Wrapup of week’s online music developments

In case you don’t follow these things as closely as I, there were some interesting developments (or potential ones anyway) in online music delivery this week. First, Steve Jobs published an open letter urging record companies to drop DRM (yet he showed no interest in dropping DRM from any of the independent records sold through iTunes music store), and now EMI is considering selling their whole catalogue as non-DRM mp3s. EMI has often been one of the more forward-thinking majors on this issue, so if anyone’s going to lead, they’re good candidates.

Meanwhile on a different front, Last.fm and Warner Music Group reached a deal to allow the entire WMG catalogue to be streamed through Last.fm’s radio, which will dramatically increase the size of their streamable catalogue and ought to get more people listening to more WMG music. Good news so long as the indies don’t get too squeezed out of rotation as a result.

Last.fm also debuted their new upgrade this week, about which most users seem to be saying “and the point is…?” Major usability issues left untouched, radio moved to the center of the screen where no one seems to want it (as they made clear during the beta only to be, once again, ignored). But the exportable radio feature is massively cool, though I still can’t get it to embed in this page (I did get it to embed just fine in my KU site). Those of you yearning to listen to NancyRadio, can however find it here.

I hate to rag on Last.fm because overall they do a brilliant job and I am, frankly, totally addicted to the site and I so desperately want them to be flawless (fandom, anyone?). They did incorporate one of the pieces of feedback I insisted on in the beta (though the implimentation left something to be desired). Plus my explorations of the alternatives thus far have shown me that they all have problems and I still think that for most purposes, Last.fm is the best of the alternatives.

But as I have groused about on this blog before, Last.fm seems to make the same mistake over and over again, which some users have characterized as “adding bells and whistles” while not getting the core problems fixed. And it does trouble me no end that this is now the second beta period in a row where the #1 dominant response from the subscribers doing the beta testing was left unchanged in the upgrade. I think it leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of users who cared enough to give feedback, and I think the attention to things like radio placement, which was not broken, paired with seeming inattention to things that are broken also makes users question their priorities. I see in this the classic tension and power struggle between fans and producers, in which producers want input and feedback only if it supports what they already want to do, but to give the fans/users what they want outright is just giving up too much control. I know from running the Association of Internet Researchers that you can never get it right for everyone, for everything you do to please one group, another group will object (for instance, with our conferences, people wanted more diversity and more time to present their papers, but they also wanted fewer concurrent panels). But when feedback is totally consistent, I think you ought to give the people what they want, even if it’s not what you want them to want.

(p.s. I know some last.fm staff read this from time to time, please feel free to respond in comments!)

Comments (2) to “Wrapup of week’s online music developments”

  1. I think the reason to have the radio stations in the middle of everybody’s profiles is so new users and old users browsing other people’s profiles notice the radio stations. And this is the whole point of Last.fm.

    It could be disabled for your own profile when you visit it. And put back at the side. But frankly this is the kind of 30px loss of space that everyone will get used to after a week.

    If after a week you still hate it I suggest you post spam in Jonty’s shoutbox ;)

    What else was not addressed in the update just out of interest?

  2. Max —

    Thanks for the response. I think that last.fm’s visionaries and developers want radio to be “the whole point of last.fm” but for many users, myself included, it is not. Visually foregrounding a feature so many of us don’t want to “notice” more turns off the people who really dig the site for other reasons, and there are a lot of us. For many people, the charts are the core feature and how we get turned on to new music through the site and that’s what we want to see when we look at our own and others’ profiles. The radio placement where it is disrupts chart viewing in a way that people may get used to – just like I got used to how much less attractive the post July 2006 interface is even in black — but that doesn’t mean we like it. Making hiding it optional or putting it back on the side would be better, as everyone who commented on this, including me, said in the beta forum.

    Chronic problems that weren’t fixed… it’s a long list and you should feel free to contact me via email or shoot me a PM if you want my take on that. As I said, I don’t like ragging on last.fm and listing it all here would start to look too much like I do.