|Type of site||Music, Statistics & Community|
|Registration||In the US, UK, Ireland and Germany, free, with subscription option for extra features at €3/month. In all other countries, free 30 Track trial, then subscription required. Free for Xbox Live Gold members (In regions available).|
|Available language(s)||Multilingual (12)|
Last.fm is a popular Internet radio site for music, founded in the United Kingdom in 2002. It claims over 30 million active users based in more than 200 countries. On 30 May 2007, CBS Interactive acquired Last.fm for £140m ($280m USD).
Using a music recommender system called "Audioscrobbler", Last.fm builds a detailed profile of each user's musical taste by recording details of the songs the user listens to, either from Internet radio stations, or the user's computer or many portable music devices. This information is transferred to Last.fm's database ("scrobbled") via a plugin installed into the user's music player. The profile data is then displayed on the user's profile page. The site offers numerous social networking features and can recommend and play artists similar to the user's favourites.
Users can create custom radio stations and playlists from any of the audio tracks in Last.fm's music library, and are able to listen to some individual tracks on demand, or download tracks if the rights holder has previously authorised it.
For users living outside the UK, US, Ireland and Germany, the radio service will require a subscription for €3.00 per month after a 30 track free trial.
The current Last.fm website was developed from two separate sources: Audioscrobbler and Last.fm, which were merged in 2005.
Audioscrobbler began as a computer science project by Richard Jones while he attended the University of Southampton School of Electronics and Computer Science in the United Kingdom. Jones developed the first plugins, and then opened an API to the community, after which many music players on different operating system platforms were supported. Audioscrobbler was limited to recording music its users played on a registered computer, which allowed for charting and collaborative filtering.
Last.fm was founded in 2002 by Felix Miller, Martin Stiksel, Michael Breidenbruecker and Thomas Willomitzer, as an internet radio station and music community site, using similar music profiles to generate dynamic playlists. The site name takes advantage of a domain hack using .fm, the top level domain of Micronesia, popular with FM radio related sites. The "love" and "ban" buttons allowed users to gradually customise their profiles. Last.fm won the Europrix 2002 and was nominated for the Prix Ars Electronica in 2003.
The Audioscrobbler and Last.fm teams began to work closely together, both teams moving into the same offices in Whitechapel, London, and by 2003 Last.fm was fully integrated with Audioscrobbler profiles. Input could come through an Audioscrobbler plugin or a Last.fm station. The sites also shared many community forums, although a few were unique to each site.
The old Audioscrobbler site at the audioscrobbler.com domain name was wholly merged into the new Last.fm site on 9 August 2005. This launched audioscrobbler.net as a separate development-oriented site on 5 September 2005. However, at the very bottom of each of the Last.fm pages there was an Audioscrobbler "slogan", which changes each time the page is refreshed. Based on well known sayings or advertisements, these originally appeared at the top of the old Audioscrobbler website pages and were all created and contributed by the original site members.
An update to the site was made on 14 July 2006 which included a new software application for playing Last.fm radio streams and for logging of tracks played with other media players. Other changes included the improvement of the friends system and updating it to require a two-way friendship, the addition of the Last.fm "Dashboard" where users can see on one page relevant information for their profile, expanded options for purchasing music from online retailers and a new visual design for the web site (including an optional black colour scheme).
The site began expanding its language base on 15 July 2006, when a Japanese version of the site was launched. Currently, the site is available in various other languages, including German, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish, Russian, Turkish and Simplified Chinese.
In late 2006, the site won Best Community Music Site at the BT Digital Music Awards in October. Last.fm also teamed with EMI on Tuneglue-Audiomap. Furthermore, in January 2007 it was nominated for Best Website at the NME Awards.
In May 2007 it was announced that Channel 4 Radio was to broadcast a weekly show called Worldwide Chart that reflects what Last.fm users around the world are listening to. There are also plans to add a video section, enabling users to create their own personalized video channels.
In July 2008, the "new generation" Last.fm was launched featuring a completely new layout, color-scheme and several new features as well as some old ones removed. This was, however, met with dissatisfaction amongst some users, who complained about "ugly and non-user-friendly layout", bugs and slowness.. Still, a month after the redesign a CBS press release credited the redesign with generating a 20% growth in the site's traffic.
On 11 September 2009, CBS Radio announced that Last.fm programming will be available in four major market FM stations for the first time on their HD Radio multicasts. This includes KCBS-HD2 in Los Angeles, CA; KITS-HD3 in San Francisco, CA; WWFS-HD2 in New York City; and WXRT-HD3 in Chicago, IL. The programming, which consists mostly of music aggregated by Last.fm's user-generated weekly music charts as well as live performances and interviews from the Last.fm studios in New York City is set to debut on October 5.
