– what’s the point? is essentially an open source clone of’s audioscrobbler.  With you can scrobble  your music play behavior to a central server, where your data is aggregated with all of the other scrobbles and can be used to create charts, recommendations, playlists – all the sorts of things we see at As the name implies, everything about is free. All the code is released under the GNU AGPL.  You can run your own server.  You own your own data.

The Libre project is just getting underway.  Not only is paint is not dry, they’ve only just put down the drop cloth, got the brushes ready and  opened the can.  Right now there’s a minimal scrobbler server (called GNUkebox) that will take anyone’s scrobbles and adds them to a postgres database.  This server is compatible with’s so nearly all scrobbling clients will scrobble to  (Note that to get many clients to work you actually have to modify your /etc/hosts file to redirect outgoing connections that would normally go to so that they go to the scrobbling machine.  It is  a clever way to get instant support for by lots of clients, but I must admit I feel a bit dirty lying to my computer about where to send the scrobbles.)

Another component of is the web front end (called nixtape) that shows what people are playing, what is popular, artist charts and clouds.  (Imagine what looked like in 2005).  Here’s my page:

libreThere is already quite a lot of functionality on the web front end – there are (at least minimal) user, artist, album and track pages. However,  there are some critical  missing bits – perhaps most significant of these is the lack of a recommender.   The only discovery tool so far at is the clickable ‘Explore popular artist’ cloud:

libre2 has only been live for a few week – but it is already closing in on its millionth scrobble.  As I write this, about 340K tracks have been scrobbled by 2011 users with a total of 920052 plays. (Note that since lets you import your listening history,  many of these plays have been previously scrobbled at

When you compare these numbers to’s,’s numbers are very small – but if you consider the very short time that it has been live, these numbers start to look pretty good.  What is even more important is that has already  built a core team of over two dozen developers.   Two dozen developers can write a crazy amount of code in a short time – so I’m expecting to see the gaps in functionality to be filled rather quickly. And as the gaps in functionality are eliminated,  more users will come (especially those users who’ve recently abandoned when started to charge users that don’t live in the U.S., U.K. or Germany).

I remember way back in 1985 reading this article in Byte magazine about this seemingly crazy guy named Richard Stallman who was creating his own operating system called GNU.  I couldn’t understand why he was doing it.  We already had MS-DOS and Unix (I was using DEC’s Ultrix at the time which was a mighty fine OS). I didn’t think we needed anything else.   But Stallman was on a mission – that mission was to create free software. Software that you were free to run, free to modify, free to distribute.  I was wrong about Stallman.  His set of tools became key parts of Linux and his ideas about ‘CopyLeft’ enabled the  open source movement.

When I first heard about, my reaction was very similar to my reaction back in 1985 to Stallman  – what’s the point? already provides all these services and much more. lets you get access to your data via their web services. already has billions of scrobbles from millions of users.  Why do we need another  But this time I’m prepared to be wrong.  Perhaps we don’t really want our data held by one company. Perhaps a community of passionate developers can take the core concept of the audioscrobbler to somewhere new.  Just as Stallman’s crazy idea has changed the way we think about developing software, perhaps is the begining of the next revolution in music discovery.

Update – I asked mattl, founder of, what his  motivation for creating is. He says there are two prime motivations:

  1. Artistic – “I wants to support libre musicians.  To give them a platform where they are the ruling class.”
  2. freedom – “give everyone access to their data, so even if they don’t like what we’re  doing with libre music, the software is still free (to them and us)”

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  1. #1 by Mike Lewis on April 24, 2009 - 9:45 am

    Goos post but I kept waiting to get to the paragraph where you talk about the business model. 2 dozen developers providing a service that will always be free doesn’t sound sustainable unless they are working for free. Can you shed some lighton how that’s going I work?

    Also, it’s be even better if they could provide an open source iTunes plugin too

    • #2 by Barry Williams on April 24, 2009 - 11:02 am

      @Mike it is open source the developers are scratching an itch they want to scratch. What they get in payment is an opensource audio scrobbler (and some recognition of there work that they can use in job interviews) as this project becomes more mature it may lose developers if they see their itch scratched but it will also continue to gain developers as new users see features they can add.

  2. #3 by Matt Lee on April 24, 2009 - 11:38 am

    I’m the founder and one of the developers of is more than open source — it’s free software. We’re doing this, with a specific ethical goal in mind. To allow people to do most of the things they can on, in freedom.

    As for business models — why does there need to be done? Servers are cheap or gratis — people are falling over themselves to give us hardware, and hosting. Why? Because it’s good for them to be seen to support this, just as it’s good for them to be seen to support GNU.

    For iTunes — the existing plugin works, if you change your hosts file, and someone will eventually release a modified version that lets you pick, or does both.

  3. #4 by Jeremy Reed on April 24, 2009 - 11:49 am

    Great post!

    @Mike: Open source isn’t about having a set member list of developers, but rather it’s like David Jenning’s breakdown of Savants, Enthusiasts, etc. The Savants will stay on as defacto code editors. Enthusiasts will contribute and spread the word. The casuals and indifferents will use without contributing. The key is to take advantage of the inherit ability of people to contribute to their chosen field or interest.

  4. #5 by Greg Wilder on April 24, 2009 - 12:12 pm

    Great post with respect to the project, but with all due respect, what’s up with that title?

    After all, what’s the point of MySQL? What about OpenOffice? And I’m still scratching my head over that silly Blender application. I mean after 3DS and Maya, what else could anyone ask for? ;-)

    Other thoughts: what if were to run into trouble and disappear? Or what if they simply decided to move things in a new direction leaving some users frustrated with the changes?

    And as you point out, there’s the issue of software freedom. (Not a minor point…)

    My response isn’t intended to be mean-spirited (not in the slightest!) but after all Stallman and countless others have done over the past 25+ years to improve the world (for the better!), it seems a little strange to see someone with your knowledge and breadth of experience ask this question.

    • #6 by plamere on April 24, 2009 - 12:22 pm

      @greg – the title of the post was my initial reaction to – and I think it is a reaction shared by many in the music tech community – why do we need another scrobbler when we already have one? So for my post, I thought I would start with the question that I had to see if I could answer it. Until I read your comment, I thought I had done a good job of explaining the point. I’m optimistic about and hope they can achieve their goals. I think their motivations are solid and so far their execution has been great. Maybe I should just change the title of the post. Anyway, thanks for the comment.

      • #7 by Greg Wilder on April 24, 2009 - 1:26 pm

        Ahh — I see. Yes, I did wonder why the post went to such lengths to point out the potential benefits of a GNU alternative.

        I guess I took the “what’s the point?” subtitle to be a criticism of the effort — not a “here’s the point!” commentary in support of it.

        Thanks for clarifying!

  5. #8 by Lu on May 6, 2009 - 11:10 am sucks. Now everything is paid for. And today they changed the radio’s software for something big, ugly and extremely heavy, so not even a subscriber can really listen to their radios anymore unless he or she has the most recent computer.

    They just went mad at Money makes people go insane. Really. is dead. Long live \o/

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