Why Last.fm Ought to Love its Fans

As long as I’ve been paying attention to Last.fm, I’ve been fascinated by what a loyal fanbase they have. Not userbase. FANbase. People who will bend over backwards to defend the site’s developers against disgruntled users. And now, people who will pick up the slack when they miss important boats.

As everyone knows, last week Facebook opened its doors to outside developers, letting them develop applications that can be integrated into Facebook profiles. Last.fm competitors iLike and MOG were on the scene immediately. In no time, iLike catapulted to the top with over 500,000 users (seems to me they’re picking up on the order of 100,000 iLike Application users a day on Facebook) making it by far the most popular application. MOG’s application does not seem to be having as much success.

And where is Last.fm, the most popular music networking site of them all? MIA. Says Russ, one of Last.fm’s top devs:

We are working on it, however Facebook gave our competitors several weeks’ head start over this, which they perplexingly didn’t give us.

But not to fear, because in the meantime, Last.fm fans have wasted no time in buiding their own applications to integrate Last.fm data into Facebook profiles. Among them:

Last.fm Charts

Last.fm which is very sweet as it lets people stream your most recent listens (well, at least 30 seconds of some of them anyway)


xat’s Last.fm plugin which I’d like more if it would refresh.

Fortunately, Last.fm did know to say thank you:

Thanks for the interest guys — we’re doing our best and will have something pretty cool for you soon.

Then we’ll be relying on you all to spread the word. May the best music revolution win! ;)

On a related note, I’ve been using Facebook for a little over a year, ever since David Silver said something to the effect that people who teach college students about the internet are negligent if they aren’t on Facebook, leading to one of those hard cold moments of shameful recognition of the truth that sent me scurrying to create an account ASAP. But until recently, there’d been nothing for me there. Sure I can see pictures of my students (too often with alcohol in hand) and I like being able to follow my favorite students after they graduate through the site, but the few peers I had on there weren’t really using it to communicate with each other, if they were using it at all.

But in the last 2 months something really changed. Maybe it was Richard Smith creating a group for the Association of Internet Researchers’ fall meeting in Vancouver. Maybe it was just critical mass. But suddenly the joint is hopping with so many of my honest-to-goodness friends that it’s become the Must Visit spot on my daily internet rounds.

Meanwhile, on yet another related note, I’ve started a Last.fm group for scrobblers who study the internet. If you’re one of them, please join us here.

But if what they say is true, what’s with Facebook leaving Last.fm out of the loop? That’s not right.

Update: Official App is now out and fine as the user-generated ones were, it’s way way better than them.

Song Blogging

About 2 months ago Matthew Perpetua started a blog called Pop Songs 07 with the goal of writing about every R.E.M. song. He’s not posting the songs, he’s just writing short reviews of them one by one. For those who haven’t been following, that’s a lot of songs covering a lot of time. Thus far he’s done over 40 of them but still has many more to go. I don’t agree with all his analyses, but in a way that’s the point. The fact that he’s doing it, and doing it this way, opens up a new way for fans to discuss the songs, each on their own, and the amount of comments he’s getting from fellow fans offering their own takes on the songs is really interesting.

Yesterday, for instance, he posted about Stand, one of the most successful and reviled of their songs. The 50+ comments demonstrate many of the things music does for fans. It brings up old memories:

“stand” was the first r.e.m. song i can remember hearing. the video was shown on nick rocks. it was a nickelodeon music video show (for kids, obviously–maybe you remember, but it might have been before your time). i think this was in 1988 or so.


When I was 15, Stipe’s long hair and shy smile in this video had me all crushed out. This remains one of my favorite R.E.M. songs, regardless of meaning, connotations, or chart position.

For others, it’s a chance to differentiate themselves from other R.E.M. fans (age has been a huge issue in this fan community as long as I’ve been following it):

Based on the postings so far, I’m a little older than some of you. I’m definitely one of those folks who remember being worried about REM’s move to Warner Brothers. Someone mentioned not being able to get into the IRS years. For me, it’s exactly the opposite: there was such a clear distinction made (by the band) between their IRS and Warner Bros albums, I’ve never been able to fully embrace the later stuff. In many ways, Green was a shock (not in a good way). While much of the album has grown on me, “Stand” just hasn’t.

