Over the past extended weekend I created Pool Radio, a tool that provides access to hopefully interesting Last.fm radio stations. See also the announcement in the Subscribers and their tag radio stations group forum, with some great comments by Nectar_Card.
I'm aware that not a lot of people will find this site very useful, but people with an appreciation for the random and obscure can definitely benefit from it. Here are a couple of great user tag stations I've enjoyed over the last week: raw_u's etiopia tag radio (tag page), jirkanne's lllllllllllllll tag radio (tag page), JessiCoplin's scott storch tag radio (tag page), mathman_mr_t's ab-ex minimalism tag radio (tag page), ...
Yeah k, But Why?
I've become blatantly lazy when it comes to finding new music. On top of that I'm interested in a lot of random stuff, across the entire spectrum from popular music to more obscure things, and often the things that catch my interest don't necessarily bear any relation with what I've been listening to in the past.
So while Last.fm recommendations are useful to a lot of people, in most cases I'm not really interested, mainly because they are directly influenced by my past listening profile, and that's not what I'm personally looking for. They're not designed to show you random new stuff, they won't result in anything close to what a knowledgeable mediator can curate. They're a great way to navigate an abundance of music, but they're no replacement for John Peel.
Instead I'm more interested in finding mediators: people or groups who spend a lot of time finding stuff, and then publishing it. Doing what used to be done by music magazines or radio stations, but with contemporary means. Because now music geeks publish their findings online; and arguably the largest source of those is the Last.fm community. We should make use of them!
Unfortunately atm Last.fm itself makes finding those mediators rather hard, we simply don't have a lot of focus on this aspect of the music attention economy. While Last.fm is great for "six degrees of separation"-type social discovery (finding stuff by looking at user profiles, their groups, their friends, etc) we lack more explicit mechanisms that provide exposure to those mediators (users, groups, ...); that allow other users to reward mediators for creating interesting collections. Our tag editors aren't that great (I think everybody inside the company can agree on that.) Also, you can't even bookmark radio stations, or conveniently recommend them.
As a result, often people create their own mechanisms for these processes, which is a testament on the great usefulness of our basic architecture. People start groups that are centered around the fascination of finding and sharing stuff. Here are a couple of great ones:
- Music Advice Center, probably the most active group for good old music discussion geek-outs.
- Thursday Night Party Hat Party, an awesome social sharing experiment across timezones and genres.
- The 1 Percenters, an attempt to shape a "varied and non-mainstream" group radio by requiring its members' profiles to fulfil two simple criteria (not to be confused with the 1% group, who are just elitists.)
- Obscure Music Recommendations, "dedicated to discovering fantastic bands and giving them the appreciation they deserve."
- And of course the aforementioned Subscribers and their tag radio stations.
So for the future I'd love to see more mechanisms that explicitly encourage and channel this kind of behaviour. It's admittedly hard to design those (simple, yet immediately useful) systems, but I think in the end people are the best filters, which is also why imho Last.fm's collaborative filtering creates a much more interesting collection of music bundles than systems purely based on feature extraction.
(Disclaimer: I'm a software developer at Last.fm, but I'm not part of any product development team. I have no influence on these matters, aside from having the benefit of access to people who do.)