RealNetworks is announcing today an enhanced set of Rhapsody Web services APIs and RSS feeds, along with a 3-month competition aimed at getting developers to build on their platform. Rhapsody is one of the biggest music subscription services on the Web. It has over 2 million tracks in its library, which users can listen to for US$9.95 per month. There are also options for users to purchase music items. Rhapsody competes with the likes of Napster and AOL - but the online music market in general is dominated by Apple iTunes, which is a pay-per-download service rather than a subscription service like Rhapsody.
Rhapsody Web services enables people to incorporate free playback of full-length songs and internet radio stations directly into their web pages, blogs or mashups. There are also a number of pre-made widgets and gadgets available to users, a music-linking service called "RhapLinks" for bloggers, "smart URLs" for developers, and over 300,000 RSS feeds. Details of all this (including the new competition) can be found on the Rhapsody Web services site.
The Rhapsody Web services platform, initially launched 5 December 2005, is a way to expand the Rhapsody offering - bringing in more parts of the Web ecosystem like bloggers, social networking systems and corporate partners (e.g. RollingStone.com and Classmates.com) who want online music integrated into their sites in a big way. Ben Rotholtz (GM of Rhapsody Web services) told me in an interview on Read/WriteWeb that the Web services will enable people to "re-represent the catalogue" of music that Rhapsody has, in new and innovative ways.
I'm excited by Rhapsody's Web services initiative and I think it's a very positive move for the online music industry as a whole. One hopes that Apple follows RealNetworks' good example and starts to open up the iTunes platform with APIs and the like too. That's probably a pipe dream, because as long as Apple holds such a dominant position in the online music market - they will see little need to open up. But that leaves room for the likes of Rhapsody and others such as AOL and Yahoo to embrace the social Web. Letting external developers build on your online music platform is a recipe for innovation, new web apps and new users.