Jul 132011
Turntable.fm Icon

Image by ChrisLTD via Flickr

The hottest new club isn’t in Los Angeles or New York.

It’s on a Web site called Turntable.fm, where big-headed cartoon characters populate the D.J. booth.

On the site, users represented by cartoon avatars enter one of many virtual listening rooms, where up to five people at a time take turns playing songs for the crowd. Those in the room can type to chat with one another or click to give songs an “awesome” or “lame” vote.

D.J.’s who please the crowd with their song selections earn points, which can unlock virtual goods like a better-looking avatar. Those who make poor choices run the risk of getting booted from their coveted perch behind the turntables.

Fans of the site, which has been around about a month, say it can be addictive.

“If I’m awake, I’m on it,” said Elissa Jane Mastel, 42, an online marketing executive who lives in Woodstock, N.Y. “It’s the most fun I’ve had on a social Web site in a long time.”

Turntable.fm offers a twist on music services like Last.fm and Pandora, which are often referred to as Internet radio, but, in contrast to traditional radio, do not give people the experience of listening to the same song at the same time as others. It joins sites like WahWah.fm, Outloud.fm., and Listening Room that are trying to recreate the feeling of being with friends at a concert when listening to music at home. Turntable.fm’s fans say the service’s appeal stems from this focus on group listening, and on selecting songs to play based on the mood of the room.

“It’s not just me playing what I want to hear,” Ms. Mastel said. “It’s me playing music based on what other people are listening to.” To limit traffic, the site has set up a virtual velvet rope: Only those with a Facebook friend who has already signed up can get in.

It is still young enough and small enough that Web analytics firms like comScore are not able to track it yet. But interest in the site is surging amid a wave of favorable mentions in music and tech circles. AppData, which tracks activity on sites like Turntable.fm that use Facebook’s log-in system, says that more than 336,000 people have signed up over the last few weeks.

As is often the case with of-the-moment hot spots, there have been celebrity sightings, including the science-fiction author Neil Gaiman, the producer Diplo, the rappers Sir-Mix-a-Lot and Talib Kweli, and even Mark Zuckerberg. (Although when everybody in the room looks like an extraterrestrial teddy bear, identities can be hard to verify.)

Turntable.fm was created by two entrepreneurs, Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein, who had been working on a company called Stickybits that was focused on cellphone-scannable bar-code stickers. Although it attracted partners like Lipton Tea that hoped to use the stickers to offer coupons and rewards, it never took off with the public. Now the men are talking to venture capital firms and are close to wrapping up a deal for $6 million to $7 million in financing for Turntable.fm, according to a person briefed on the negotiations.

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