Thursday, November 16, 2006

At Last: a return visit to Last.fm

More than a year ago I wrote about Last.fm and a new feature I noticed yesterday had prompted this new update. For those of you not familiar with it, Last.fm describes itself as a "social music revolution". The basic idea is that you listen to music, either from a Last.fm "radio" station or from your own CD/mp3 collection, Last.fm will "learn what you like" and tailor what it plays to match your musical tastes. I said the last time that I wasn't sure that it had any educational application... I'm still not convinced that I could justify using it in school. In fact the things that attract me to it may be the things that frighten the powers that be who ban access to social networking tools.

The service has been steadily developing and in particular the social networking side has been growing and improving. I don't make as much use of this as I could, but Last.fm can put you in touch with people who like the same sort of music, it has bulletin boards for fans of particular groups/genres, it has a blog(ish) tool, it has ways of recommending music and linking you to sites where you can buy it... in short it has many ways of encouraging and supporting online social networks. ...And it plays music I like into the bargain!

Clearly, there are similar issues to Bebo and MySpace accounts in that inappropriate material can be posted, inappropriate contacts made and children could reveal more about themselves than is wise. However, I have found it generally good at playing music to my taste and have bought a couple of albums as a result of its recommendations. (Although I am still unsure about the Goo Goo Dolls album I got at its suggestion despite Mr W's best efforts to convert me.)

You can, if the desire so takes you, look at the kind of music I listen to but the new feature than prompted this post was the recommended events list (see screenshot). You tell Last.fm where you live and it lists upcoming concerts it thinks you will like. It even tells you how many other Last.fm users will be attending the same concert - interesting or dangerous depending on your point of view.

However, the main point of interest for me, is that it's further evidence of the way computers and social networking tools are becoming increasingly personalised. I could find out about upcoming events by going to SECC Tickets or Gigs in Scotland but I get a whole load of information I don't care about - for example, do I care about the Sugababes' concert or Peter Pan on Ice? I think not. :-) Last.fm however provides a personalised service and highlights just the stuff I am interested in. Brilliant.

Ewan, among others, has often talked about the value of allowing pupils to personalise their own space. Read/Write web tools are increasingly delivering highly personalised information in ways that are user customisable. Yet, at the same time, there is pressure to have all school systems looking exactly the same. Allow pupils to choose their own desktop picture? - Don't be silly! Let users add desktop widgets? - Not a hope! Have pupils write to their own blog while at school? - Far to dangerous! Allow some people to use a Macintosh? - Perish the thought, after all, "Nobody uses Macintoshes!" Even worse, permit children to bring their own computers into school and connect to the network? Impossible!

There's a reason they are called personal computers. I know there is also a reason why they often are locked down as tightly as possible in schools but this has the side effect of making them identical and impersonal. However, if we want our pupils to make effective use of the technology, do we have to find ways of allowing them to take advantage of the personalised environments that they can access/create?

{Sorry about that - it was a bit of a stealth rant! It wasn't obvious where I was going untill I got there. Am I tilting at windmills or is this a real problem?}


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4 comments:

Ewan McIntosh said...

Nobody uses Macs? 30% of desktops in Scottish schools are Macs.

I absolutely agree, though, that personalisation has got to start with the simple things to stave off yet more apathy from our students as they sit in their uniforms, watching uniform screens doing uniform tasks.

Anonymous said...

No need to be so rude about Sugababes. You should care :P

David said...

I don't think I was rude about the Sugababes... I was just pointing out that they weren't my cup of tea. In fact I even gave a link in the post so that people who do care could go and get tickets.

So no rudeness intended. No aspersions cast. Just personal preference expressed.

Kenneth... said...

I used a similar facility on Yahoo a year or so ago. It fed a stream of music based on your preferences to a yahoo messenger client. You could rate the artist, album and track.

What I found attractive wasn't the fact that I was being fed the same tracks I would listen to on iTunes, it was the new artists and material I hadn't considered. I like to think of it as "the John Peel Effect": if you listen with an open mind you'll find something you like in his choice of music.

However I'm not convinced that Last.fm is a good example of social software. It seems to me more of a marketing tool, used to gather data about users listening trends and then target them for similar music. In Bebo you can identify the music/bands you are into and other users can identify and build communities with user of similar musical interests.