Felix Miller on Wed, 9 Oct 2002 12:45:16 +0200 (CEST)

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[rohrpost] The crux of explaining what last.fm actually is

The crux of explaining what last.fm actually is . . . 

I tell you, we've been so wrapped up in the production and
implementation of last.fm, that we somehow seemed to have lost the
capability of actually pointing out, short and precise, what it is all
about. It is every salesperson's worst nightmare: a complex product,
which actually works rather simple.

It all started with on online platform for unsigned, unknown artists,
www.insine.net. We were realising, that computer software makes it
easier and easier to produce digital music in the bedroom, music, which
would have required Pink Floyd style equipment and budget only a few
years ago. Audio software becomes more and more like computer games, you
can mould and shape sound in a very interactive and fun way. Needless to
say, as great as this democratisation in music production tools was, a
lot of shit got produced too. But this was always like that, nothing new
and we are not complaining. Nobody forces anybody to listen to bad

Anyway. There are also a lot of cool tracks produced and insine.net saw
itself as an immediate output application for these productions: bounce
the track, encode it as mp3 and upload it straight away. You should have
the insine stream open by now and check out the music. Let's face it, I
could be writing here for days and still you wouldn't know, what fun it
is to listen to music which literally come out of the void of the

The goal of insine was to create an audio stream, a radio program,
consisting of music, which doesn't exist anywhere else, maybe the only
other place these songs exist, is the artist's hard disc.

We got good response and stared to build a roster of musicians, most of
which we never met. Great tracks got uploaded and after a while we were
sitting on a mountain of very good and very special content.

With a few hundred tracks on our server databank we started to wonder
how to present this music. As insine.net never had one particular sound,
one style or genre we were faced with the crux of creating play lists,
which follow a particular genre, or declare our favourites. 

But we thought, fuck that, music is music, and good music will always
get listened to if it is really any good. Besides, we didn't know, if
our artists would agree with us putting their tracks in categories like
abstracttriptonicfractalbeats, horizontalloungecore or some other
bullshit like that.

On the other hand, how are the listeners, the audience ever going to
find out about all those hidden gems, produced by artists, whose name
you never heard? In other words, how can we make it easy for the
listeners to find what they like, but what they don't know. Or, if they
found something the like, to continue and find more of that particular
cool sound.

And then there was all the other music we liked.

The internet is the biggest accumulation of everything, ever. There are
mild guesses, which state, that there are more than 1 billion different
mp3 soundfiles in circulation, increasing by 10 million every month.

The only half-transparent option of navigating through this enormous
maze, this internet of music, was offered by the peer to peer clients.
You type in a name and you get sometimes hundreds of references of where
to download the particular file. Apart from the fact of being illegal
(which obviously contributed to the fun of it) it also gave you a chance
of tracking music back to the individual user and looking into his
shared folder and maybe finding more of that good stuff.

But still, you were fucked if you tried to find songs and tracks you
didn't even know about, truly new stuff, unheard of.

The best way of finding out about new, exiting music is still going
round to a friends place and s/he plays you some of their new CDs or

Music is an ancient community tool, music brings people together. Music
is used by millions of people as part of defining their attitudes and to
differentiate themselves from other groups. If music is important for
you, you maybe find that it is also very important for your friends,
that a part of your friendship is founded on updating each other about
new discoveries and being able to have intelligent conversations about

Finally it dawned on us, that we could use this ancient principle for a
way out of our disorientation in the enormous content maze. If we could
bring people, who are listening to the same music together, make them
exchange recommendations and tips, we would be able to draw on the
resources and the knowledge of all the music fans. And we would be
getting the latest tracks and the old, hidden gems; in short, we would
never have to worry about how to quench our own personal taste for

This is how http://last.fm was born. It is essentially everybody
connected with everybody else, listening to their coolest music. 

You can listen to the radio stream like you listen to an audio CD: you
can skip the tracks you don't like. But in comparison to the CD, where
you have to press skip each time you come to this un-liked song, the
last.fm system remembers what you skipped and is thus able to find out
what you like, it learns about your preferences. And will not play this
skipped song again. But obviously, this would lead you in a dead end
immediately, you ending up with a program of only your things, and,
depending on your scope, always the same things.

But we wanted to find out about music we didn't know about, or find more
of what we like.

That's why the last.fm system remembers your preferences and compares
them with the preferences of other listeners, who listened to the same
songs you like. It's like when you compare record collections with your
friends. You find out, that you have a lot of records in common, so the
assumption is close, that you would also enjoy your friends' other
records, which you don't have.

This is exactly what last.fm is doing. It's connecting people (with
their listening preferences, their profiles) and is thus able to suggest
some new music to you, which you haven't heard yet, but might like.

All this happens automatically, you don't have to do anything apart from
listening to great music and pressing change, whenever you come across a
track you don't like.

The way we have set the data base up (and indeed the only way a system
like that can work) is that all soundfiles are treated equal. If that
sounds all like "French revolution" to you then you are right.
The music industry has been the same since year dot, in that it looks
for marketable artists, bombards the press and the radio with promo
material and is thus able to sell their stuff. That music is very often
a secondary factor in this industry, I don't have to tell you (but did
anyway) especially in the age of format pop and other industry
manufactured nonsense.

So, all songs and sounds are treated equal, that's why you won't find
any genres or categorisations at last.fm. No mega stars, no hype,
nothing, just music. And a lot of it.

But this is also, why the last.fm experience is still a bit bumpy:
because everything's equal the databank, starts with an almost random
selection and needs to be structured by you, the listeners. But don't
worry, hold on tight, things can only get better. 
Just by pressing change you will put the connections between the songs,
you will determine what fits together and what not. You, and not some
self-styled, jumped up editor, journalist or so called guardian of good

We are starting with almost 100% chaos (=100% equal). The more people
are listening the better it gets. And the more you listen, the better it
gets for you, because you are continuously building on your profile and
you are helping everybody else.
that's why people saying: "its a machine picking the music", are talking
bullshit. It's all and only the listeners structuring and editing the
audio program. Everybody for themselves, but also everybody together.

This is the first time that music is actually structured along the lines
of how it is consumed, rather than put into nice marketable boxes, with
nice labels like electro, jazz, hip hop, pop etc. When we are reaching
the critical mass of users, all the songs will be dynamically
contextualised by the users and the users only. We will end up with a
collaborative profile (all the individual user profiles combined), which
we plan to visualise in the form of a music map (or something like
that), which shows the areas of genres (the new genres, defined by
listeners only) like a landscape.

Because everybody gets their own stream (forgot to mention that, but
obviously, otherwise this system wouldn't work), we can't influence your
program with stuff like power play or trying to plug you an artist,
which you don't like. The only thing left for us is making sure, that
there is enough tracks in last.fm, so that everybody finds their patch.
We just found out, that there is about 1000 years of recorded music.
Believe us, we are working on it.
This is the truly horizontal radio, where sound gets liquid and anything
goes, it's all up to you.

For some last.fm will groove, for some it will rock, for some it will
supply the soundtrack to their cultivated depression.

All this technological and conceptual bullshit may not interest you in
the slightest, although I have a lot more of it in store. You just wanna
listen to your favourite music. And chat with your friends. And get more
of what you like and more of what you don't know and, and .....

You came to the right place

||||||||||||||||||||||||| your music your radio
////////////////////////your profile your style
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connect yourself and cook pasta////////////////
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