As the years have gone by, the devices I’ve used to listen to music have changed. There was the Zen, the iPod Touch, the Dell computer, and more recently the iPhone and the MacBook. The one thing I always dread about new devices, besides transferring music, is the loss of my play counts. For some reason, having proof that I listened to a song in excess of 300 times is very rewarding. However, many of those precious play counts are forever lost due to incompatibility with the newest player. Several years ago this problem was solved when I found Last.fm.
Last.fm is a music website that builds a detailed profile of the user’s musical taste. The website along with an app called Scrobbler, track what a user listens to by pulling information from the user’s computer, portable devices, or from internet radio stations. From there the information is displayed on the user’s profile page. With this information, Last.fm will recommend artists and music that are compatible with what the user has been listening to. Users are able to see how many times they have listened to a song, artist, or band among all of their devices. The site also acts as a place to connect with other Last.fm users and follow them. Other features include band pages, ability to upload original music, and an events page. Last.fm recognizes over 45 million songs for the purposes of uploading data to user’s profiles. Users are able to connect Last.fm accounts to other social media sites to display recently played tracks.
The music-networking site started in the UK in 2002. The current site is a result of a 2005 merger of Last.fm and Audioscrobbler. In 2007 CBS Interactive acquired the site. By 2009 the site recorded 30 million active users and today has more than 58 million. The site offered a radio streaming service until April 2014, when the site integrated with Spotify and a YouTube-powered radio player. The website had a recent overhaul and the new look was released in the beta stage and has received negative criticism from users. There are even petitions aimed at undoing the changes. Last.fm has hinted that changes will be made and features will be returning in the coming months.
While Last.fm may seem to hold little relevancy for public historians, I believe there is some merit in the site. Public historians should first and foremost take a close look at the complaints about the updated site. Releasing the website in beta mode to all of the Last.fm users was a terrible idea. Instead of using beta testers to weed out the issues like broken links and issues accessing account information, Last.fm received the full backlash of the internet about the poor design of the new site. Also, just because you think the way you are changing something is for the better, does not mean the users will like those changes. Public historians need to understand their target audience and gear projects towards that audience.
I encourage public history institutions to make use of sites like Last.fm. These sites function in different ways than Facebook or Instagram. The functionality of Last.fm may limit what institutions utilize the site. For example, museums focused on broadcast communications or music may find use in linking visitors to artists’ pages or in creating a profile and highlighting the music that will be in the upcoming exhibit on a famous musician or film. Creativity is key and Last.fm has millions of followers that could translate into a new audience for a public history institution.