Whither Last.fm

Sam Hart

2011-02-08 19:18:41

Some of you might know I've been a long-time supporter of Last.fm. You can see on my profile (that I just linked) that I've been a member since November 2006 and I've scrobbled some 26k songs. Looking at the current state of this site, you'll see I even have some blocks dedicated to various feeds from my Last.fm profile including the top artists I've listened to and the most recent music I've played.

What I've always liked about Last.fm was their data collection and statistical analysis tools. As a massive nerd, I find data mining fascinating and enjoy collecting mountains of data on my listening habits (26k+ songs over almost five years). It's been fun to find out things about myself I never would have predicted. For example, I never would have expected that my top most listened to artist was Akira Yamaoka, especially considering I only have two CDs of his music. Nor would I have expected that Goldfrapp, a group I only discovered last summer, would over the course of six months rise to number 10 in my most played artists. Additionally, Tiny Tim's "Livin' in the Sunlight, Lovin' in the Moonlight" was my number 1 most listened to song for years until it was usurped by Gnarls Barkley's "Run (I'm a Natural Disaster)" and Manish's "Series of Tubes". The data-mining of my tastes has been most fascinating as I've discovered a) my musical tastes are actually pretty crazy diverse and b) I tend to get stuck in musical ruts for long periods of time (likely an Asperger's thing).

Well, in addition to Last.fm's data-collection and data-mining features, Last.fm also offers music streaming- Internet radio, which is an irritating conflation of terms, but whatever. I'll admit I've used it before, but not very often. Generally speaking, I find the Last.fm algorithms to be wholly inadequate at actually finding and filtering music based upon the tags, clusters or groupings I pick so I wind up switching back to my playlists and just scrobbling he results.

Really, the thing I've been most interested in is their data-mining tools.

Well, a day or so ago they announced that they would no longer be offering the free streaming service on certain devices. In fact, it was a bit vague as to which devices and which circumstances the streaming would still work. For example, yes, I've used the Last.fm app on my Android phone before, but when I'm on my computer I generally use non-Last.fm apps like Rhythmbox or Amarok to stream my music, so will these applications be effected?

Furthermore, the way in which this has been handled is pretty nasty. With nary any discussion or debate, users were sent an email telling them they had approximately a week to decide whether or not they want to upgrade to paid subscription or effectively get the fuck out. Those of us who where considered "early adopters" (e.g., people like me who have been part of Last.fm for many years) have been graciously given a free three month subscription before we have to upgrade or get the fuck out.

Gee... thanks guys.

The real question I have is- will I still be able to scrobble from my device? Because I honestly don't give a fuck about your streaming radio (and I certainly am not about to subscribe to it as I haven't been that impressed with it). But I do want to be able to continue to scrobble and data-mine my music tastes.

So, because I am now scared that Last.fm might decide one day to take all off my data and close it off from me forever, I've decided to switch over to something that is Free-Software based. Namely, Libre.fm, which provides functionally similar items to Last.fm but which is an entirely Free-Software based implementation. You can see my profile here, and I am currently in the process of importing my data (as I am typing this). For those who are curious, I'm using these instructions for moving from Last.fm to Libre.fm.

The great thing about this is that you can use Libre.fm to feed Last.fm. So, while Last.fm still operates a free data-collection and data-mining service, I can still use it with Libre.fm acting as a proxy. Then, if the unfortunate were to happen and Last.fm takes my data and runs, I'll still have my data and not have to worry about losing it.

If you have been using Last.fm, I'd strongly recommend doing what I'm doing and begin to make a redundant link to Libre.fm now before it's too late.