Spotify's new Group Session feature doesn't work for social distancing

The new feature lets users join a shared queue and control playback but only if they're in the same space, which seems like a missed opportunity in the age of the coronavirus.

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Spotify is officially launching a group-listening feature that allows users to stream music together online — but it only works for in-person streaming sessions right now. Group Session is rolling out in beta now and is expected to be available for all Premium users soon.

Group Session’s premise is simple: one person takes the role of host and shares a unique code generated by their Spotify listening session. That code can be scanned by anyone who wants to join in on the session and gives them permission to skip, play, and pause songs, or add tracks to the group queue.

News of the feature follows Spotify’s decision to discontinue third-party DJ app support this summer. It’s all making sense now — of course Spotify would want to reap the full benefits of having exclusive group-listening support.

Spotify’s been doing just fine in quarantine — the company hit 130 million Premium subscribers for the first time in Q1 of 2020. Spotify is doing everything it can to hang on to those existing subscribers while also bringing in new ones.

New features abound — Spotify is on a roll lately when it comes to expanding its app’s feature set. Many of those new features have been family-oriented in nature, such as the full-fledged Spotify Kids app that was released last month. Today the company also updated its parental control features to allow parents to view their child’s listening history and block specific content.

Other recent feature additions include the ability to hide songs from other users’ playlists and the curation of podcast episodes in three new playlists.

Only in-person for now — The announcement of the Group Session feature is exciting at first look: finally, an official way to stream music together while also keeping to our own respective homes.

But Group Session only works when you’re in the same physical location. Sure, you could work around the code-scanning by taking a screenshot and sending it to a friend, but the music only actually plays out of one device at a time, so you'd still have to share it over Zoom or similar.

This could ostensibly work well for households where multiple people are quarantined together. Families, for example, could launch a session and all contribute to the listening experience. Or housemates where everyone's taste is suitably aligned.

Seeing as we’re all looking for more ways to stay connected with friends and family who don’t live with us, this seems like a pretty big missed opportunity for Spotify. Perhaps the feature will expand to online listening sessions in the future. It would be a great way for Spotify to bring users together while also furthering its own business. For now, we’ll have to make do with third-party group streaming services that let us share the streaming experience with others from afar.