25 September 02007

Net, Blogs and Rock'n'Roll is published

Net, Blogs and Rock'n'Roll coverMy book is out in the UK. If you buy it from Amazon.co.ukBuy Net, Blogs and Rock'n'Roll from Amazon.co.uk, you'll make me happy. If you can add to the reviews for the book, you'll make me even happier.

I believe the book is out imminently, if not already, in the US as well — based on the Amazon.com pageBuy Net, Blogs and Rock'n'Roll from Amazon.com, where you can also order it.

My book blog has an extract from the book and details of where and when I'm speaking about it.

I hope the absence of recent posts on this site hasn't created the mistaken impression that I've been slacking. I've been using the book blog as my main outlet recently. All my posts there are linked from the sidebar on the home page. If you're using an RSS reader, I recommend my 'compilation' feed, which brings together posts from this site, my book blog and my furl bookmarks related to digital music and digital culture. (This feed uses Yahoo Pipes. It seemed a little unreliable to me at first, but has now settled down: let me know if you have any problems with it.)

25 January 02007

Last.fm makes personal radio stations easily shareable

I like this. In the new beta version of Last.fm, you can now share different playlists with others via an embedded Flash player, like this:

That playlist is my 'loved tracks' on Last.fm, but you can also hear all the artists and tracks I've tagged as 'french' or those any of my other most frequently used tags. The beta service is only available to Last.fm subscribers at present, so that link may not work for ordinary mortals until it comes out of beta — which is usually a couple of weeks or so [Update: tested and confirmed that it doesn't work, so try this link from February].

By the way, the deadline for the 'final draft' of my book is 9th February, which is why it's gone a little quiet around here once more. Back soon.

4 October 02006

Soundflavor moves into music recommendation client software

Soundflavor is the latest playlist sharing service to move beyond just their sharing community (see my review) to offer a software download that plugs into iTunes to recommend playlists. The download is called Soundflavor DJ™, and you can download it here.

Soundflavor DJ browse windowI haven't been able to try the software yet as it's only available for Windows, but versions for Mac and for players other than iTunes are promised. From the descriptions, it looks like a fairly similar product to the MyStrands plug-in. It also supports discovery of music in other people's libraries (provided you are on the same local area network), which is an interesting extra dimension.

I like the way that, on the same day they announce the product, Soundflavor also publicise some research that shows — guess what — that digital music users are crying out for just the kind of support that Soundflavor DJ offers.

Continue reading "Soundflavor moves into music recommendation client software"

7 August 02006

Playlist services: Mixlister review and FIQL re-vamp

A couple of updates about playlist services.

Cloudbrain contacted me last month to let me know about about Mixlister, their new playlist sharing service. This comes at a time when GoFish has withdrawn from playlist services, FIQL and MyStrands are enhancing their offerings, and some others (e.g. Upto11) appear to have remained unchanged for the best part of a year.

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4 June 02006

Full versions of articles now available

Last year I posted teasers here about articles I had published on Word of Mouth Marketing and Playlisting and on Remix Culture (the articles were featured in Five Eight and The Spectator respectively).

Their value as 'exclusives' has expired, so I've published the full version of the Word of Mouth piece on my Net, Blogs and Rock'n'Roll blog, and the Remix piece is available as a 64 KB PDF file for download.

23 April 02006

Update on playlist services

In preparing the White Bicycles playlist yesterday, I revisited a subset of the playlist services that I reviewed last year and in January.

Here are some notes on what's changed, plus some notes on different contexts for searching for tracks.

Continue reading "Update on playlist services"

17 April 02006

Visualisation of music collections

thumbnail of visualisation from Musicstrands research paperThe picture on the left is an annotated version of a possible visualisation of someone's music collection, as proposed and described in a research paper available from Musicstrands. The segments in the circle represent different genres of music within the collection; the distance of each track (represented by dots) from the centre shows how old or recent it is; adjacent tracks all come from the same album; and the colour highlights show whether a track is part of a current playlist. I've shrunk the image down to about half size, partly to minimise accusations of infringing the authors' copyright, but also to give some indication of what this visualisation would look like on the screen of a mobile phone, iPod or other handheld device — not much use, I think you'll agree (download the paper, 580 KB pdf, for full-size image and explanation). I take that as reinforcement for my instinct that iPods, phones and such like will not be the main music device for serious music fans (people with more than a thousand tracks), but will continue to be just portable playback devices.

