RealNetworks' purchase of TidySongs causes confusion

Some customers have missed the company's offer of a free copy of its new software

When RealNetworks purchased the music software TidySongs earlier this year, some customers who paid for TidySongs before the sale complained that their service was cut off.

Customers who paid US$39 for TidySongs, software that organizes iTunes music libraries, have found that their software no longer works, and their purchase code doesn't work with Rinse, the rebranded and improved version of TidySongs now sold by RealNetworks.

Shortly after the late April transition, RealNetworks began offering a free copy of Rinse to customers who purchased TidySongs within six months of the sale, said Daniel Strickland, lead developer of TidySongs and now senior director of emerging products at RealNetworks. Some other customers were offered their money back.

"The idea here was not to cheat anyone out of a purchase," he said.

Customers who purchased TidySongs before late October will have their concerns handled on a "case-by-case basis," Strickland said Tuesday.

Users who opened TidySongs were notified of the transition and the offer, Strickland said. RealNetworks did not send e-mail messages to TidySongs customers because it wanted to target only active users, he said. "I didn't see a need to mass e-mail all these people who bought [TidySongs] two years ago, then forgot about it," Strickland added.

Some customers appear to have missed the free-offer message in TidySongs.

The TidySongs program no longer appears to be directing customers to the free offer. A RealNetworks customer service representative made no mention of the free offer to a customer who complained this week about TidySongs no longer working.

There has been some confusion at RealNetworks customer service during the transition, Strickland said. In some cases, RealNetworks customer service wasn't aware of Rinse during the transition, he said. "That was a mistake and we should do better," he said.

The free offer appears to have eluded other customers as well. One TidySongs customer wrote on ScamInformer.com that he had purchased TidySongs in March. The customer wrote that he received no response from RealNetworks customer support.

"I downloaded the demo of Rinse software and I was amazed except for the color it was EXACTLY the same," he wrote in the July 5 complaint. "I have an option of buying Rinse for $40 or find another piece of software (I am going with the latter). Avoid RealNetworks because they have no customer support, and do not and will not think twice to screw its customers."

Another TidySongs customer complained after a review of Rinse at ArsTechnica.com. "They took over Tidysongs (and the TidySongs.com web site,) Renamed the product "Rinse" (Just Changed logo) then disabled every Tidysongs application and expect you to purchase the very same product all over again after only a couple of months since purchasing it," the customer wrote.

RealNetworks added new back-end technology powered by music identification company Gracenote to Rinse, Strickland said. RealNetworks now has a licensing agreement with Gracenote that it must comply with, he said.

"Everything that happens behind the scenes in terms of music identification ... is all new," Strickland said. "There's a behind-the-scenes improvement." RealNetworks is planning other new features, including identification of songs through audio, he said.

The interfaces of the two software packages are nearly identical, the front-end functionality is the same and the price is the same. Both apps have buttons on their main menus allowing users to add album art, find duplicate songs, "fix" songs and organize genres.

It's unclear how many TidySongs users were cut off in the transition. Strickland declined to say how many users TidySongs had.

Customers could download a free, limited-functionality version of TidySongs at TidySongs.com and other sites before paying for it. There have been nearly 9,000 downloads of TidySongs at Softpedia.com, one download site, and TidySongs' Facebook page has more than 4,900 "likes."

People searching for TidySongs online now see links referring them to Rinse, and the TidySongs.com website links to Rinse as well. "Looking for TidySongs? Try Rinse instead," says an ad on Google's search site.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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