It also leads to discussion of other topics:

Given the climate change the song is more actual and urgent than ever. I reat that the name Green comes from the german political party “Die Grünen” (german for green), do you know if that is right?


Gabriel, the US has its own Green party. It’s just a word commonly associated with environmentalism, and parties that encourage reform of policies that have a negative impact on the environment.

And of course there is plenty of good natured discussion of whether the song is fun and wonderful or stinks.

Fan forums often have discussions of new records when they come out, and discussions of tours when they happen, but this kind of song-by-song discussion is not something I’ve seen before [if you have other examples, please point them out!] and I think it offers a neat chance for fans to get into depth about what songs mean to them, how they’ve worn over the years, and so on.

A query for the fanfic crowd

I get a fair number of hits to this site from people looking for rock band fan fic. I’ve seen that Franz Ferdinand, Duran Duran, and Morrisey are among the bands who get fanficced (is that a verb?). I had always associated fanfic with narrative genres, especially TV shows, so it came as a bit of a surprise that band fanfic even existed.

So I’m looking for a crash course. Are there some bands with TONS of fanfic about them? Are there particular kinds of bands more likely to get fanfic about them? How do fanfic stories about bands work? If fanfic based on narrative genres plays off of the ‘official’ story, what does band fanfic play off of? Is band fanfic considered just another part of the fanfic scene or is it off on its own? Is there any scholarship on band fanfic or readings about the phenomenon someone could point me toward?

Any insights on these or questions I should have asked most appreciated.

Thx to this thread on Fanthropology for heightening my curiosity.

Looking at Music

Continuing with the visualizing fandom line I’ve been harping on recently: several Last.fm users have developed means of taking music-listening data from the site and generating all kinds of interesting things. Many are not visual — they are utilities to compare users’ listening overlaps and divergences, to assess how ‘mainstream’ or ‘extensive’ one’s musical taste is, and so on. See here for an extensive list.

Others demonstrate how visualization can provide really intriguing new ways to look at music. I am completely smitten with this oceanic visual representation of someone’s listening habits over time:


But I can’t make it work for myself as it requires Windows and some other things I don’t have.

I can, however, take advantage of this tag cloud generator that looks at the top user-generated tags for your top artists. It pretty much nailed me (though I’m not sure what that “goodgoing” is all about):


Representations like these can also be generated for Last.fm groups to give an instant overview of communal taste and habits.

This is a truly new way of understanding and communicating music listening (and other elements of fandom) that the internet and, ack, web 2 APIs + user-generated content and applications make possible. Generating statistics and using them to make interesting and sometimes beautiful visual representations may not be for everyone, but I am guessing that online communities would do well to integrate utilities that let people generate visualizations of the data they accumulate, especially when they allow users to compare their own data to group data. Fandom is about identification and play, the more ways we have to represent ourselves through and play with our fandom, the more engaged we’re going to be.

And let’s hear it for the Last.fm fans who are creating these programs. If I ran Last.fm, I’d be trying to get some of these things incorporated into the site instead of leaving it all to clever fans to run on their own.

Visualizing Nine Inch Nails

The other day I was encouraging fans to figure out ways to upload information to the social visualization site Many Eyes. Searching around on there today, I found a few compelling examples. Take, for instance, this tag cloud and bubble diagram of the songs Nine Inch Nails played on their 2007 tour (click the images to go to the database and see how interactive it really is — on Macs, it works best with Safari):



Or did you want that in pie chart form? (you can pull out the slices!)


So just think what you could do if it weren’t just one tour, but all the tours… Makes my fannish heart go pitter patter.

To get a real sense of the potential for instant insight, have a look at this tag cloud of more than 600 William Butler Yeats poems:


How those phrases leap! Hundred years! Years ago! Clock Tower! Long ago! Thousand years! Methinks I sense a motif … Paging Jane Austen fans!

There’s more fan stuff on there, including several very neat social network maps of tv shows and movies (and literature and the Bible, though I’m not sure the latter ought to be cast as fandom). But there ought to be a whole lot more, so start making those databases import-friendly now.