Like a few people in digital marketing circles, I found myself reading the Spotify/Facebook integration announcements (and F8 in general) and asking myself one question: “Where are Last FM?”. After all, everything described in terms of the Facebook Music “what you play is detailed in your feed” apps brought one trademarked term to mind: scrobbling. It is what Last FM was built from, and what constitutes the core of its business ever since.
At the time, I recall seeing a few tweets to the effect of “Facebook and Spotify just stole Last FM’s business”. Evolver.fm, the site run by Echo Nest (itself a service with a few ex-Last FM staff working there) was quick to write a breakdown of Last FM’s strategic error: “Facebook Music’s biggest loser: Last FM“. I’ll even cop to the fact that I made similar remarks, believing that by staying away from this party Last FM may have signed its own death warrant.
Now though, I’m not so sure. In fact, I believe more than ever that just as the majors hold value because of their immense catalogue, so Last FM holds value due to the data it is sitting on – namely its 60 billion scrobbles to date – and that this value should be integrated into music services wherever possible if those services really want to improve their users’ experience. Or, put another way, services like Facebook, Spotify, Deezer should accept that LastFM holds immense value and integrate them far more than they do at present.
To be clear: Spotify and others do have some degree of Last FM’s service within their platform. Within Spotify you can scrobble your plays – but the irony was that until the Last FM Spotify app launched there was no way to use those scrobbles to dictate your listening experience within the service. While the Last FM Spotify app is excellent, it feels like one service bolted onto another – not two services integrated to run as one seamless experience. In my view, their insight should be integrated at a base level, driving all recommendations and services like Spotify’s Facebook app and the new (but flawed, as I’ll soon explain) Spotify Radio.
In my last article I took aim at Spotify’s Facebook app and the way in which it firehoses every play onto your feed. Fundamentally I take issue with the lack of quality in the data itself. It means nothing to me as these are not recommendations; they are reports. If the app used Last FM for reporting on your playing, the feed would immediately improve for one simple reason: Last FM does not scrobble anything you play until you are some way through the song (believed to be around 50% or more, for what its worth).
So, those awful songs your friend sent you that you skipped after 20 seconds? Not reported. That link you hit by mistake? Not reported. That album you quickly sampled off the back of a glowing Pitchfork review? Not reported. Via the current Spotify app all those examples would be reported – and in the context of how they are presented, the suggestion is that you like them too. After all, you only listen to music you like, right?
Another example: this week, Spotify relaunched Spotify Radio. The concept was very similar to Last FM’s own audio stream: select an artist you like and it plays other artists like them. To test this, I selected The Band as my starting point and hit play. What I got over the next 90 minutes was, to be blunt, fairly poor as an experience. Spotify Radio played me just six artists: The Band, Neil Young, Van Morrison, The Grateful Dead, Dr John and Bob Dylan. Worse still, it repeated a number of tracks. As a point of comparison, I picked a track by The Band and dragged it into the Last FM Spotify app to create a playlist of similar artists. It gave me 12 tracks, all from different artists.
So why aren’t Spotify looking to draw on Last FM’s immense knowledge in this area to improve their service? To me as a user it just seems like common sense to do so. It would improve the user experience – and with better user experiences comes more use and more adoption. Just ask Apple.
But enough of Spotify – what about the bigger picture beyond the most talked about streaming service and the world’s biggest social network?
Something that remains a mystery to me – in that it seems like an obvious move to make – is why Last FM never rolled out the musical equivalent of Facebook Connect. Imagine visiting a site that knew your listening tastes. Perhaps you could visit NME.com and only see news from bands you like. Maybe you could browse Amazon and ask it to make recommendations based upon your listening habits.
Now extend it further. The biggest music app on iPhone is TuneIn Radio, the global radio streamer that lets you tune in to any one of thousands of stations globally. Imagine if that app could connect to your Last FM profile and find matching stations. Perhaps your Last FM profile could be on your phone, so if you walked into a venue it could adjust its playlist to factor in your tastes based on your listening habits. The possibilities are endless.
With its colossal database of interactions Last FM holds the key to refining how we all navigate the near-limitless world of music in a manner that improves the quality of experience for everyone. As Spotify and Facebook have proven, you can replicate the concept of Last FM but what you cannot replicate its immense insight. With an ever increasing number of services available online through which to enjoy music what we now need to focus on is filtering this near-limitless content into something of value to us. As things stand, Last FM holds the key to that filtration and rather than try to ape its featureset others should get them involved. There’s no two ways about it: everyone – users, services, content holders, would benefit greatly.