Friday, May 15, 2015

What Happened To Internet Search?

At OnSong, our utmost goal is to make the best app for musicians possible. It all started with a crazy idea to make an app to help make the lives of musicians easier. It was a simple idea: get rid of paper and keep it organized in a digital library and then provide tools to let you transpose music. But we didn't just stop there. We've listened to thousands of musicians to continue to evolve OnSong into an app to meet the needs of musicians everywhere. It's that modus operandi that is baked into the very culture of our small company.

In the early days of OnSong, we had many requests to make it easier to import chord charts found on the Internet. It seemed like a simple request and we were up for the technical challenge. After all, our goal is to meet the needs of musicians. We soon realized that we had stepped into a very shady and uncharted space.

You see, we never intended to step into the fray of the music publishing industry, piracy, terms of use agreements or the finer points of copyright law. We are not a media conglomerate nor lawyers. We are designers and programmers who want to work with any and all available content. As we navigated this new territory, we decided that the Internet search feature should be limited to search only one website. Since configuring this website could mean a lot of work, we defaulted to a website that allows publishers to have their content removed if it is found to infringe on copyrights. We reasoned that this was a fair stance to take, especially because we believe that every musician deserves to be paid and rewarded for their creativity and hard work. Simply put, we desire a healthy, creative music ecosystem.

Over the past few years we've learned that our stance on Internet content was flawed and was raising the ire of prominent figures in the music industry. We had made it a little too easy to search and acquire content from questionable sources. To complicate things, our users were never made aware of the terms of use of this content. In essence, we bypassed a lot these headaches to make things easy by abstracting all those concerns away. We shielded our users from the legal questionability of the content they were consuming.

In early 2015, we realized we needed to make a change. Not only did this go against our ethics and principals, but it was also standing in the way of us making an app with legitimate content. So we did the unthinkable and removed a feature. If there's one thing we've learned in the five years we've been working on OnSong, it's that people don't like change. To help with this transition, we've built a new feature called the Add To OnSong Safari Extension and worked to communicate these changes to our users ahead of the launch of OnSong 1.993. We know that we have angered and upset many of you and we do apologize for that. But we also have a moral, legal and ethical position that we need to take on this. We needed to change as much as we didn't want to upset you.

Many users have questioned our motives on this switch. Some think that we are getting some kind of financial benefit out of this arrangement. That's not the case. In fact, the lower ratings we are receiving on the App Store has drastically dropped our downloads. Since that is the only way we make money, it means that we need to cut back on our free customer support and slow down some of our plans for OnSong on other platforms or features that you have requested.

But what many people don't recognize is the number of benefits that removing the Internet Search and switching to the Add To OnSong Safari Extension has provided. First, we are now in good standing with publishers. That means we and our partners can negotiate deals that benefit our users. In addition, you are no longer limited to content from one website. You can now import content from any website. In addition, the Add To OnSong Safari Extension is not just limited to chord charts, but can also import PDF files and audio content was well! Many worship bands make their chord charts, backing tracks and loops freely available and you can import them using the Add To OnSong extension. This also works with other paid and subscription services as well outside of OnSong. Lastly, it means that you are in control of the content you import. Just check the terms of use on the content you use and then use it.

We are continuing to invest into the Add To OnSong Safari Extension to allow it to do much more than the Internet Search in OnSong could ever do. We are also working with content partners to bring the best chord chart content available to you in a way that doesn't lock you into a specific app or content vendor. Lastly, we are still, if not more so, focused on meeting the needs of musicians around the world and can't want to bring you new OnSong apps and services to make your life easier and to spread music throughout the world.

Jason Kichline, President of OnSong