Last.fm Ltd is funded from the sale of online advertising space, monthly user subscriptions and donations. In 2004 the company received the first round of angel money, from Peter Gardner, an investment banker who was introduced to the founders as early as 2002. A second round was led by Stefan Glaenzer (joined by Joi Ito and Reid Hoffman), who bought into Michael Breidenbrueckers shares as well. In 2006 the company received the first round of venture capital funding from European investors Index Ventures, whose General Partners Neil Rimer and Danny Rimer also joined Last.fm's board of directors, consisting of Felix Miller, Martin Stiksel and Stefan Glaenzer (Chair). On Tuesday, 24 March 2009 it was announced on the official Last.fm blog that Last.fm will charge users — except for those in the United States, United Kingdom, or Germany — a subscription fee of €3.00 per month for use of Last.fm radio. Since April 27 this subscription has become active.
Original founders Felix Miller, Martin Stiksel and Richard Jones left the company in summer 2009.
The free user account includes access to all the main features listed below. Registered Users are also able to post in the Last.fm forums, send and receive private messages and use the Last.fm client music player. For users living outside the UK, US and Germany, the radio service will require a subscription for €3.00 per month after a 30 track free trial.
On November 17, 2009, Last.fm was fully rolled out to all Xbox Live Gold members, after a 3 month successful trial to selected gold members via a redeemable code. The new application may be downloaded from the Xbox 360 Dashboard and is 6.48MB in size. Users cannot listen whilst playing games; reasons for this are still unclear but point to Microsoft not allowing the application to use too much of the CPU/Memory of the Xbox 360 to allow maximum processing for games and live services.
Once an artist has had a track or tracks "scrobbled" by at least one user, Last.fm automatically generates a main artist page, even if there is no music available for streaming on the radio. This page shows details of the total number of plays, the total number of listeners, the most popular weekly and overall tracks, the top weekly listeners, linked groups and journals, a list of similar artists, most popular tags and a shoutbox for messages. There are also links to events, additional album and individual track pages and similar artists radio.
Official music videos and other videos imported from YouTube may also be viewed on the relevant artist and track pages.
Users may add relevant biographical details and other information to any artist's main page in the form of a Wiki. Edits are regularly moderated to prevent vandalism. A photograph of the artist may also be added. If more than one is submitted, the most popular is chosen by public vote. User submitted content is licensed for use under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Last.fm currently cannot disambiguate artists with the same name; a single artist profile is shared between valid artists with the same name.
Last.fm's music library contains well over 3.5 million individual audio tracks from artists on all the major commercial labels. Users are not allowed to upload copyrighted audio files but commercially available albums are regularly added by Last.fm staff. Most currently popular and other well known artists have tracks available for streaming, although there are significant gaps in coverage and the most recent releases are not always added immediately. The music catalog includes a wide variety of genres including classical, opera and musicals, as well as many little known and specialist recordings which are no longer generally available.
In February 2007 Warner Music, the world's third-largest music company, announced that it had signed a deal to allow its entire catalog to be played on Last.fm. Warner's music would be made available over Last.fm's service in Europe and North America. The site's co-founder, Martin Stiksel, said they were also in talks with the other three major labels and content holders. However in June 2008 Warner canceled its deal with last.fm and removed all Warner artists from the site's on demand streaming catalogue, Warner have indicated that they are in disagreement over the financial compensation offered by last.fm.
Independent record labels and unsigned artists are encouraged to promote their music on Last.fm, because the filtering and recommendation features mean that the music will be played for users who already like similar artists. Labels and artists can upload their own music for streaming and Last.fm provides access to weekly airplay statistics, with facilities for promoting individual artists or tracks. Labels and artists may choose whether their music is to be made available for streaming only, or for purchase or free download.
30-second previews of any of the stream-able tracks are available on demand, from anywhere in the site, by clicking on the grey arrow next to the name of the track or artist. Some tracks are also available to preview in full if the label or artist has specifically authorized it; these are indicated by black arrows. (All tracks are played in full when users listen to appropriate stations).
In October 2006, Last.fm brought back its free download service which allowed users to download select tracks as specified by the artist or the label. The service only includes tracks on "indie" labels or by bands who upload their own material, although some artists who have since moved onto a major label (such as Coheed and Cambria and My Chemical Romance) have kept their free songs available for download. More than 100,000 songs are currently downloadable, and there is a separate free download chart, updated weekly, showing the 200 most popular tracks.
On 23 January 2008, Last.fm changed its business model with the Free the Music initiative. Most tracks and albums can be streamed from the website free of charge up to three times. The artists are paid each time the track is played. This service is still in beta mode and free on demand listening is currently only available to users in the US, UK and Germany.
