The Wisdom of Last.FM

I was going to call this The Wisdom of Crowds, but that would only confuse this with the book.

I woke up Monday morning early — very early. Very early, as in 0430. Something about an annoying cat. Anyway, I got up and, after checking the email, decided to start putting together a new CD of MP3’s for the Mini. For whatever reasons, I decided that it needed to be rock blocks — and in this case, 4 songs per artist.

How to pick 4 songs from an artist?

Enter Last.FM.

If you’re not familiar, Last.FM is a website that does a few things. For starters, there are a ton of people out there with a Last.Fm plug-in added to their iTunes or Windows Media Player. Why? Well, as a song is played, the computer also sends a snippet to the Last.FM server, letting it know what you just listened to. The Last.FM server is, really, a giant database of information of what people are listening to, and the information is collected in real time.

The web site does other stuff to, but it’s not as exciting or sexy, if you ask me. You can have it serve up music, like a radio station, based on things similar to something you specify — an artist, a song, an album, whatever. It’s got some of that social networking stuff, too — people post stuff they write, they comment on artists, and so on.

But it’s the real-time database that I love.

Take this, for example. It’s the Last.FM feed from my wife’s computer. I can see what she has been listening to lately. I can see what she has been listening to this week — the artists that she played the most. And I can see the songs and artists that she has played the most, overall. And I can laugh that Godzilla by Blue ?yster Cult is at the top of her “played the most” list of songs — that would be what happens when our son knows how to pick songs to play.

But with this, one can also go and see what the masses are listening to, by tapping to the same database. Take, for example, Party Ben. He’s a DJ on a radio station in San Francisco, and he mixes up music to play on the radio, at clubs when he DJ’s, and to serve up on the web for others to hear. Way off the beater path — he’s no U2, for sure.

But guess what? I can drop his name into the Last.FM website and — pow! — I can see what songs of his get the most play.

Do I want to pick 4 songs of his, to add to that new CD of mine?

  1. Paid for My Doorbell (Eric B. & Rakim vs. White Stripes)
  2. Walking With a Ghost in Paris (Tegan & Sara vs. Mylo)
  3. Somebody Rock Me (The Killers vs. The Clash)
  4. Never Feel Good

Avril Lavigne? I’d have to add Fuel, her cover of the Metallica song, but yeah, the crowd that is the Last.FM users seems to have hit it right on the head. Ditto for other bands — Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Sex Pistols, Jane’s Addiction, Clapton, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and on and on.

I can see not only what songs of an artist gets the most play, but by how much. Do they really only have one real hit, the one song everyone listens to (like The Toy Dolls, or George Thorogood)? Or are there any number of very good songs that get played a lot? It’s all there, statistically represented.

And, I know that Jane’s Addition songs have only been played a million plus times, Clapton 3+ million (as a solo artist only), while Red Hot Chili Pepper songs have been played close to 30 million times. Really, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are a hell of a better band than Jane’s Addiction, and I can see that Clapton isn’t for everyone.

So, the wisdom of crowds, thanks to Last.FM. I put together a pretty good CD of music, not strictly according to Last.FM, but with it as the starting point. Pretty neat.

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