For me, college and the few years thereafter were my prime years of exploring new music. In the college dorms, we spent hours in each others’ dorm rooms poring over music collections and making “discoveries” like Pink Floyd and R.E.M.’s early works. We developed our own local network of listeners helping each other expand our libraries and our tastes.
Last spring, I noticed that many students had Last.fm installed on their computers. This is the modern version of my college listening experience, an online social network that connects listeners based on their musical tastes. Unlike Limewire and its file sharing peers, Last.fm focuses on the exchange of playlists and not on the transfer of the files themselves. Another reason to like Last.fm is that the installation and upload of my iTunes listening history was completely seamless. Finally, the source code is open, which lends credibility to their claim of being spyware free.
I have only explored a few of Last.fm’s features so far. The application picks up the tune I am currently playing in iTunes and displays album cover art and a short artist bio, which could be useful to learn more about what I actually have in my collection. I have been aware of artist bios on the web for years, but immediate access means that I am much more likely to read them. Last.fm listed a handful of other users with similar listening tastes, and I played a few of their tunes. How does Last.fm handle royalties? Do they pay the record labels per listen, as a radio station does? Didn’t those rates recently increase substantially, threatening the viability of online radio stations?
On the one hand, my use of Last.fm is a throwback to my earlier years of musical exploration. Perhaps I can yet expand my tastes! On the other hand, it’s great to get to know another online social service of high quality and further familiarize myself with this new world and its implications for teaching and learning in our schools.