Last.fm supports user-end tagging or labeling of artists, albums, and tracks to create a site-wide folksonomy of music. Users can browse via tags, but the most important benefit is tag radio, permitting users to play music that has been tagged a certain way. This tagging can be by genre ("garage rock"), mood ("chill"), artist characteristic ("baritone"), or any other form of user-defined classification ("seen live"). However, since tagging is not moderated, it is prone to manipulation by the site's users, most often resulting in genre disagreements among users or pushing certain artists higher up on certain tag charts.
Subscribers are also able to create personal tag radio stations containing only tracks and artists that they have tagged themselves. All tag radio stations (including subscriber's personal tag stations) can be played by anybody, including non-subscribers.
One particular feature of Last.fm is the automatic weekly generation and archiving of detailed personal music charts and statistics which are created as part of its profile building. Users have several different charts available, including Top Artists, Top Tracks, and Top Albums, as well as Weekly Top Artists and Weekly Top Tracks. Each of these charts is based on the actual number of people listening to the track, album or artist recorded either through an Audioscrobbler plugin or the Last.fm radio stream.
Additionally, charts are available for the top tracks by each artist in the Last.fm system as well as the top tracks for individual albums (when the tagging information of the audio file is available). Artist profiles also keep track of a short list of Top Fans, which is calculated by a formula meant to portray the importance of an artist in a fan's own profile, balancing out users who play hundreds of tracks overall versus those who play only a few.
As the information generated is largely compiled from the ID3 data from audio files "scrobbled" from user's own computers, and which may be incorrect or misspelled, there are many errors in the listings. Tracks with ambiguous punctuation are especially prone to separate listings, which can dilute the apparent popularity of a track. Artists or bands with the same name are not always differentiated. The system does attempt to translate some different artist tags to a single artist profile, but does not attempt to harmonise track names.
Charts are also available for user groups, thus providing a view into a demographic slice, and can reveal interesting new music based on the preferences of similar users.
The Last.fm artist charts currently do not take track length into consideration. For example, an album with 22 short tracks will boost that artist's popularity for a particular user's rankings much more than an album with only five long tracks, even though the user spent the same amount of time listening to each. The impact of this problem is limited to personal charts. All other charts are calculated using reach, that is, the number of users who play a certain artist or track, rather than the total number of plays. This is also a defence against users who in the early days of Audioscrobbler submitted spam data in order to boost the rankings of a particular artist or song or their own ranking as a fan.
Last.fm generates weekly "global" charts of the top 400 artists and tracks listened to by all Last.fm users. To prevent the artificial boosting of an artist or song by deliberately repeated tracks from a single listener, these charts are based on the total number of individual listeners (the reach) and not the number of actual plays.
The result is notably different from traditional commercial music charts provided by the UK Top 40, Billboard magazine, Soundscan and others, which are based on radio plays or sales. Last.fm charts are less volatile and a new album's release may be reflected in play data for many months or years after it drops out of commercial charts. For example, The Beatles have consistently been a top 5 band at Last.fm, reflecting the continued popularity of the band's music irrespective of current album sales. Significant events, such as the release of a highly anticipated album or the death of an artist can have a large impact on the charts.
The Global Tag Chart shows the 100 most popular tags that have been used to describe artists, albums, and tracks. This is based on the total number of times the tag has been applied by Last.fm users since the tagging system was first introduced and does not necessarily reflect the number of users currently listening to any of the related "global tag radio" stations.
Last.fm offers customize "radio stations" consisting of uninterrupted audio streams of individual tracks selected from the music files in the music library.
Stations can be based on the user's personal profile, the user's "musical neighbors", or the tracks that the user has marked as loved when listening to any station. Groups based around common interests or geography also have radio stations if there are enough members, and tags also have radio stations if enough music has the same tag. Radio stations can also be created on the fly, and each artist page allows selection of a "similar artists" or "artist fan" radio station. (As of December 2006, it was no longer possible to create a "multiple artist" station i.e. a station based on music similar to that of more than one artist. Last.fm cited copyright restrictions as the reason for this change.). As of May 2009, Last.fm introduced Visual Radio, an improved version of last.fm radio. This brought features such as an artist slideshow and combo stations, which allows for listening to stations consisting of common similar artists of up to either 3 artists or 3 tags.
Under the terms of the station's "radio" license, listeners may not select specific tracks (except as previews), or choose the order in which they are played, although any of the tracks played may be skipped or banned completely. The appropriate royalties are paid to the copyright holders of all streamed audio tracks according to the law in the UK.
The radio stream uses an MP3 stream encoded at 128 kbit/s 44.1 kHz, which may be played using the in-page flash player or the downloaded Last.fm client, but other community-supported players are available as well as a proxy which allows using a media player of choice.
On 24 March 2009, Last.fm announced that Last.fm Radio will require a subscription of €3.00 per month for users living outside the US, the UK and Germany. This change was to take effect on March 30, but was postponed until April 22. The decision resulted in over 1000 comments, most of them negative, on the last.fm blog.
