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.

I'm drawing a line here and not reviewing any more services, as I think the seven covered so far demonstrate a fairly full range of features. The one area I haven't touched on is the playlist functions that are built into music subscription services like Yahoo's Music Unlimited and Rhapsody. These are both Windows-only, and Yahoo's service is not available in the UK at the time of writing.

[Update, 8 August 02006: GoFish has withdrawn its playlist functions.] GoFish has a good deep database of tracks. This was particularly evident when I compiled my Rose and the Briar playlist, as I was able to pick from several versions of each of the songs. Like FIQL, GoFish allows you to import playlists from iTunes, Windows Media Player and other external sources — though it doesn't allow you to export them the other way. One unique feature is the ability to publish GoFish playlists to your blog: here's the Rose and the Briar playlist, for example (let me know if the 'listen' feature works for you, because it doesn't reliably for me).

I thought it would be helpful to provide a new version of the comparison table of playlist services, showing all seven offerings, so here it is.

Table: Overview of Playlist Sharing Services
Name: Art of the Mix Soundflavor (beta) Upto11.net (beta) Mixmatcher FIQL (beta 2.0) GoFish Webjay
Audio None, unless playlist creator provides link to where a track or sample can be downloaded 30 second samples of a reasonably large catalogue (click to play) No direct links to audio, but links to iTunes, Amazon etc may provide samples (usually no more than 30 seconds) Indirect links to iTunes, but uses a perl script hack to the iTunes Music Store that doesn't work on my Mac, at least with the range of media players I have installed. Indirect links to iTunes, Walmart and MSN may provide samples, but if you have a Rhapsody subscription, you can hear the full tracks (providing they are in the Rhapsody catalogue) Playlists have 'play' button, but in my experience this usually led to a series of errors 'Verify that the path and filename are correct and try again' interspersed with a few 30 second samples. Playlist, usually consisting of full tracks, can be played from beginning to end.
Community Other users can provide feedback and ratings. Also other community features — see below. Provides opportunity to rate but not comment on other lists. You can identify 'members you trust' which will inform the recommendations you are given. No comments on other playlists. Users can in theory comment on/edit artist profiles, which are based on Wikipedia content, though the integration between upto11 and Wikipedia is not yet robust. Perhaps because this is a beta service, community activity appears to be low. Other users can provide comments and can vote on individual tracks in a playlist (either 'agree' or 'disagree'). There are no forums. Users can add tracks to others' playlists — see below. Other users can provide feedback and ratings. There are forums, and the site owners also select some playlists as 'picks' to single them out for attention. Playlists are ranked in order of number of views (clicking 'Refresh' on your own playlists increases their ranking), but there doesn't appear to be any means to comment, and there are no forums. Other users can comment on playlists. They can also copy tracks into their playlists or 'cannibalise' whole lists.
Usability Simple, no-frills approach. Re-sequencing tracks may be a lengthy task. Extensive re-sequencing of tracks in a playlist takes a lot of time. Finding tracks may take longer than other services as the database is more limited. Finding tracks is very straightforward, and, because the track details are taken from a database of nearly 10 million songs, some consistency of track naming is ensured. Re-sequencing of playlists is clumsy, but possible. To add tracks, you have to search by artist or by artist and album, and then click on the album your track is on, before you can select it. This is longwinded and in some cases users will not know the album on which their preferred track is to be found. Changing the sequence of tracks on a list is more straightforward than some alternative services and less than others. It appears you can only browse playlists in date order or alphabetical order: there is no sorting by genre, mood or other category. Playlist creation and editing is done using a DHTML form, which makes the re-sequencing of quicker and easier than the user interface of most of the other services I have used. Playlists can be imported from iTunes, Real Player, WinAmp, Rhapsody and others. I only tried this from iTunes, but it was beautifully straightforward. Finding and adding tracks is straightforward, due to a large database, and fairly quick. Extensive re-sequencing of tracks in a playlist would take a lot of time. Playlists must be assigned to one of a fixed set of categories, which, in my opinion, are asinine. As with FIQL, playlists can be imported from other services. There is a simple search facility for playlists. Tracks can be easily copied from others' playlists, but finding them from scratch requires time and search skills. Other tasks, including re-sequencing of playlists, are fairly straightforward, if not drag-and-drop foolproof or particularly attractive. Third party search facility produces slightly clumsy results.
Portability Some XML web services available but require geek know-how. None Only basic RSS feeds from playlists. There is a link to an XML version of each playlist created (although this didn't work for my playlist straight away). No export, but you can upload/import playlists you create in iTunes, WinAmp, Rhapsody etc. As with FIQL, no export, but you can upload/import playlists you create in iTunes, WinAmp, Napster. Any playlist can be exported in XSPF format, as well as RSS/Podcast integration. Details of the API (Application Programming Interface) are published.
Special features & selling points Includes forums and blogs as well as comments on playlists. Perhaps because the site has been running so long, it appears to have active and well-informed participants. Provides collaborative filtering based on your playlists, recommending other tracks and other playlists you might like. Links to iTunes and Amazon for purchases. Aims to offer a music discovery service by offering recommendations from its database, based on artist preferences. Provides space for playlist 'liner notes' and links to band profiles. You can buy tracks from playlists on iTunes Music Store or Amazon (the link goes to the US store). Uniquely among the playlist services I have seen, you can specify that your playlist should be 'open', which allows other users to add tracks to it. Another unique feature is that you can enter your Amazon associate ID so that you earn commission on any click-through sales that originate from your playlist. The integration with Rhapsody is unique among the services I have seen. For people with Rhapsody subscriptions, it provides a means to hear full tracks in playlists, on the same basis as Webjay but with a much larger catalogue to choose from. Links to iTunes, Amazon and others for purchases. GoFish positions itself as a search service "focused on digital media search and discovery" and the playlists fit within this search offering. Enables easy blogging of playlists on a wide variety of blog platforms (WordPress, Blogger, TypePad etc). You can actually play the playlists on Webjay from beginning to end — and using your favourite media player software, whatever that is. Playlists can be integrated into blogs.
View sample playlist Neil Young Celebrity Playlist Neil Young Celebrity Playlist Neil Young Celebrity Playlist Neil Young Celebrity Playlist Neil Young Celebrity Playlist Neil Young Celebrity Playlist Rose and the Briar Playlist
Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Future of Music, Human-Computer Interaction, Music and Multimedia, Playlists, Reviews on 19 July 02005 | TrackBack
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