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I'm a frequent poster on several forums, I have 64 contacts in MSN, and believe it or not, I have a couple of real-life friends as well. Like many people, I use my computer to listen to music as well as ciaoing, and doing other bits and bobs, like satisfying my forum addictions, and er... chatting up sexy Scots (oh, that's a long story...). Several of my "contacts" from the sources mentioned, use a site called last.fm to track their listening. After stalking... cough cough, I mean, browsing their playlists there, I decided to join up.
► So what is it and why would I want it? ►
Right, well this bit is easy. All I need to do is go to last.fm's homepage and find the help, or FAQ section and copy and paste what it says last.fm is...
"Last.fm is the flagship product from the team that designed the Audioscrobbler system, a music engine based on a massive collection of Music Profiles. Each music profile belongs to one person, and describes their taste in music. Last.fm uses these music profiles to make personalized recommendations, match you up with people who like similar music, and generate custom radio stations for each person."
See, they say it better than I ever could. So last.fm is a "music engine" huh? And based on "a collection of User Profiles"? Are you lost? I shall explain...
Each person, and for this, we shall call them listeners... so each listener has their own profile. Using Audioscrobbler (a free plugin that you download from their site), last.fm finds out what you listen to on your PC and stores it on your profile.
The site is free to use, although you can subscribe (I have) which gives you a few extra benefits (these will be detailed - well, can I do anything else? - at the end).
► Last.fm Profile ►
Your last.fm profile is basically just what it says on the tin: your profile. It contains your name, age and location (if you wish, these demographics, of course, are optional). You can edit the About Me section, putting something oh-so-original like "My name is Stephanie and I listen to lots of music" or you could put something amazing, like... well, that's your job to figure out. Also in your profile are total track counts, favourite tags, charts, friends, journals... I will talk about these in detail further on.
Also, and the major part, in your profile, is the charts. These are the last ten tracks you listened to, which displays the track, artists and time you listened to it; your top ten artists over the last week, generated every Monday or Tuesday (depending on the mood) and containing your top artists from the Sunday-to-Sunday from the week before, with the amounts of tracks listened to by them, and Your top artists overall, upto 250 and your top tracks overall, upto 250 too.
► Artists, Albums and Tracks ►
album and track also have their own profile page. These pages detail numbers of listeners, and a variety of other statistics.
We will use the example Seymour Stein by Belle and Sebastian, for no other reason than it's the last song I listened to. If you click on this track in your profile, you are taken to another page. This page lists the track, and on what albums it can be found on (which in this song's case, is The Boy with the Arab Strap), and the percentage of people who have listened to Bella and Sebastian, listened to Seymour Stein, which is 9.1%. It tells you also that 14,242 people have listened to this track, and 156,781 have listened to this artist, altogether.
So now we move on to the artists page. I clicked on Wilco's page, to find a section called "About Wilco" which is... I bet you can't guess? A little bit of background on Wilco. There is a picture and a bit of a description, detailing where the band come from, how long they have been together etc, and some links. The links are to Wikipedia, the official homepage and to MusicMogz... followed by more links to each of the bands members.
With artist, song and album pages we also find common user tags (mentioned later), shoutboxes - which are basically like chatrooms, and are found on each profile page as well, similar artists and a list of fans. Apparently, similar artists to Wilco are:
► The Shins ► The Flaming Lips ► Spoon ► The Arcade Fire ► The Decemberists ► Beck ► Elliott Smith ► Modest Mouse
And these are also all clickable artists and they contain similar artists and so you go on and on and on, clicking artists until you get very bored of that.
There is also lists of groups, journals and tags (which we are delving into in just a short while)...
Right, so the last bit about these artists pages is that they list track titles, in order of popularity based on the amounts of listens over the past week and the past six months. We find that the most popular Wilco track listened to last week was Jesus, Etc with 1749 listens, and the most popular over the last six months was also Jesus, Etc with 16649 listens! Wow...
Just to reiterate, each artist, track and album are clickable.
► Friends and Neighbours ►
In your user profile you will see a section called "Friends". Surprisingly, this is where you add your friends. You do this by finding their profile, and clicking on a link within it (just underneath their avatar - oh, did I forget to mention you can have an avatar? well you do) saying ""add thebeatlesarether0x0r to my friends list" or whoever you want to add. Then they get sent an email and come looking for you to ask why you're stalking them... no not really, then they can add you, or not add you, depending on their mood, and it's all very ciao-like and myspace-like in that respect.
