Official Site of the Grateful Dead Relaunches

If ever there was a band that lends itself to social networking it’s The Grateful Dead. There’s probably a compelling argument to be made that the Deadheads were the original social networking fans (not the first fan club by ANY stretch, but perhaps the first to get their connections to span geographical distance in compelling interpersonal ways). I always kind of wished I was a Deadhead, but they don’t play tight little three minute pop songs. Oh well. Guess I came close with R.E.M.

Today is the official (re)launch of  Dead.net the official site of the Grateful Dead. But I confess some confusion as to why Techcrunch, which has sneak preview screenshots if you follow the link, is calling this site a social networking site given that there don’t seem to be member profiles or friending systems. Looks like your basic fansite to me, though enhanced in ways an official site can be. Love that there’s a Tapers Section front and center. If only all band sites had that…

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On the Last.fm buyout

I woke up this morning to gobs of emails and PMs telling me that CBS Corp has bought Last.fm. In a comment on my last Last.fm post I said I didn’t think users would really care that much. But I’ve just been reading the user feedback and I’m going to heavily qualify that statement. There are 2 main spots to see user feedback: the Last.fm blog (about time they got that launched!) and this Last.fm forum thread. The tone in blog comments is considerably more congratulatory, no doubt due to the sense of talking directly to founder RJ, who goes to some length to calm fears in the blog post. The tone on the forum thread is vicious: filled with anger, disappointment, and certainty of the forthcoming worst, with only a few congratulations sprinkled in.

I am of a few minds myself. It’s been apparent to me for at least a year that a buyout was inevitable, it was just a question of who was going to do the buying. I’m not sure any buyer would have been an obvious “yay! it was them!” although it would have been cool to see what Google’s search capabilities could have added to the site. There are certainly some companies I am glad did NOT buy it. And if anyone deserves to get rich on the Web 2.0 bubble its the brilliant minds that came up with Last.fm.

Sure, I would have liked to see Last.fm really be a collective by and for the users, but it hasn’t been that for ages if it ever was. Despite their community-centric rhetoric, I have never been convinced that the site’s development is truly user-driven. (Last.fm team, please feel free to prove me wrong!)

On the other hand, I don’t see any automatic need to assume that this really changes anything for the worse and I can see some ways in which it could make it better. I can certainly imagine ways it could make the site worse, but I also see plenty of indie sites like Facebook doing things that I’m not comfy with, and I don’t think that corporate ownership necessarily dictates more evil than independence. It’s a lot like when an indie band signs with a major label. Sometimes the music starts to suck, sometimes they get screwed then dumped, but lots of times they just go on doing their thing, but with better funding and access to markets they couldn’t reach before.

But back to the user response… they are clearly going to lose a chunk of devotees. And they will need to roll out new subscriber benefits quickly if they want to keep subscription as part of their business model given that most subscriptions to date seem to have been done in the name of small donations to help build the site. But I still think that in the long run the disenchanted user chunk is going to be tiny in comparison to those who won’t pay much attention. Afterall, how many gazillions of users rely on the evilest media empire of them all in their daily devotion to MySpace?

Update: Now the forum thread has taken a congratulatory turn as users are pointing out that Google didn’t kill YouTube, other sites have been bought out and stayed good, and corporate ownership could result in more resources that would benefit users. But the fear of forthcoming “soullessness” continues and is a challenge the Last.fm team will be wise to attend to in the coming weeks.

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Challenges of SecondLife concerts

Live concerts in Second Life are a growing trend, though it’s often hard to tell if they’re really for the Second Life residents or for the coverage such events garner in the rest of the media. A recent Reuters story points to some of the challenges of pulling off Second Life concerts:

First, there’s the time lag that has long plagued Second Life. Get more than 30 avatars in the same space and people start losing clothes, the audio skips, and video load times get real jumpy, which makes it difficult to seamlessly patch it into live feeds in real life.

Tantra got around the problem somewhat by holding the event simultaneously in 25 Second Life locations so that no single virtual space would get overcrowded. But some venues still crashed.

Which raises the second issue — ticketing. Just as in real life, friends in virtual worlds want to hang out together, not get randomly assigned to different venues based on which has the best refresh rate. So Singh hopes to build a reservation system that would apply a real-world ticketing structure to the virtual events.

Finally there’s the task of controlling the artists’ avatars. Since the talent performing in real life can’t be at a computer manipulating their digital doppelgangers, somebody has to do it for them. But spontaneous actions like a flip of the hair or a Pete Townshend windmill aren’t exactly standard commands. They have to be preprogrammed. One option, though expensive, is to apply motion-capture technology to the artists performing in real life, which will control how their avatar responds as a sort of 21st-century cyber-marionette.

But technology aside, the real X-factor is whether virtual concerts will draw audiences. Close to 1,200 fans signed up to attend ManiaTV’s event in Second Life, with an average of about 300 actually present at any one time. Meanwhile, some 40,000 viewed it live online.

Another perspective comes from Primadonahoe, a musician who’s tried the simulcast approach (click for full size):

2ndlife.jpg

Hooray for rock and roll comic strip artist Joel Orff. Again. Browse through his archives and discover how well he captures what those rock and roll moments are really all about.

If you missed them before, see my own Joel Orff comics here and here.

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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)

and

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.

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Rightly Rewarding Wilco

The other day I held Wilco up as exemplars of how to treat online fans. As you’ll recall, they sent out a swell little email pointing out how nice they are to their online fans despite advice to the contrary. They asked that in return the fans buy their new record, Sky Blue Sky, the week of its release. The result?

We just wanted to take a moment here from mobile HQ (aka the bus) to thank you for heeding the call and supporting the band in overwhelming numbers. The result? Our biggest week ever… #4 on the US Charts, #7 in Norway, #9 in Canada and top 40 in Sweden, Germany, Spain, Ireland and the UK. Bravo to you all… and great thanks from the band (who are sleeping now after a great show in Berlin last night).

To show our gratitude, beginning today, we’re making more content available via the Enhanced CD… this time a free download of the studio recording of the aptly named “The Thanks I Get”. Many of you will know this track from hearing it live or in the Sunken Treasure DVD. This particular version was recorded at the loft during the sessions for SBS. [...]

(from a Wilco HQ email sent out Friday).

See? Giving things away and handling album leaks without hissy fits doesn’t necessarily mean death at the record store. It’s all about the relationship — Wilco trust their fans, they’re nice to them, and when they ask a favor, they’re rewarded. As it should be.

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