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Has a Hong Kong Couple Created a Free Spotify Contender for $35?

When Hong Kong students Andy Li and Bethany Smith purchased a bit of source code for $35, they just wanted to make listening to music easier for their friends not challenge the world’s most popular digital music services. When the business-partners-slash-couple quietly launched Heyy.co last week they still did not possess any grand scheme to attempt to unseat the likes of Spotify or YouTube, but if their idea catches on it may just change how we aggregate the music we listen to on our devices.

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The sidebar will look familiar to Spotify users.

Li, a Hong Konger, and Smith, a British national, are music lovers who were searching for a better approach to discovering, listening to, and sharing music.

“We used to visit YouTube and Spotify for music,” Li tells Localiiz. “However, YouTube is a video website. That means its features are not designed for listening music. Spotify is an alternative solution for us. But they have put too many ads on it.”

Li’s opinion is shared by many music lovers who opt for the free but advert heavy version of Spotify or search for songs via YouTube. The companies are taking notice with YouTube’s Music Key beta that is challenging Spotify’s subscription model. However even the video site’s app will ask users to open their wallets after a six month trial period.

That’s why Li and Smith purchased source code from a Spanish developer that would allow users to search and listen to music from YouTube for free. (The code cost US$35 but Li is quick to point out that more funding has been put into the site since to further develop the code and interface.) Being mindful of YouTube’s terms of service, Li says Heyy.co does not separate, isolate, or modify the audio or video components from YouTube since there is a video button at the bottom of the interface to allow users to hide or watch the video.

“The site gets data from Last.fm and YouTube API,” Li tells Localiiz. “So users can play their favourite songs for free. They can see what others are listening as well.”

In basic terms, Heyy.co’s search engine is powered by Last.fm, allowing users to find albums and artists, ultimately identifying the most relevant music video on YouTube. This method, while dependant on a third party’s music library, ultimately saves Li and Smith from having to operate massive servers to store the music.

The partners then modified the source code to delete all of the ad features and sent it to their friends for beta testing.

“The feedback was good and they asked to improve the services,” Li says. “So we started improving the user experience by creating our own features, debugging, and localizing the site.”

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Artist information is pulled from Last.fm.

The result is the current version of Heyy.co, a fun though somewhat clunky work in progress. Some features are impressive though, including Heyy.co’s ability to analyse listening habits and insert suggested songs. The aim according to Li is to smooth out the wrinkles and improve the ability for users to share tunes amongst themselves. The discovery of new and trending music is really at the heart of Heyy.co according to Li.

“Heyy.co is a online community that allows users to listen and discover great music with their friends. By adding other social networking features such as a timeline and a Twitter-like follow system, the user can see what others are listening to, such that they can discuss and discover cool music together.”

While it is much too early to tell how Heyy.co will fare, it will be interesting to see if it impacts the listening habits of Hong Kongers.

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Using the video option on Heyy.co.

Li is currently studying Intelligent Building Technology and Management at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology but he says that unlike many young entrepreneurs hoping to strike it rich with a single app, there are no plans to monetize the site. (If listeners want to own a song or album, Heyy.co allows them to easily click over to Amazon to buy and download the music.)

“We just want provide a better search engine for people to discover great music video on YouTube.”

We’ve been using it at Localiiz since last week and it’s proving popular among our team, something that Li warned us about.

“We’re pretty sure that you will get addicted to it.”

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