However, I'm not writing here principally about music devices, but about music visualisation in general, and assuming no particular constraints on screen size. I'm interested in visualisation for people organising and managing their own collections, sharing them with others and exploring others' collections, plus generalised visualisations of what might be called the 'music universe' (i.e. all the tracks and artists in the world), and how music maps onto other non-musical domains.

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13 April 02006

Copyright infringement in shared playlists: don't blame the carrier?

Webjay play pageWhen I created a playlist on Webjay last year, I noted the varying legal statuses of the recordings I included — from public domain to creative commons to promotional 'giveaway' — including one I deleted when I knew it was not authorised and had read Webjay's legal guidance.

This Reuters article seems aimed at stirring up trouble for Webjay (and its relatively new owner, Yahoo!), claiming it "makes downloading the Beatles' music or Kanye West's full-length video as easy as a keyword search and a click of a mouse". Well, the Webjay legal guidance does say (perhaps inadvisedly), "[Webjay] helps you find music like Google helps you to find web pages". What they mean by this comparison, however, is that Webjay isn't responsible for making the music available, any more than Google is responsible for publishing all the web pages it indexes. So is Webjay's case being highlighted unfairly?

Continue reading "Copyright infringement in shared playlists: don't blame the carrier?"

9 March 02006

Something fishy about MusicStrands recommendations

When I reviewed MusicStrands at the end of last year, I noted something odd about the recommendations that the system gave me. I started entering a playlist that I'd already entered on several other similar services (including Art of the Mix, Mixmatcher, FIQL and GoFish). When I was half-way through entering the playlist on MusicStrands, I noticed the recommendations that MusicStrands was suggesting were exactly the same tracks that made up the second half of the playlist, as published elsewhere.

As this could not be a coincidence, I posted a MusicStrands journal entry in January to ask if MusicStrands was importing data. When I got no reply to this, I sent a message in February to Byron Prong, described on his profile as "the resident Musicologist and helpful guide to the MusicStrands site", referring him to the journal entry. Still no reply or acknowledgement at the time of writing this.

Mike Wu of FIQL has assured me that he hasn't licensed any of his playlist data to MusicStrands. There's nothing wrong in principle with one service provider making such data available to others to generate recommendations, as long as no personal data is involved and no privacy is infringed. I'm not sure if there would be any way for one provider to 'harvest' another's playlist data without their permission. So I'm not levelling any accusations at MusicStrands, but you'd think that, if there were nothing to be embarrassed about, I might have got a reply by now.

Continue reading "Something fishy about MusicStrands recommendations"

12 February 02006

Yahoo: music and authenticity

There have been a couple of interesting postings in the last week on the Yahoo! Music Blog — almost as interesting for their candid, open style as for their content.

First, Ian C Rogers outlines the new features of the Yahoo! Music Engine. Ian's blog post seems to take the place of a corporate press release [correction, 14 February 02006: there is also a press release], and it's the antithesis of the normal approach of such press releases: it reads like a personal message from someone who has himself worked hard on the product and genuinely cares about it. It has personal asides (including publicly airing a gripe about another supplier's service), and even the screenshot features the Music Engine playing one of Pere Ubu's finest tracks, which no PR assistant or focus group would ever sanction. Anyone can add a comment to the blog posting, and Ian himself replies quickly to the grumbles.

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7 January 02006

Playlist portability: comparative review

One thing leads to another and, when we saw Barb Jungr play just before Christmas, I got a copy of her Every Grain of Sand album of Bob Dylan covers, which triggered another bout of my recurrent mania for these cover versions. I went through all my old covers albums again, ripped my favourite versions onto iTunes, scrabbled round on the web once again and even ordered a further album (The Bob Dylan Songbook).

I ended up with 81 songs in an iTunes playlist, which fills my iPod Shuffle to just over 80% full. The rest of this posting is the story of what happened when I tried to upload and publish this playlist using three different playlist sharing services.

