Libre.fm is essentially an open source clone of Last.fm’s audioscrobbler. With Libre.fm 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 Last.fm. As the name implies, everything about Libre.fm is free. All the Libre.fm 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 Last.fm’s so nearly all scrobbling clients will scrobble to Libre.fm. (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 post.audioscrobbler.com so that they go to the libre.fm scrobbling machine. It is a clever way to get instant support for Libre.fm 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 Libre.fm is the web front end (called nixtape) that shows what people are playing, what is popular, artist charts and clouds. (Imagine what Audioscrobbler.com looked like in 2005). Here’s my Libre.fm page:
There 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 Libre.fm is the clickable ‘Explore popular artist’ cloud:
Libre.fm 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 Libre.fm lets you import your Last.fm listening history, many of these plays have been previously scrobbled at Last.fm).
When you compare these numbers to Last.fm’s, Libre.fm’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 Libre.fm 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 Libre.fm 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 Last.fm when Last.fm 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 Libre.fm, my reaction was very similar to my reaction back in 1985 to Stallman – what’s the point? Last.fm already provides all these services and much more. Last.fm lets you get access to your data via their web services. Last.fm already has billions of scrobbles from millions of users. Why do we need another Last.fm? 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 Libre.fm is the begining of the next revolution in music discovery.
Update – I asked mattl, founder of libre.fm, what his motivation for creating libre.fm is. He says there are two prime motivations:
- Artistic – “I wants to support libre musicians. To give them a platform where they are the ruling class.”
- 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)”