Last.fm, the popular music website, is to apply its social recommendation technology to video, as it prepares to do battle with Pandora for the internet radio station market.
Last.fm is working on a music video equivalent to its Audioscrobbler software, which registers music plays to users' profiles and Last.fm's database. The site then recommends songs liked by users with simlar tastes. Talking to The Register at SXSW Interactive in Austin, CCO Martin Stiksel was cagey on the details of the launch of the new service, which is still under wraps.
Video is a natural extension: fewer than 100,000 music videos have been made, while the Last.fm database tracks more than 60 million songs. It signed deals last year with EMI and Warner to allow streaming of their vast catalogues.
In leading the music recommendation field, Last.fm is one of the UK's very few UK Web 2.0 successes. Its stated aim is to succeed where Yahoo! has failed and Google doesn't even bother (it's said that Larry Page and Sergey Brin aren't music lovers - go figure), by helping fans make sense of the bewilderingly fragmented online musical landscape.
The outfit, backed by the same UK VCs who funded Skype, employs around 30 people in London's Old Street. Stiksel noted that the VoIP outfit causes him hiring-headaches because it uses the same programming languages and sucks up top UK developers.
Last.fm has had the standard sniffs from big companies, as all Web 2.0 firms with an at least vaguely compelling offering have, but the man with the fat cheque has yet to come knocking. Experience suggests a sell-out would be a shame: since it bought MusicMatch in 2004, Yahoo! has let its musical division stagnate.
Last.fm is not a fan of digital rights management, as Audioscrobbler is dependent on accruing music fans of all tastes - including those who have yet to get involved with digital music because of DRM. Joining the near-unanimous anti-DRM chorus at SXSW, Stiksel expressed his frustration at the oil tanker-esque u-turn now being executed by the major labels.
Stiksel, a former music journalist, is appearing at SXSW on a panel entitled "The ultimate music recommendation smackdown", where he faces Tom Conrad, from rival internet music station Pandora. Sketching the difference in approach between his outfit and Pandora, Stiksel said: "It's democracy versus aristocracy. Their system doesn't scale." Record label-placed tracks are sometimes inserted into Last.fm users' radio stream to pay the bills, but are always flagged as such.
Pandora deploys a team of music categorisers to establish the similarities in genre and style between different tunes, as opposed to Last.fm's reliance on users' tastes to forge the links. According to Stiksel, the difference in philosophy would make consolidating the two companies and uniting the user base an illogical move.
The radio station element of Last.fm competes most directly with Pandora, but it been at a disadvantage because it required users to commit to a software download. That handicap was removed with the addition of a Flash player to the site in October. Since then, Last.fm has rapidly expanded into new territories, while Pandora is yet to launch outside the US and has instead concentrated on building out its advertising infrastructure.
That'll change when Pandora goes international this year, and the smackdown really begins. ®