in Geeklife, Gubatron, Opinions

The future of media – Part I – “Radio that plays what you like.”

Last August 2005 I used AmaroK, a very innovative music player that currently runs in Linux, one of the features that caught my eye was the integration with a website called last.fm with a plugin called “The AudioScrobbler”

I had to set up an account in last.fm once this was done, AmaroK would send statistics of all the music I played to last.fm. Then If on last.fm, I could see all the music I played, and the site would recommend me not only more music to listen, but it would match me with other people with similar musical interests -> music tastes = social network

audioscrobbler setup, click to make big

So, I upgraded my linux, and for some reason I stopped using the service, but on my trip to Austria I happened to meet and work side by side with one of the founders of last.fm (Michael, very nice dude). Over a few Austrian beers he told me the whole story of the site, and why he wasn’t part of it anymore, and why the big players never bought it… He also told me about other sites doing the similar things, and he mentioned pandora.com (which I’ll talk about next, but read on, there’s still more to know about last.fm)

click to make bigger, here's Michael, original founder of last.fm

Here’s where I learned that last.fm not only did the whole social network thing, but that it also streams music to you based on your taste (silly me, this was probably the main feature).

So here’s how it works, you need to download a player application or a plugin for your favorite music player and you type the name of an artist that you like, based on that artist it will start playing similar music, or based on the stats of your account.

If you happen like the song you can just play it all the way for free, if you love it you can click a heart icon and it will know that you’ll love it (then it’ll analize this info and play more  songs with similar musical properties), if you don’t like a song you can always skip it and wait for the surprise of the next song, if you hate that song with all your guts you can ban it from ever being played again, the results? eventually you’ll find yourself listening to a high percentage of music that you’ll enjoy, and you’ll be addicted to it, hours will go buy and you won’t even realize you were listening to digital radio.
I’d like to praise the last.fm developer team for building players for all operating systems, including Linux (I’m currently listening to one of their personalized streams in my Linux Ubuntu, the player is written using Qt4, nice!!!!)

last fm player running in linux

So that’s all I have to say for now about last.fm, you can check out my profile (which is not up to date since I haven’t listened to more music and sent data to the site), this page will show you the songs I’ve listened recently on their stream [while I was writing this post], and stats about the artists, songs I played the most on my linux box, and also my musical neighbours. (and yes, it works in Windows and Mac too!!!)

So PROS. Innovative, A lot of music, excellent sound quality, fun to see what you’ve heard from your harddrive collection (you’ll see how obssessed I was with Madonna, Shakira and Aterciopelados last year), and it has the social networking aspect which is cool, you can play your neighbour’s radio and if you have the time to socialize you could probably contact your neighbours, personally I never contacted these people, but I did see the music they played and that gave me ideas on what to listen to. As a personal note I like to listen to music I like, or music my friends show me, and not what the media is trying to shove in my ears.

CONS? having to install something to listen to the streams (even though it was very easy, even for linux, no compilation needed whatsover, just untar and run a binary)
But don’t go to last.fm just yet, finish reading, there’s more.

PANDORA.COM

So I went to www.pandora.com and I found out why people probably like it better.

Pandora's flash interface, tiny, accesible and simple. Just cool

First of all you don’t need to install anything, you just go to the page and there’s an amazing flash application running there. Without any registration you can start playing personalized music, the interface is friendly and animated, you feel like you’re using a program like those shown only in movies where computer interfaces are too cool to be true.

what happens when you click 'Guide Us'

So, I typed ‘jamiroquai’ and it started playing music similar to jamiroquai, and then I asked to my self, but how will this thing know my tastes when I come back, I don’t want to train it again, as I was listening to my stream I registered using the same interface, and all along the music kept playing, the sound quality was good, and the interface explains you little things on why it plays a song or not, I just found it way cool and more accesible to users than last.fm.

detailed description of why it's playing that song

If you compare to last.fm, they both serve the same purpose, but last.fm is a bit more of a pain to do the whole thing, once you have both of them set up, it makes no differene to me.

PROS, accesible, no installation needed, amazing UI.

CONS of pandora.com..?. If you have linux with flash player 7, your cpu usage might go to the rooftop, and if your laptop has a few fans broken (like mine) the laptop will over heat and it will turn itself off, but this isn’t the fault of pandora.com, this is the fault of macromedia releasing a crappy flash player for linux, and me not replacing the fan coolers of my laptop, also it displays a massive vertical banner on the right side of the page (but hey, they gotta make a living), and personally, I’m working when I listen to music, I just go back to the page when I hear a song that I hate to tell it I don’t like it and skip it (but this rarely happens after you train it)
MERCORA.COM

click to see how it won't work if you don't use windows, booo

There’s another option called mercora, but it just doesn’t work for everybody, only for Windows users. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! -10 to mercora for being ‘racist’ and marrying to Microsoft, they better get their s@#$! together, a lot of people is slowly moving to Mac OS and Linux – God only knows since when they have that message saying they’ll be supporting other platforms in the near future…

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