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22 December 02005

Research on playlists and sharing as means of recommending music

The transition to online music distribution is occurring at the same time that consumers have an exploding number of sources of information about music, from established media sources to Internet-connected friends and strangers. As a result, getting the word out about new material, new bands or back catalogs is made more difficult for music marketers and artist promoters. Harnessing the instinct of consumers to share music and information about music and the communications tools available will be an important strategic thrust for music labels and distributors.

This comes from a research report about online playlist services by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Their twelve-page report — a free download (536 KB PDF file) — is based on a survey of early adopters of digital media.

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19 December 02005

MusicStrands: playlist sharing and music discovery

Last week MusicStrands launched a major upgrade that extends its scope by adding new ways to tag, discuss, and discover music — see the overview of the new features. This is moving in the direction of the MySpace music community — technically I think it's a step ahead of MySpace, but clearly lacks the latter's current buzz — so in some ways it's unfair to concentrate just on its playlist sharing features. But that is what I'm going to do here, as I didn't include MusicStrands in my previous reviews of playlist services.

To try out the new MusicStrands, I first created a new Philip Jeays 'imaginary celebrity playlist' (see more about this genre and more about Jeays), then I repeated my Neil Young playlist, to provide a direct comparison with creating the same playlist on other services. More about the details of these below, but first an overview of MusicStrands playlists, using my standard criteria.

Continue reading "MusicStrands: playlist sharing and music discovery"

28 November 02005

Does music have a genome?

Alongside the Last.FM model of personalised online radio (which I covered at some length and have cited in several other posts), Pandora provides an alternative based on different technology and classifications:

We take your input (artists, songs) and feedback ("I like this", "I don't like this") and use the Music Genome Project™ to create stations that play songs that are musically similar to what you've told us. That's it; only the music counts. We don't care how popular the artist is, who's backing them, and we don't care which genre bin they usually belong in. Only the music matters. [Source]
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30 September 02005

Finding and auditioning music online

If online music services are really going to take off, they need to demonstrate that they work, and work well. That means a seamless of experience of discovering tracks, previewing or 'auditioning' them, and committing either to buying them (in the à la carte, iTunes-style model) or downloading them 'to go' (in the subscription model of Napster, Rhapsody and Yahoo Music Unlimited). This article is an assessment, using the example of playlist services, of some areas where the experience could be better.

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11 August 02005

Bigmouth Strikes Again — Five Eight article

My article on word-of-mouth recommendations among music fans and playlist sharing is the cover feature in the August issue of Five Eight music business magazine. Here's the introduction (written by Five Eight editor, Eamonn Forde):

Word of mouth is a term passed around the marketing playground everyday. But in a culture where the marketplace is increasingly connected, it is time to ask how these powerful and very personal phenomena can be understood and exploited. Word of mouth springs from communities — increasingly more powerful because of online and mobile — where trust is key. How can the music industry effectively work in and, crucially, with these communities and build a relationship of trust and effective recommendation systems, particularly through playlisting?

To read the full article, you need to subscribe to Five Eight.

Continue reading "Bigmouth Strikes Again — Five Eight article"

19 July 02005

Last word (for now) on playlist sharing

Having initially reviewed four playlist sharing services, three providers of further services have let me know of what they're doing in this area. I've already posted addenda on FIQL and Mixmatcher. Here are some comments on the GoFish playlist service, and a consolidated comparison table.

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1 July 02005

Mixmatcher playlist sharing service

After my original review of playlist sharing services, and FIQL addendum, I've been contacted again, this time from Ben of Mixmatcher. So here's a quick canter through a review, based on my experience of setting up the same-old, same-old playlist using Mixmatcher.

Continue reading "Mixmatcher playlist sharing service"

29 June 02005

FIQL: a further playlist service

Following my review of playlist sharing services, Mike Wu of FIQL.com got in touch to point me to his site. Mike writes,

FIQL.com is also a playlist sharing site and we have close to 2,000 community contributed playlists divided up by genre, mood and occasion.

