Posts Tagged last.fm
Some artists just are not cool – your mom likes ABBA, so there’s no way you are going to listen to them, even if you think Mamma Mia is rather catchy. Likewise you may think High School Musical’s ‘Bop to the top’ is mucho gusto, but you don’t want anyone to know it. Coolness is hard to quantify, ephemeral and transient (and of course, very subjective); some artists like Miles Davis and the Velvet Underground will always be totally cool – while some fade in and out of coolness (Elvis, Stevie Wonder, Neil Diamond, Sting), and some artists – well, it is hard to tell if they were ever cool (Miley Cyrus, Creed, and Nickeback come to mind).
Imagine if there was an objective measure for coolness – a number that could be attached to each artist that indicated how ‘cool’ the artist was. We’d be able to do all sorts of interesting things with such a ‘coolness index’. We could make a ‘music makeover’ playlist that would take you from Miley to Miles in 12 songs (consider it a 12-step taste recovery program) or we could create a music rehab playlist that takes you from Amy Winehouse to Kate Nash. But of course, the concept of cool is too hard to nail down. Is Johnny Cash cool? Michael Jackson? Prince? Context, demographics, locale all play a role.
It may be too hard to tell whether an artist is cool, but we have all sorts of ways to tell that an artist is definitely not cool. For instance, if lots of listeners really don’t want people to know that they are listening to a particular artist, then that artist is probably not too cool. Luckily, there’s an interesting source for just this kind of data. Recently, the researchers at Last.fm published a list of the ‘most unwanted scrobbles‘. This is a list of tracks that were most frequently deleted by the Last.fm community from their scrobbles in the last month. These are the tracks that Last.fm listeners didn’t want people to know that the listened to. Here’s the first page of the most unwanted scrobbles:
Kudos to Last.fm for publishing this data. It’s a great source for the uncool. Collecting all the artists from the pages we can build a list of artists that have frequently had their scrobbles deleted:
Marc Seales, composer. New Stories. Ernie Watts, saxophone
Black Eyed Peas
Kings of Leon
My Chemical Romance
This list rings true as set of ‘uncool’ artists (with the exception Marc Seales, who happens to have a piece of music, called ‘Highway Blues’, that can be found in most ‘Sample Music’ folders on most Windows XP computers, and is likely frequently scrobbled because of this). Ideally this list should be normalized for popularity – naturally artists that have more listeners will be scrobbled more and consequently be deleted more too. but there’s not enough data in this list to normalize properly so we’ll make do with an unnormalize list. I find it interesting how many female acts are on the list. Is it not cool to listen to female artists?
Another approach to find the uncool is to look for artists that have been tagged as ‘guilty pleasure’ on sites like Last.fm. For these artists, by applying the ‘guilty pleasure’ tag people are identifying artists that they are embarrassed to be listening to. Here’s a list of the top 100 popular artists that have been frequently tagged with ‘guilty pleasure’ – for this list I’m normalizing the data so popularity doesn’t factor into the list order:
The Pussycat Dolls
Fall Out Boy
Ace of Base
All Time Low
The Get Up Kids
New Found Glory
Taking Back Sunday
The All-American Rejects
Tegan and Sara
The Starting Line
Tears for Fears
Bowling for Soup
My Chemical Romance
Third Eye Blind
Saves the Day
Motion City Soundtrack
There’s overlap between the two lists: Avril, Britney, Katy, Nelly, Taylor, Rihanna, along with the Disney crowd. Again, there seems to be an anti-female coolness bias on the list. It is hard to be cool and female.
The ‘most unwanted scrobbles’ and the ‘guilty+pleasure’ approach to the coolness index only get us so far. They can help us identify music that people are embarrassed to admit that they enjoy. But they only give us one end of the coolness spectrum. We can find what is not cool, but we can’t find out what is cool. We have in effect an ‘Uncoolness Index’. Still, knowing which artists are uncool can be helpful for all sorts of things. If we are building a playlist for that party, we can turn on the uncool filter to make sure that Ricky Martin or Robbie Williams won’t sneak into the mix. Likewise, if we are building a recommender, we can use the Uncoolness index to decide how cool the user is and recommend music that’s slightly less uncool than what they are used to listening to.
Next steps are to figure out how to learn not just what is uncool, but also what is cool, so we can build the true ‘coolness index’ and be able to tell how cool any artist is. I think that is going to be a harder problem, but I have some ideas …
RJ just announced that he, along with the other two founders of Last.fm are leaving Last.fm. Details in this post: Message from the Last.fm founders, Felix, RJ and Martin. This is a big deal. RJ, Felix and Martin laid out the roadmap that just about every music 2.0 company would follow. They continuously brought new innovations to music discovery that are now standard for music sites, innovations like scrobbling of music taste, web services to allow access to all of their music data, social tagging of music, recommendation radio, to name just a few.
I hope that the folks remaining at Last.fm will keep the vision of Felix, RJ and Martin alive, and I wish Felix, RJ and Martin the very best in their next venture(s). (I guess it is time to pay really close attention to playdar).
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)”
Here’s a nifty iPhone commercial that highlights Last.fm that has been running in the UK. Cool stuff, nicely done Toby!
I was giving a talk last week about music recommendation at a local college. I was explaining how some of the various online music recommenders work when I noticed that some of the students were chuckling and laughing. I had checked my fly right before I started talking so I knew it wasn’t that. Then some wise guy in the front row made it all clear: “Do you really like to listen to Hilary Duff?”. After a moment of confusion, I realized that I was showing my Pandora radio stations that included the second most infamous Hilary.
I tried to explain that I sometimes listen to my Pandora radio with my 13 year-old daughter. I’m not sure that they really believed that.
This evening, my daughter and I were having dinner and talking about music. She’s past the Hilary Duff and Hannah Montana phase. She’s moved onto the Veronicas (check out her latest review) – so we listend to a bit of Veronicas’ radio on Last.fm – which has now been faithfully scrobbled as part of my listening history forever:
I do like listening to music with my daughter. She knows all of the artists, and (seemingly more important), all the back stories, interconnections, failures and gossip about the artists. That seemed to be as important as the music itself. And although it is fun to listen to with my daughter, the music is not really to my taste. I do want to make it clear to anyone, whether it is a class at the local college or a potential future employer that I’m not really that into bubblegum pop.