Over the last 5 years, Last.fm has built an incredible database of social tags around music. They have collected millions of short text descriptions of artists, albums and tracks. These tags are a great way to explore for new music, and Last.fm exploits these tags on their site to great effect. But what if you want to use the tags to help you play music from your own collection? Until now you were out of luck – you had to resort to the iTunes style of exploring your personal music collection – resulting in lots of playlists from artists in proper alphabetical order but with no musical cohesiveness. Now, Last.fm has just released a prototype, called Boffin that allows you to use the great body of last.fm social tags to play music in your own collection. The program is called Boffin – I took it for a quick spin and I really like it.
When you run Boffin for the first time, it enrolls your music collection. For me, with about 10K tracks, this took less than 5 minutes. During this time, Boffin is ‘phoning home’ to last.fm to get the tags that have been applied to your artists and tracks. I call this Round Trip Tagging – we give some tags to last.fm when we tag music, and they give lots of tags back to us to let us label our own collection. Once enrolled, Boffin gives you a tag cloud interface to your music collection. Select a few tags, hit the play button and you are listening to your own music. Here’s what my Boffin tag cloud looks like:
Of course, the listening experience is going to be good, because I’m listening to my own music and, presumably, I like that music already.
For a prototype application, Boffin is really well polished (at least the mac version is). While enrolling my music collection, Boffin shows images of all the artists in my collection that it is finding. I was rather amazed at how fast they were able to enroll my collection (I guess Boffin isn’t subject to the rate limits that users of the Last.fm developer API are subjected to). I did find a few times that I thought Boffin had hung up, because I couldn’t select tags anymore, but it turns out that Boffin disables tag selection when it is actually playing music. Once I hit the stop button, I could select tags with no worries. Boffin will even make it easy to generate the popular wordle tag cloud of my personal collection:
Good job to the folks at Last.fm, Boffin is pretty neat!