The Last.fm music website apparently has about 40 million active users around the world. The CBS-owned commercial site (and applications) lets you listen to many different kinds of music and has a music recommendation system called the “Audioscrobbler“.
This scrobbling system builds a detailed profile of your musical tastes by recording details of the songs you listen to, either via Internet radio, or on a media player (whether PC or mp3 player). It then uses this data to offer suggestions of what you might like to listen to next based on your past likes and the music other users enjoy in similar musical genres. The site offers numerous social networking features and can recommend and play artists similar to the user’s favorites. Wikipedia tells us that Last.fm also offers numerous social networking features.
Well, that’s as maybe, but a recent study by computer scientists in Europe would suggest that although Last.fm users do scrobble a lot of music, they don’t necessarily interact with other users.
Peter Mechant and Tom Evens and Ghent University recruited a group of last.fm users, tracked their listening and scrobbling habits and carried out in-depth face-to-face interviews. They hoped to understand whether there is a big difference between how people use the service and the company’s perception of how it should be used. There is.
The researchers point out that statistics abound for how many people use web 2.0, social media and related services, of which last.fm is merely one. Interaction and interactivity seem to be omnipresent in the discourse on new communication technologies but despite the big numbers bandied about for a site’s user base and potential stock market evaluation, there is little hard evidence to reveal how these websites are actually used and experienced by you and me.
Mechant and Evans found that most people simply use last.fm as a tool. They interact with it heavily but interacting with other users is far rarer and engagement between users also tends to be superficial. This probably contrasts sharply with most users of another web 2.0 favorite, Facebook, where many of us engage on a regular basis. Perhaps not surprisingly, interaction on last.fm is focused on discovering new music and little else, but given that users are listening to music while using last.fm perhaps chatting or interacting detracts from the enjoyment of the music and nothing more.
It would be interesting to see whether a mashup between Facebook and last.fm might work and how. There are lessons to be learned by web 2.0 companies offering one kind of service and hoping to exploit the social and interactivity of this new era of communication. Apple, with “Ping” (a hijacked name if ever there was one) tried unsuccessfully to bring social to iTunes. Last.fm seems successful but, again, the social side may never really reach the hit parade.
What’s your spin on Last.fm and similar sites, do you socialize while scrobbling?
Peter Mechant, & Tom Evens (2011). Interaction in web-based communities: a case study of Last.fm Int. J. Web Based Communities, 7 (2), 234-249
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