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 This comes at a time when GoFish has withdrawn from playlist services, FIQL and MyStrands are enhancing their offerings, and some others (e.g. Upto11) appear to have remained unchanged for the best part of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.

Mixlister has all the features I've reviewed in other playlist services. Being the newest entrant, it's perhaps unsurprising that it has a number of Web-2.0-style features. Among these, Mixlister offers not just discography information about artists, but Wikipedia profiles as well: see this example (and compare it to what you get if you enter 'Maria Muldaur' on this MyStrands page). Of course, not all artists have Wikipedia profiles, as I found when searching for Jim Kweskin.

Like FIQL and Plurn, Mixlister enables you to include your playlist on your blog or MySpace page (see example below). Not only that, but it allows you to tailor the presentation of the playlist to match the styles of your blog, and — if your playlist is 'open', which means that other users can add to it — people can add a song or vote on a song directly from your blog. Here's a nice overview of the blog tools.

Some of the features appear to be so bleeding-edge that they don't work on my old Mac. I wasn't able to edit my profile using the versions of Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer that I have.

This is how Mixlister measures up on the criteria I've used before.

  • Audio: Links to Amazon.com and iTunes Music Store to hear 30-second samples of songs. Mixlister doesn't show you whether the song concerned is actually in the iTunes Music Store (a particular issue for international use, since iTunes has different catalogues in different countries), so following the 'Listen' link could be a dead end. If you have the song(s) concerned on your computer, then you can listen to them in full using the Mixlister widgets. At the time of writing this page says "We are putting the finishing touches on the [Mac] OSX versions, and they should be ready in about a week," so I haven't been able to test this.
  • Community: The community features are varied, and potentially rich. The most highly used ones will be the voting on individual tracks and comments on playlists. Users can add tags for tracks, but it's not clear what value these tags add: there are no tagclouds that I could find, and, after tagging a track, I could not find it again by searching on the tags I had used. Some other community features have the feeling of ideas thrown at the wall to see what will stick. The forums had more link-spam than genuine content in the threads I looked at. Contrary to what you might expect from its name, the blogs page is not really a community feature, but a read-only aggregation of music blogs from elsewhere on the web.
  • Usability: Importing playlists from other sources is very easy (see Import process, below). Re-sequencing a playlist is done by drag-and-drop, which is a lot more straightforward than some of the services I have reviewed, though it doesn't work well if you have a very long playlist and have to scroll the browser window at the same time as dragging. Overall, the usability is among the best I've seen to date.
  • Portability: There is no RSS feed or XSPF export from playlists, but playlists can incorporated in your blog or MySpace page, as discussed above.
  • Special features and selling points: Integration with iTunes, iTunes Music Store, Amazon.com and Wikipedia. If you have an Amazon associates id, you may be able to generate some revenue if people buy music via your playlists.
  • Format for importing, and import process: Playlists can be imported as either text of XML files. When I tried the XML version for this playlist, the order of the tracks got screwed up, as it had done before with GoFish, though not with MyStrands. As before, the text file, which I used for this playlist worked more straightforwardly.
  • Success rate in recognising tracks: Mixlister seemed to make a pretty good job of recognising most of the tracks on my playlists (some of which are fairly obscure). Having said that, it did, rather bizarrely, switch the artist name for several of the tracks in my Bob Dylan cover version playlist: instead of The Waterboys' version of Girl from the North Country, Mixlister gave me Eels' version; instead of The Charlatans' Tonight I'll be Staying Here With You, Cher's (!); and so on in two or three other cases (plus one instance that seemed to be right artist, wrong song). I guess there is some kind of algorithm that gives the best match that can be found in the database if there's no exact match. Nevertheless, there were still three or four obscure tracks that weren't found at all. Mixlister found 22 out of the 24 songs on my Joe Boyd playlist, and I was able to find the missing two by searching: Brazil was attributed to Geoff & Maria Muldaur, whereas I'd had it as Maria & Geoff Muldaur; similarly they had Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band, whereas I had Jim Kweskin and his Jug Band. So, if there is an 'best match' algorithm, it's not faultless.
  • Sample playlists: Cover Me in Bob playlist, Joe Boyd White Bicycles playlist.

In another playlist development, FIQL had a revamp last week. (Do you pronounce that as in 'fickle'? I do, though I'm not sure what the official pronunciation is.) Here's a list of the features. These include a new community feature called 'Friends', which, as you might expect from the name, helps you keep in touch with your friends' playlists (and also encourages to get your friends to join FIQL). Live Playlists are a way of compiling a new playlist on the fly by picking favourites from other people's lists. You can then edit their sequence and give them a title. This exploits FIQL's very clean and interactive DHTML interface, which has always been one of its strengths.

The FIQL charts give you a means to browse all the playlists on FIQL by most popular, most viewed, most bumped (a simple user voting measure) and most discussed. I'm not quite sure how 'most popular' is calculated. I'd be intrigued to see some composite measure like Flickr's interestingness. One of the advantages of such a measure is that it's harder for people to 'game' the system (for example, by getting their friends to vote/bump and view their playlists lots of times).

Several of the long-running FIQL features have also been enhanced. Thanks to Mike Wu for tipping me off to these changes.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Music and Multimedia, Playlists, Reviews on 7 August 02006 | TrackBack

Do you happen to know any other software that will let me create something close to FIQL?

Greetings from Greece ;)

Posted by: Makis on 28 December 02007 at 11:57 PM
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