In Memoriam: Muxtape

Nick Martens looks back on the little playlist-sharing website that could.

A sincere sort of digital sadness trailed in the wake of Muxtape’s official demise yesterday, as the site’s creator Justin Ouellete announced a “radical shift in [the site's] functionality.” It was a simple website, humbly offering a space to share playlists, but a great affection built around it quickly. With its minimalist design, Muxtape gave any music lover a slice of the internet that felt truly personal. And in that way, it was unique.

Of course, most of Muxtape’s popularity stemmed from a fondness for sharing music. As Ouellette noted in his post on the site’s history,

When we find a song we love, we beckon our friends over to the turntable, we loan them the CD, we turn up the car stereo, we put it on a mixtape. We do this because music makes us feel and we want someone else to feel it, too.

But something else shaped Muxtape into not just a liked website, but a beloved one.

Certainly the site was a testament to the endurance of Swiss Modernist design, a 1960s ethos maintaining that any content could best be presented in carefully positioned Helvetica with lots of white space. Muxtape took this tack a step further, extending its simplicity even to the site’s functionality. You could upload songs, organize them, listen to them, and not much else. But if the site was about making and listening to playlists, what more did you need?

This spareness allowed Muxtape’s special appeal to grow. When you browsed a playlist, it didn’t look like your friend’s music as presented by Muxtape. It was just your friend’s music. Muxtape employed no advertising, and the clean, text-based interface consumed the entire page without any branding.

Many sites today rely on user-generated content, but even if you contribute, the content never feels like it’s yours. Every Facebook profile looks corporate, MySpace is loaded with ads, and both problems affect Digg, reddit, and YouTube. Not even the clean and simple Flickr recedes far enough for the site to dissolve around the content. All of these sites wrap the user’s content in enough branding and advertising to distance the community from the company.

Muxtape was great because it eliminated that distance. Your playlist felt as much yours as a website coded from scratch. If you read our Muxtape Staff List, where each writer posted a mix, you’ll notice that no one mentions the Muxtape service when describing their playlist. It’s as if the site wasn’t there. And now that it really isn’t, how strange that it stood out so much.

Nick Martens is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. You can email him, if you like.