The Information Architecture of Last.fm
What is Last.fm?
Last.fm was born in 2002 out of a British university student’s love of music and desire to quantify and share his favorite music with others. Richard Jones was a computer science student who was interested in both measuring musical tastes and connecting his musical data to his social network. He invented a method of collecting data that he called “scrobbling,” which tracked and uploaded a user’s songs, artists, and albums played on their computer (Elmhirst 2009). Through the years, Last.fm has evolved to track user’s music history on a wide variety of media players and streaming sites such as Spotify, iTunes, Pandora, SoundCloud, and Youtube (Last.fm “Track My Music” 2017). The site’s goals are to track your favorite music, find new music similar to your tastes, and find musical “neighbors” with whom you are compatible.
The Content: Music
The earliest iteration of the Last.fm website included a user account, which formed the basis of both gathering and organizing one’s musical profile (Internet Archive; Fig. 1). The core data of Last.fm is a song, and the metadata for that song that has been “scrobbled” to a user’s profile. Throughout the history of Last.fm’s existence, users have had control of their data. Users could play music on their computer via mp3 players, and, with the “audioscrobbler” plug-in installed, the song’s metadata would be recorded in the user’s profile in Last.fm (Elmhirst 2009). Additionally, users could pick and choose from existing song content that populated the site from everyone’s “scrobbling” history, and manually add to their profiles. Artists and record labels were able to upload music to the site until the site’s redesign in 2015; currently, any users who “scrobbles” songs achieves the same goal of allowing their music to be seen on the site (Get Satisfaction 2015).
Until 2014, Last.fm offered streaming radio, which gave users the ability to love, skip, or completely ban songs from their profile. If a disliked song happened to slip by, a user could manually remove that content from their profile history. Currently, Last.fm offers scrobbling from countless streaming services like Spotify and has app support for most computer platforms and phones (Betts 2015). These layers of musical content drive the focus of the rest of the site: discovering new music based on your tastes and the user profiles of your social network.
On a user’s profile, data includes:
- User name
- Profile picture
- Followers (typically friends/known individuals)
- Following (typically friends/known individuals)
- Neighbors (suggested strangers who have similar musical tastes)
- Tags (a taxonomy defined by the user)
A user’s personal music metadata includes:
- Track name and # of times played
- Artist name and # of times played
- Album name and # of times played
- “Loved” tracks
- Time and date of when track was played
The Pattern: Musical Compatibility
The point of Last.fm is to build connections. By tracking a user’s listening history, the site suggests artists and tracks that you may enjoy. Similar to other social media sites like Twitter or Instagram, a user can follow others, or be followed by other users. Following gives you the ability to explore other user’s track history (# of plays), total music library, and their recommendations. The patterns automatically created by the site are centered on the amount of times a song is played. This feeds recommendations for similar artists, connections with “neighbors” who listen to the same artists and a similar volume, and an overall history of a user’s tracks (Last.fm “Library” 2017; Fig. 2).
In addition to the statistics collected by scrobbling songs, Last.fm has implemented a taxonomy of “tags” that are defined by the user. The tagging function is entirely free text, meaning a user can create their own organizational structure for their music library. The site also assigns tags, which are described and are searchable, as is seen in the 2012 iteration of the site below (Internet Archive; Fig. 3).
The Information: Musical History
Last.fm has remained consistent in the organization and visualization of track data throughout its history. The main user goal of Last.fm is to build “a comprehensive record of your tastes and listening habits” (Betts 2015). Therefore, the site has focused on easily adding new content, as well as accessing your user profile for your musical history, and finding compatibility with others. As can be seen in Figure 3 above, core content was discoverable through multiple methods, from tags to categories such as “Popular” or “Hyped” (Internet Archive; Fig. 3). The current site sets you on a homepage with recommendations based on recent listening history. Search is still available, but a user’s best bet to find new or compatible music is through their profile, which is somewhat buried within a user menu on the top right of the screen (Last.fm “User” 2017; Fig. 5). The user profile page is the most valuable landing spot, with access to page flows to discover music history, follower playlists, events, music-compatible strangers called Neighbors, and search via tags.
Display of site content such as artist or song, or even the “About” page, has utilized the Gestalt theories of similarity and proximity (Internet Archive; Fig. 3; Last.fm “About” 2017; Figs. 6 & 7). As a user, there is a comfort to the repetitiveness of content, graphics, and icons. Unfortunately, some of the site’s beauty these days is marred by sidebar ads and content.
The Knowledge: A Musical Community
The latest iteration of Last.fm puts data visualization front and center, based on the combined metadata of all of the site’s users (Betts 2015). Visitors to the Last.fm site without an account land directly on the “Live” dashboard page, and may be enticed by dynamic and interactive charts and statistics. All of the content is meant to provide a collective wisdom about musical trends, and promote new music discovery. As of December 2017, the site’s users had scrobbled over 107 billion tracks (Last.fm “Live” 2017).
The visualizations are both visually appealing and conceptually intriguing. Accessed on November 28, 2017, Figure 8 highlighted Nat King Cole as a spiking artist — which was fitting due to the traditional kickoff of the holiday season during that week. However, on December 2, 2017, Taylor Swift knocked Nat from his spot in the same category, reflecting the streaming release of her latest album. Other dashboard features include “Today’s Most Loved,” “Spiking Tracks,” “Scrobbling Now,” and an “Around the World” feature that allows you to “explore worldwide listening trends” (Last.fm “Live” 2017).
The Future of Last.fm
Last.fm’s staying power lies in a music lover’s desire to understand their listening history, and leverage it to find new music. With their site redesign, they have put data front and center with global user data, as shown in Figure 8. Individual users could also benefit from informational and eye-catching data visualizations personalized to their own “scrobbling” history. Future innovations on the site should involve a more seamless flow to a user’s profile, and personalized data visualizations similar to the “Live” page. Some of these features are available via the user profile page under the heading “Last Week,” but this is not intuitive for the user to find. Streamlining the flow for users would facilitate music discovery, social connections, and a deeper knowledge of one’s own musical tastes.
Betts, Andy. 2015. “Remember Last.fm? A Fresh Look at the Redesigned Music Service.” Accessed November 29, 2017. http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/remember-last-fm-look-redesigned-music-service/
Elmhirst, Sophie. 2009. “The celestial jukebox.” New Statesman. June 18, 2009. Accessed November 29, 2017. https://www.newstatesman.com/music/2009/06/music-jones-stiksel-cbs.
Get Satisfaction. 2015. “Artists and Labels: How to make the most of Last.fm.” Accessed December 2, 2017. https://getsatisfaction.com/lastfm/topics/artists-and-labels-how-to-make-the-most-of-last-fm
Internet Archive. “Last.fm site on November 29, 2004.” Accessed November 29, 2017. https://web.archive.org/web/20041129015229/http:/www.last.fm:80/tutorial.php
Internet Archive. “Last.fm site on December 31, 2012.” Accessed November 29, 2017. https://web.archive.org/web/20121231213808/http://www.last.fm/music
Last.fm. 2017. “About.” Accessed December 2, 2017. https://www.last.fm/about
Last.fm. 2017. “Library.” Accessed December 2, 2017. https://www.last.fm/user/niarr7rr/library
Last.fm. 2017. “Live.” Accessed November 29, 2017. https://www.last.fm/dashboard
Last.fm. 2017. “Track My Music.” Accessed November 29, 2017. https://www.last.fm/about/trackmymusic
Last.fm. 2017. “User.” Accessed November 29, 2017. https://www.last.fm/user/niarr7rr