Our playlists are hooked up to itunes, msn music and we recently added support for Real Rhapsody. The latter is great because if you're a rhapsody subscriber, you can listen to entire playlists with one click and that's been incredibly popular.…

We also have writers who pen regular columns for us about playlists covering such diverse topics as "Songs With Backmasking" to "Prom Songs". Each (often heavily researched) column includes an accompanying playlist. These can be found off the homepage and in the "buzz" section.

Anyway, there are many similarities between our site and the sites you've played around with recently but we do think we also have some advantages. We hope you'll take a look and let us know how we compare.

Which I'm very happy to do.

Continue reading "FIQL: a further playlist service"

26 June 02005

Playlist sharing services: a comparative review

Since my series of postings about different playlist sharing experiments, Wired has picked up on the theme with a feature on the playlist phenomenon a few days ago. This focuses on the social and community potential of sharing playlists, though, in my opinion, it's important not to get carried away with the everyone-a-DJ concept: if DJs act as 'filters' and mediators for new music then, when more people become filters, you start to need filters for the filters…

Over the last few weeks I've tried five different online playlist services: you can see my pages on Webjay, Soundflavor, Upto11.net and Art of the Mix. I've used GarageBand.com as well, but not extensively, since playlists created there are restricted to tracks from other GarageBand.com members. [Update, 19 July 02005: I've now used three further services — see this posting for reviews and comparison.]

Based on that experience here are a few review comments on how each of the services measures up in terms of audio, community features, usability, portability of playlists, and their main selling points.

Continue reading "Playlist sharing services: a comparative review"

22 June 02005

An American ballad collection: Playlist #3

A few weeks ago, I started reading the collection of essays The Rose and the Briar, which re-imagines America through the lens of its ballads — mostly from the twentieth century, though the origins of some go back much further (and to parts of the British Isles). As soon as I started reading, I realised that it would be a frustrating experience unless I could hear the songs being written about.

There is a CD to accompany the book, but it's only available on import in the UK, so I couldn't get it quickly. Instead I turned to the web, since several versions of the ballads, particularly the older ones, are freely available in various audio formats. I compiled a selection of them in a playlist on webjay, so that you can hear them on your computer. (This is the third in a series of shared online playlists — see #1 and #2.)

There are clearly going to be more of these book-CD tie-ins — see the Love Supreme book-CD-radio promotion, for example — but what scope is there for audience-generated resources that augment products in the market place, while also helping to broaden and deepen the audience?

The rest of this posting starts to address this very general question in the specific terms of compiling a Rose and the Briar playlist, focusing on availability of material, its quality and the legal issues.

Continue reading "An American ballad collection: Playlist #3"

4 June 02005

Incense and Playlist #2

An anecdote from yesterday evening's Twisted Folk gig. Arriving a few minutes early, and alone, I went straight to my seat rather than hang around in the bar. There were only four or five people in the stalls when Devendra Banhart jumped down off the stage, and criss-crossed the rows of seats carrying a smoking incense stick to fumigate the space. Now I liked the idea of this: it demonstrated an unusual attention to detail, a bit of an Alan Watts touch, and not many acts care about how their gigs smell. But just as he was disappearing back up on stage, a security guy appeared at the back of the stalls, with the exasperated air of someone who's spent the whole afternoon curtailing the eccentricities of a bunch weirdy-beardies. You know the type: haircut like a worn bogbrush, and an abrasively nasal tone as he spoke into his walkie-talkie, "Gary, can you ask him to extinguish that?!" (And yet this was the same venue that, eighteen months ago, tolerated Julian Cope performing with one leg slung over the parapet of the circle — not to mention his unconventional cohorts.)

Loosely connected — M.Ward is the common denominator — is the second instalment of my playing around with different online playlist services. Compared with the first one, this was dashed off very quickly.

Continue reading "Incense and Playlist #2"

29 May 02005

Playlist #1: Neil Young celebrity playlist

I'd lay a large bet that Neil Young doesn't have an iPod. He's been waging a war on digital compression since the early days of CDs, and is on record as saying that MP3s are even worse than CDs: "MP3 is a dog; the quality sucks. It's all compressed and the data compression — it's terrible".