Then your friends are listed under the heading "friends". Clever, that, eh?
Neighbours are, somehow, other members who listen to more or less the same kinds of stuff that you do. I don't profess to understand anything at all about how they might do this, but somehow they do. And they do it fairly well. If I click on one of my neighbours, I will find between 50 and 90% of the artists we listen to, will be the same. This is quite good in that it gives you yet more artists to check out should you really have nothing better to spend all these wasted hours on (I mean, c'mon, you could be ciaoing!).
► Tags and Journals ►
You can Tag an artist, album, track or whatever anything you like, and these will gather in your profile. For example, you could Tag Tori Amos with say, Singer-Songwriter and this Tag will stay in your profile. Also, as with everything on this site, Tags are clickable and lead you to a whole new list of artists you've never heard of but just have to listen to, and now!
You can also write journals about any artist, song etc. Artists mentioned in your journal entry will ensure your journal entry appears on the artists profile page. Mostly, journals are full of "how eclectic is your music taste" type survey things, but there are a few interesting ones. Other members can then leave comments on these journal entries.
► Groups ►
As well as "friends" and "neighbours" you also have groups. There are lots and lots of groups, from Female Voices, to SvenskaPOP and absolutely everything in between. Within each group (which also has a profile, are you starting to see a pattern, here?) you will find some recommended artists, which basically are just to be ignored, because they are the favourite artists of whoever started the group, some journal entries and a forum style, section for posting or replying to threads.
As an example, I am a member of a group called Insomniacs Against Bedtime and a few recent topics posted in here are:
You access the groups homepage by clicking on the "groups" icon at the top of every page.
Whilst visiting groups looking for something to write about here, I noticed a tab called "Politics", so, being insatiably curious, I had to click on it, and apparently this is where you complain if you'd like a new leader for your group, or whatever. Great stuff.
Pictures of Last.fm
Well we all know what a forum is so I won't insult your intelligence with defining it... a large propertion of last.fm's forum is focussed on help and support. Because people obviously listen to music on a wide range of players, e.r. iTunes, Windows Media Player etc, and people use both PCs and Macs, the audioscrobbler plugin needs to be all-encompassing. So you go there for help.
There is also an In the News forum and a General Chat forum, where you will find typical threads such as "what do you look like" "where do you come from" and several million threads on music, how many songs you have on your computer, whether you're proud of your charts, which famous celebrity you'd like to f... oops, got carried away there.
I just clicked on a thread called "how many days old are you?" and got a bit sidetracked...
And of course, there's also a forum with last.fm suggestions and feedback, and all that...
► Radios ►
Are you still listening? Okay, well every member has their own radio stations. That wasn't a typo, but an intended pluralisation! Every member has three stations: Their ordinary radio station, their loved tracks station and their neighbours station. Then there's another radio station for each tag, e.g. instrumental, singer-songwriter etc. Each artist also has their own radio station, although these stations don't contain songs by that specific artist, but similar.
As well as all these many choices of radio station, you can listen to thirty seconds of any song that last.fm will recognise (which is most, but not all, I don't know why this is, and am not bright enough to go and try to find out)...
► Everything Else ►
And there are many other things on this site. There are little banners and buttons for you to advertise the site with, or you can build fancy little images showing your recent tracks, or your top artists of the week, or year total top artists or whatever, to display them on your webpage, or blog, or myspace profile or whatever. If you don't have a clue how to build one (like er, me) then there is a wide variety of cute little designs for you to choose from.
Obviously, for listening to radio stations, there's a last.fm radio player. This is fairly basic, just a little box telling you what song, album and artist you're listening to, and of course, as you can probably guess, this is clickable too! And then there are feeds... and er, since this review is already very long, and I don't have a clue about feeds, we'll just move on...
► Subscribers ►
If you subscribe you have the added bonus of being able to see who's visited your profile, and er... well that's it really. Oh, and apparently, at busy times you' get preferential treatment, or something like that. And you get a blue little icon next to your name rather than a grey one (the mods and site owners are orange and red). You can subscribe for one month, three months, six months or a year and to subscribe for a year costs £18.