Screenshot of the Windows client.
|Stable release||1.5.4 / 27 March 2009|
|Operating system||Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Unix|
|License||GNU General Public License|
An "in-page" Flash-based player is provided automatically for all listeners; it is not necessary to download additional software in order to listen to any of the music available from the Last.fm music library. It is necessary, however, to download the Last.fm client if a user also wishes information about played tracks from their own digital music collection to be included in their personal music profile.
Prior to August 2005, Last.fm generated an open stream that could be played in the user's music player of choice, with a browser-based player control panel. This proved difficult to support and has been officially discontinued. The Last.fm client is currently the only officially supported music player for playing customized Last.fm radio streams. The current version combines the functions of the music player with the plugin that transmits all track data to the Last.fm server, and effectively replaces the separate Last.fm Player and the standalone track submission plugins. It is also free software licensed under the GNU General Public License and available for GNU/Linux, Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows operating systems.
The player allows the user to enter the name of any artist or tag which then gives a choice of a number of similar artist stations, or similar global tag stations. Alternatively, Recommendation radio or any of the user's personal radio stations may be played without the necessity to visit the website.
The player displays the name of the station and track currently playing, the song artist, title and track length as well as album details, the artist's photo and biographical details, album cover art when available, lists of similar artists and the most popular tags and top fans. There are several buttons, allowing the user to love, skip, or ban a song. The love button adds the song to the user's loved tracks playlist; the ban button ensures that the song will not be played again. Both features affect the user's profile. The skip button does not. Other buttons allow the user to tag or recommend the currently playing track. Other features offered by the application are: minor editing of the user's profile including removing recently played artists and songs from the loved, banned, or previously played track lists; lists of friends and neighbours, lists of tags and a list of previously played radio stations. Users can also open their full Last.fm profile page directly from the player.
In the latest version of the Last.fm Player application, the user can select to use an external player. When this is done, the Last.fm Player provides the user with a local URL, through which the Last.fm music stream is proxied. Users can then open the URL in their preferred media player.
Last.fm has also developed client software for mobile phones running the iPhone OS and the Android OS.
Last.fm can optionally build a profile directly from a user's music played on their personal computer. Users must download and install a plugin for their music player, which will automatically submit the artist and title of the song after either half the song or the first four minutes have played, whichever comes first. When the track is shorter than 30 seconds (31 seconds in iTunes) or the track lacks metadata (ID3, CDDB, etc), the track is not submitted. To accommodate dial-up users, caching of the data and submitting it in bulk is also possible.
The following applications have native support for sending song information:
The following services support sending service-specific recently-played track feeds:
Plugins are available for the following applications:
There is some support for portable audio players. Since most of these are off-line (which breaks the Last.fm concept), track info has to be batch scrobbled. Players for which batch upload software is available:
As of March 2008, the website has added a section titled "Build" where third party applications can be submitted for review, and then posted to the page.
Last.fm partnered up with the SXSW festival by creating an application embedded in the corresponding group page that filters the various artists at the festival by a user's listening statistics, and then uses Last.fm's recommendation service to also suggest other performing artists that said user hasn't listened to.
In July 2008, the "new generation" Last.fm was launched featuring a completely new layout, color-scheme and several new features as well as some old ones removed. This was, however, met with dissatisfaction amongst some users, who complained about, among other things, the "ugly and non-user-friendly layout," numerous bugs and slowness of the site. The new design has also removed most mentions of Audioscrobbler. Still, a month after the redesign a CBS press release credited the redesign with generating 20% growth in the site's traffic.
On 24 March 2009, Last.fm announced a change in free stream listening policy. According to the blog post "[...] In the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, nothing will change. In all other countries, listening to Last.fm Radio will soon require a subscription of €3.00 per month." The change went into effect on 22 April 2009. The announcement has led to a wave of disappointment among the users, resulting in users stopping the submission of their data, refusing to change signatures/avatars and even deleting their accounts.
On 22 February 2009, Techcrunch claimed that "[the] RIAA asked social music service Last.fm for data about its user's listening habits to find people with unreleased tracks on their computers. And Last.fm, which is owned by CBS, allegedly handed the data over to the RIAA." This led to several public postings from both Last.fm and Techcrunch, with Last.fm denying passing any personal data to RIAA. The request was purportedly prompted by the leak of U2's then-unreleased album No Line On The Horizon, and its subsequent widespread distribution via peer-to-peer file sharing services and BitTorrent.
Three months later, on 22 May 2009, Techcrunch claimed that it was CBS, the parent company of Last.fm, that handed over the data. Last.fm again denied that this was the case, saying that CBS couldn't have handed over the data without Last.fm knowing.