Last.fm – The benefits of harnessing collective intelligence

So my old blog died. Apparently I had problems with my memory allocation, something to do with PHP. Anyway it died, along with my notes from last week and I’ve only just got up my original blog but can’t get the notes back. So I’m starting fresh on last week’s post in this week’s lecture 🙂 Here goes…

So last.fm is a great website and one I have been a user of for quite a number of years. As I said in my previous post on my thoughts on What is Web 2.0? – I believe it’s true that the service does automatically get better the more people use it. Last.fm in this example uses scrobbling, a method of tracking in a database what songs a user has listened to and when. This information is hugely valuable to determine (through collective intelligence) what songs are most played, what artists are most played, what new artists are rising quickly in playback (i.e. hype!).

Massive. Huge. Valuable. Data.

And it’s the user’s themselves who are uploading this data as they’re satisfying their own selfish needs (the more songs they listen to the larger their charts become, the more in-tune the last.fm recommendation system becomes and they can find new artists, new events they might like to attend and new neighbours – people, who like them, listen to the artists they love).

This architecture of participation is the key to what makes last.fm tick – it’s a community through and through and this is visible on every song page (see below). The more people who listen to the song, and the more time they listen – the more popular the song becomes (hyped!) and the more exposure artists receive. This is both implicit (you could be listening to the song on your iPod or Android device and connecting that to your music player for synch and never ever go to last.fm – but you are still adding that valuable data to the community), and explicit – you could put your song on repeat play to ensure that you become a song’s Top Listener! if that’s your bag 😉

Again though, this information is only as good as the technology behind it and the technology is quite good – working across mobile platforms, all browsers, operating systems, music players (the audiscrobbler application is quite powerful). The barrier here to get onboard the last.fm community bandwagon is the creation of an account on the website, then the download of an application (the audiscrobbler) which then downloads plugins for each of your music players (you can choose which ones). It’s pretty simple and the whole process can be competed on DSL connection in about 5 minutes.

So Last.fm does follow the major Web 2.0 pattern of harnessing the collective intelligence and the value is clearly in the users using the service – without that usage you’ve just got a shiny website with a lot of links and no heartbeat – no pulse.

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