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A Requiem for the Spotify Inbox

The music-streaming giant pulled its in-app message feature in February, but it lives on in our hearts

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

This week, The Ringer explores how the “on demand” model has changed the way we consume TV, film, food, products, and, well, almost everything. Consumers have both adjusted to the streaming era and dictated how businesses operate in its wake. Our On-Demand Week stories grapple with how this shift came to be — and what it means for the future of tech, culture, and how we access both. Find all the stories here.

Discover Weekly listeners, armchair A&Rs, those who prefer the stock presets and the radio function, music lovers and netizens all: I regret to inform you that the Spotify Inbox has moved on to a different place. I can’t confidently say it’s in a better place because well, I don’t know that. I mean, I don’t even know why it had to go in the first place. But what I do know is that it’s not here anymore. It wasn’t even 10 years old. And it was gone far too soon.

On February 23, Per, a Spotify community manager, announced that the streaming giant would be “deprecating” the Inbox, citing high maintenance costs and low user engagement. The latter may have had something to do with burying the feature ever deeper within the app’s constantly growing bevy of menus and widgets and bells and whistles but that’s just me, though [shifts backward in rocking chair, polishes cob pipe with cardigan sleeve]. However, the move could also afford the company greater control over music discovery through its own playlists — RapCaviar, New Music Friday, “Warm Fuzzy Feeling” — leveraging greater hit-making power over record labels. The original messaging has been replaced by QR-like “Scannables” (and the sufficient click-conversion the service gets from songs and playlists shared on Twitter on Facebook), and I haven’t bothered to learn how to use them yet because this loss was a tragedy and I’m still upset.

Spotify began patching in the change after the February announcement, and for users who will get around to installing updates when they get around to installing updates like myself, the sudden absence of the inbox has been like … imagine eating Girl Scout cookies by the pale-blue light of your computer screen (this is not the coolest thing I’ve ever done), thinking there’s one more Trefoil than there is. And then, as your stupid hand crunches the vacant shrink-wrap, you realize there are now two more keystrokes between finding and sharing that Arthur Verocai song you couldn’t name that was sampled in that other Curren$y song you were talking about with your friend John earlier. It’ll be at least, like, 15 more seconds before John can see it. And when he does, he’ll have to open an entirely different tab to tell you about how it’s either the best or worst thing ever. Will the song even still have meaning by then? Does anything mean anything anymore?

That is approximately what it feels like. My feelings are very hurt.

There were two preceding waves of disruption in our music-collecting habits. Early file-sharing sites made our tastes more public, and the cataloging on iTunes gave us everything at once, but Spotify made music even more of a social object. Were you vain, which you are, and if you didn’t use the Private Session option, which you didn’t, the Friend Activity feed would make your listening habits an ongoing practice in self-portraiture. Meaning, while either Carly Rae Jepsen or Father’s Children could befit the right time or place, the simple fact of the matter is that you will look way more tight to lookers-on listening to “Dirt and Grime” than you will “Boy Problems.”

Also, were you to notice John listening to “Sexual Healing” at 1:37 a.m., or any of your hypothetical “friends” listening to any Imagine Dragons at any time, you could hop directly into their inbox to shame them with a CTRL+ F “swag” -1 results found” or something equally cutting and easier to understand. Alternatively, if someone is bumping a song titled “Taste My Sad” at 9 in the morning on a workday, you could set some plans around drinks or maybe just a phone call later. Of course, you could always do that via text message. (Seriously, please check on that person.)

Then, of course, there was the flirting. Oh, the flirting. And though the meme was sickeningly cute, at least at first blush, spelling out your intentions with song titles isn’t what I’m talking about.

It started with a song you “thought they might like” which really meant “please associate this song with my face and personality, both of which I hope you’re into.” From there you might try to weave a #mood through a playlist for this crush of yours, attempting to bare your beautiful soul but also sinfully impress by putting the Pixies, Future, and Barrington Levy right next to each other. And because passing music along was as simple as pressing share and attaching a note, it was less obvious and therefore lower pressure than say, a text or Twitter DM. Just two people talking about music and accidentally revealing everything about themselves to each other.

Over time “have you heard this” might become “I heard this and thought of you,” and then one tragic Tuesday, when she really needs it, you send her a Yeek song with this hook:

It’s a song called “Countdown,” and, so long as I’ve searched, this is the only place on the internet I’ve been able to find it. It used to be on Spotify, just like the messaging feature. But both are just half-remembered stories I used to know now. Nothing good lasts forever.