Of course, user-generated tags aren’t perfect – if I’m listening to a stream of music tagged with the words ‘Arabic’, and then some retard has tagged some Jamaican reggae with ‘Arabic’, this will completely disrupt my experience of listening to that particular stream. Likewise, I might like to listen to The Books or Maximilian Hecker after a break-up, whereas someone else might like to listen to Celine Dion. You can’t encode emotion, after all – so questions arise as to how useful this method of classification actually is. Many journal entries on Last.fm are simply slagging off other users for instances of poor tagging, while there are groups called things like ‘Get Your Damn Tags Right’, where exemplary taggers can discuss the worst tags they’ve ever seen, and suggest ways to help others improve the quality of their tags.
There’s the thing, you see, that makes Last.fm and other community-driven sites so addictive – the social networking aspect. Last.fm presents users with a list of their ‘neighbors’ – people listening to similar music to your own – and then generates recommendations for you based on stuff they’ve heard that you haven’t played yet. If I’ve been listening to a lot of Kim Hiorthoy, it’s quite possible that I’ll like the 8-bit brilliance of Finnish computer musician Puola, suggests Last.fm – and it’s right.
If I check out my neighbor LeightonJ’s profile, I’ll see he’s been listening to a lot of the same shit as me (DFA 1979, Lo-Fi-Fnk, Jackson and His Computer Band, Peter Bjorn and John, Numbers and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, in this case), I might put on his radio and start listening to his tracks, thereby discovering the klezmer / Balkan brass music of 19-year-old Brooklyn solo artist ‘Beirut’ – and so on.
I’ll also probably develop a bit of a boner for LeightonJ. Who, I’ll wonder, is this 20-year-old UK male with the awesome taste? If he’s linked to his Myspace, maybe I’ll check that out, see what he looks like. His playlist will subtly start to influence mine. I’ve never met or spoken to LeightonJ, even on the internet, but he’s had an effect on my life, and that makes me wonder about him.
not a dating site
This is what Web 2.0 (a term used to describe second-generation web applications, usually tag-driven and collaborative) is all about: a feeling of closeness with other users of the internet. The days when people hid behind assumed identities and funny-sounding names on the net are receding. The gap between the online self and the offline self is becoming increasingly blurred, the internet now more frequently used as mirror rather than mask.
Online friends and acquaintances are no longer anonymous users hidden behind a keyboard – we can see the world through their eyes on Flickr, share their social lives on Myspace, listen to their music on Last.fm. And music, of course, is linked to emotional states – so Last.fm users aren’t just sharing info about their favourite bands; they’re providing a picture of their interior worlds and state of mind.
‘Nowadays’, says Martin, attempting to sum up the appeal and massive popularity of Last.fm, ‘everything is available, so the question is how to find what’s relevant to you. This is where Last.fm is useful. New records, new bands, new labels – everything’s based on specific, targeted, personal recommendations. Maybe you want to find someone who listens to a certain combination of music – say, S Club 7 and My Bloody Valentine. There are one or two people who listen to this combination of artists.'
'Last.fm’s not a dating site, of course – but just as you’re more likely to meet someone you get on with at the concert of one of your favourite musicians rather than in the street, so too are you more likely to find like-minded people on Last.fm. Everything that exists in the world of music can be reflected on Last.fm.’
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