, an awesome real-time analytics suite launched by Betaworks, led by Turntable.fm’s co-founder Bill Chasen. We use this for a great deal of our clients as well as it provides easy to digest real-time analytics understandable by anyone.


On the client-side or “front-end” the site is powered by a combination of HTML/CSS for markup and presentation layer. They use Jquery for the primary javascript framework for various animations, and DOM manipulation.

To easily take care of cross-browser differences they are using CSSSandpaper, which handles CSS3 support on older browsers.

Sexy Tooltips are accomplished with a little help from Tipsy.

Feedbackify is being leveraged for gathering real-time feedback from users via submission forms.

Socket.io is used as a WebSocket technology. At the time of this article, they were using Flash for delivering the audio but are looking for HTML5 fallbacks.

The Zero Clipboard library is being used to send data from the browser to the clipboard via an invisible flash object.

Lets not forget about Facebook Connect, which leverages their authentication service and registration via a Facebook application.

As we mentioned above, you can’t get access to Turntable.fm unless one of your Facebook friends has an invite:

Server-side (aka “Back-end”)

While we can’t confirm for certain the server-side application technologies, founder and CEO Billy Chasen recently said “the back-end” is written in Python and uses MongoDB, Memcache, CherryPy, several Tornado servers, and a dozen or so Python libraries as well.

It’s all hosted on Amazon’s EC2 and S3, according to Quora.

Billy has taken a pretty open stance to his communication online with popular contributions to MongoDB and various coding groups online so I wouldn’t doubt it. That amount of concurrent users certainly would require that type of stack to be able to properly handle the requests being made. Threading, sockets and a cloud based infrastructure are in clearly in place to aid with the rapid growth and scale of this application.

Whats next for Turntable?

Investors are beating down their doors.

Surely they will start to explore API solutions to allow hackers like us to build and develop additional experiences and integrations with the platform.

We’ve already seen Turntable Dashboard crop up, a site that was cooked up by Alain Gilbert. It lets you see the most respected and popular DJs on the service. The site tracks users and rooms to provide a full report of recently played songs and popular songs, as well as a full history of songs a user “awesomes” or “lames.”

Hope you found our love affair with turntable.fm interesting. We sure had a lot of fun writing it.

Be sure to follow @digitalsurgeons on Twitter for additional articles on turntable.fm and all the new hotness.

Thanks for reading.
Digital Surgeons
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