What Is This Magical Turntable.fm Everyone’s Talking About?

Alternate headline: Productivity Plague as Turntable.fm Sucks in Start-Up After Start-Up!

StickyBits is now Turntable.fm, and while we bet that makes some investors very, very happy–namely First Round Capital, Polaris Ventures, and Mitch Kapor, who gave the company at least $1.9 million–others must be smiling through their teeth. “Biggest threat to productivity today: turntable.fm,” tweeted FastSociety’s Andy Thompson. Foursquare’s Tristan Walker called it “WAY too dangerous.” There are rooms for Foursquare Zynga, Twitter, Facebook, Formspring, TechStars, YouTube, Chartbeat, TicketMaster, Zaarly, Uber,  and Google Wallet, plus the Coding Soundtrack room, which at time of writing had 137 listeners and at one time was speculated to be open in the browser of every developer in Silicon Alley.

So what is Turntable.fm? It’s a browser-based chatroom that streams music based on the choices of a rotating cast of DJs drawn from whoever is in the room. There are up to five DJs at any one time who create playlists; the station cycles through the playlists one song at a time, moving from one DJ’s pick to the next, as the room votes on how “lame” to “awesome” the track is. A (sometimes fast-moving) discussion takes place in a chatroom on the bottom right of the screen. DJs get points for picking popular songs and if enough people think a song is lame, it skips to the next. You can upload songs or search through the Medianet-powered library to create your playlist when it’s your turn to DJ.

The app is also, presumably, making money by helping people discover new music socially. Mouse over a song you like and click “add to iTunes” to buy it.

Even though the app seems ubiquitous in Silicon Alley/Valley, it’s actually still in semi-closed beta. Users need to connect with Facebook and will be allowed in if a friend is already using the app. As TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsostis joked, it’s now a useful sign of how well connected your company is. “New hot startup metric: The # of listeners in its Turntable.fm room.”

StickyBits/Turntable.fm, now down to just three employees on the seventh floor above Dogpatch Labs, where they got their start (and their Polaris funding), feel they’re not ready for prime time yet. Betabeat ambushed the CEO, Betaworks veteran Billy Chasen, and developer in the office last week, hoping to score the first exclusive interview, but we were politely told the company is not ready for interviews yet as they’re still working out bugs with the app. And while the Valley has clearly gotten the memo–Mr. Chasen splits his time between coasts–not everyone is in the know. “What is this magical turntable.fm that I am not allowed into?” pouted Cheezburger CTO Scott Purad today.

So while we’re still waiting for the full story on how StickyBits, the database of barcode-based messages, pivoted to a music start-up–one of the toughest industries to start up in thanks to its outmoded attitudes regarding copyright laws–we do know the company has been working on Turntable.fm since January, its userbase is growing fast, and it’s available outside the U.S.–or at least in Germany, where it went similarly viral after a music blog discovered the site and blew it up.

(We just stopped by the Twitter room–“What’s Golden” by Jurassic 5 was playing. “Can I get a job at Twitter here?” user @lay2000lbs asked in the chatroom. In the meantime, betaworks co-founder Andy Weissman noted on Twitter that “Turntable.fm is growing so fast there are now back channel chats going on in some rooms.” Programmers with great taste in music just got a new way to land the perfect gig.)

We have heard some bug reports since we started trolling the rooms of Turntable.fm, including repeated errors when uploading songs, sound problems and “a weird black box” that flashes over the screen, so it would seem Turntable.fm has some work to do before it can open to more users. Maybe when it rolls out in public it will have added some of the most requested features: the ability to let others see your uploaded tracks, and the ability to throw drinks at the DJ.

UPDATE – Mark Zuckerberg and Ron Conway were among the 100 + avatars chilling in the coding soundtrack room this afternoon.

What Is This Magical Turntable.fm Everyone’s Talking About?