Social media websites have become the mainstay, embraced by internet individuals and companies alike as a way to play, to research, and to expose "who we are." So many of these sites have sprung up in the last several years on the heals of MySpace that it is difficult to keep up. Today, with Last.fm, we will begin the first in a series of reviews of some of our favorite social portals.
Last.fm is the music junkie's enabler. With so many ways to feed a healthy music addiction, it is sure to become your favorite stop for new tunes. Let's begin our analysis with the feature that allows Last.fm to be a highly intelligent music database: tagging.
Last.fm's utility is based upon a database of user community-tagged artists, albums, and tracks. The users are free to tag at whim - genre and mood tags are extremely common - also common are tags like 'seen live' or tags that might reference a particular culture's music or perhaps an instrument - 'early classical Japanese shamisen.' These tags can be browsed and searched. Search for the 'piano' tag and notice that the results display all music that has been tagged 'piano', ordered by weight, or the number of times users have tagged that particular piece of music or artist with the 'piano' tag. Click on an artist in the result list to visit their profile page.
A little flash widget that will play from a small snippet to full length tracks. It all depends on the artist's preference. Usually one will find an artist's most popular songs here. Tracks played from these artist players will be counted in a user's charts. Also available inside the player are controls for tagging, loving, banning, and recomending. (More on this later)
These videos are often just embedded versions of the same files hosted at places like YouTube and Vimeo. Handy.
So what Dylan tracks are still popular these days? How about in the last 6 months? Charts make answering these questions dead simple.
Last.fm has this to say about how similar artists is calculated:
"The list of artists which you may see on an artist page as being "similar" is based exactly on our user's listening habits. If a lot of users listen to Artist X, but also Artist Y and Z - Y and Z artists will become similar to X."
This in addition to the community driven nature of the tagging results in unbiased, ever-developing accuracy. What better tool is needed for seeking out new music?
Even more niceties await the freely registered user. Last.fm provides additional software to the user that is meant to be run in plug-in fashion with your music player of choice. For me, its the Last.fm program and Audioscrobbler iTunes plug-in for Macintosh. As I play music in iTunes, through the companion Last.fm application, or on artist pages on the site itself through the flash player - charts of my listening habits are compiled. Neat!
Yes, organized by various time frames. Top Track Charts are also displayed and work in the same fashion. These charts also add to the intelligent quality of Last.fm. The database of user charts is used here for calculations that allow for another super nice feature: Neighbors - Users that listen to the same tunes you do, and them some.
What about my 'friends?' We WILL get there, but keep in mind that at least in this particular case, neighbors are much more useful than friends. Neighbors are other users that share your listening habits. Highly useful. How? Well, chances are that the music that is currently unknown to you - that IS known to your neighbors - probably fits your musical taste. So keep an eye on your 'neighborhood' charts and you will be rewarded with more new music to explore than you can handle. I promise. And then recommend the good stuffs to your friends, real or otherwise.
Friends (of course):
There are a host of other features that make Last.fm one of my favorite sites on the web these days. Streaming of tag, chart, and neighbor stations and the creation of completely customized playlists for subscribers (3.00 per month eables this feature as well as others) are among the most useful. Any of these streamable 'stations' are playable on the companion Last.fm desktop and iPhone | iPod Touch applications.
So, if you haven't already, turn off that radio and turn on the internet with Last.fm. You won't know what you are missing until you do.
David aka Andee_Sonne @ Last.fm