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Tiny webcaster Last.fm causes major online splash
22 July 2003
Thanks to a clever integration of collaborative filtering algorithms, easy-to-manage personal musical profiles, and intuitive navigation controls, Last FM’s service may perhaps evolve into the killer app that seizes online control from the major labels in a legal, sustainable way.
Here’s how it works. You create a free account and start adding records you like to your profile. A collaborative-filtering style algorithm then runs with your choices, playing selections from your and other users’ profiles that are likely to match your taste. At any time you can manually add or remove songs from your 'record collection,' and change the song that’s playing by clicking along a similar-to-different scale.
For example, I started with Supergrass and was led to David Bowie, My Bloody Valentine, Op-l Bastards, Two Lone Swordsmen, Tuxedomoon, Suicide, and Nick Drake. Meanwhile, I searched around and fleshed out my 'record collection' a bit, and the song sequence responded to my choices. Very cool.
The station relies on the cooperation of record labels, who are pleased to submit their catalogs since every record you can listen to you can also buy. The scenario is that you get exposed to music you’ve never heard but that matches your listening habits and your current mood. You look at the player to see who it is, you look it up on the Last.fm site to add it to your 'record collection,' and if you like it enough you click the link to buy it.
A few clever innovations make it slicker and more fun than any other similiar system I’ve seen. For one, there’s no work involved in teaching the system about your taste, apart from skipping songs you don’t like and adding songs you do. For another, you can change the music to match your mood at any time and the system will follow along. And the standalone Flash- or browser-based interface provides exactly enough control—enough to interact effectively and not so much that it gets in the way.
Webcasting from their dorm room starting last November, Thomas Willomitzer, Felix Miller, Martin Stiksel and Michael Breidenbrücker offer their service for free and without ads. The only revenue stream at the moment is click-through affiliate sales for each record in their catalog.
It will be interesting to see how long it will take before the majors steal Last.fm’s innovations and offer their own version—no doubt with algorithms to shove pre-selected music down listeners’ throats, as they do so very well today using other media channels. And it will be even more interesting to see if a fair system like Last.fm’s is sufficiently more attractive to listeners to succeed anyway. | Last.fm | | top of page |
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