But in a fictional universe where Young did have an iPod, what would he have on it? Previously I suggested that an 'imaginary' celebrity playlist be more interesting than a real celebrity playlist. (Here are some examples of such imaginary playlists.) To play with this idea, I've created my own fictional version of what Neil Young might compile.

There are several web-based services for playlist creation, sharing and community review. I've tried out a few of these and you can view one version of this playlist on the Art of the Mix site. Another version on the Soundflavor site has clips of the tracks, but since the library of clips doesn't cover all the tracks I wanted, the listing is slightly different. [Update, 9 June 02005: for comparison, I've added a third version on Upto11.net.]

I'll write a review of my experiences of the utility and usability of different playlist services another time, but for now here is my playlist and the liner notes to explain it.

Continue reading "Playlist #1: Neil Young celebrity playlist"

19 May 02005

Teaching as performance

Doug Brent has written an interesting paper in last month's First Monday on how historical trends are being played out in online education. He draws a distinction between "knowledge [or, more strictly, teaching] as performance and knowledge as thing" (emphasis in the original). Loosely speaking you could map this onto my process-versus-product distinction in e-learning.

What Brent adds to this simple opposition is an explanation of the trend towards the thing/product end of the spectrum. He follows the work of Shoshana Zuboff in seeing it as an example of the increasing recording or 'textualisation' of work, which can be traced back at least to the Scientific Management school of the early twentieth century. In this trend, work is increasingly written down in manuals and procedures, or embodied in ICT systems, so that there is less reliance on the more oral traditions of apprenticeship and learning by interacting.

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6 May 02005

Recommendations for enhancing iTunes' sharing features

Since my posting on research into iTunes music sharing, I've got a copy of the full paper and found time to read it on a recent train journey. Last time I focused on how people manage the impressions that others get from their music collections, but the research also has interesting things to say about unanticipated uses of iTunes sharing, and implications for enhancing the sharing features.

The paper — by Amy Voida and four co-writers — points out how iTunes differs from the large-scale peer-to-peer applications (like the original Napster, KaZaA etc), which tended to anonymise music sharing. With the latter, a user downloading a track will typically have no interaction with the person who made it available for sharing. With iTunes, sharing is restricted to people on the same subnet, which often means the users know each other personally off-line. In the 175-employee organisation where the research took place, there were four different subnets, three of which were restricted to single floors in a building. This significantly alters the nature and dynamics of the sharing. For example, where the big peer-to-peer applications require thousands of users before they reach critical mass or tipping point, this research suggests that iTunes sharing can be viable and valued with just two users — in circumstances where they also share experiences and understandings in other parts of their lives.

All the research findings reflect different ways in which technical, musical and organisational factors (or, as the researchers call them, "topologies") are overlaid and interact with each other.

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27 April 02005

The Roots of London Calling

A few weeks ago, I advocated the creation of 'imaginary' celebrity playlists, which could become an interesting form of musical essay on both the celebrity and the acts in his/her playlist. I'm working on one for Neil Young, which so far may include tracks from The Shadows, Roy Orbison, Otis Redding's cover of Satisfaction, Bobby Darin, Linda Ronstadt, Devo and, of course, The Premiers' Farmer John.

In the meantime, Andy Kershaw's latest programme has a fairly literal take on this theme, which he refers to as "the roots of The Clash's London Calling" — Andy's "most complete rock'n'roll album of all time". He plays three Clash songs from the album, and four original reggae, ska and rock'roll tracks on which these were based. The rest of the show is pretty damn good too: you can hear it online until Sunday.

Continue reading "The Roots of London Calling"

8 April 02005

Radio David Byrne and Celebrity Playlists

Following the thread of my last-but-one posting, about sharing music in an office, it's interesting to see how David Byrne introduces his Radio DavidByrne.com:

A friend who relocated to California from NY said she missed hearing all the odd variety of music that was played around the office here.  "I miss hearing what you all are listening to," she wrote. This "radio" is my response.

But, as the research I mentioned implies, sharing music with an anonymous public carries different weight and nuance from sharing it with a small group you have eye contact with on a day-to-day basis. In the same way, the relationship between writer and reader of a published article is not the same as writer and reader of a daily stream of office emails.

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