Tuesday, November 2, 2010

last.fm - The Big Biological Model gets a cold

last.fm is a service I have used and admired for a long while now and I became a paid subscriber for £3 a month (or thereabouts) a few months back which is something notable in a sea of free music services.

Their service really does manage to play music 'like the music I like' while deftly avoiding the stuff I don't like. I've trained it over the past few years like a puppy to respond to my commands of love and hate and now it does a great job in creating my personal radio station.

Their simple delta of being able to mark something as 'not liked' provided them with the extra dimension of customer modeling that the other recommendation and fuzzy logic engines sorely missed. Recommendation models without an 'unlike' are akin to physics environments where there is no 'reaction' to the 'action' - the map is too one dimensional.

I remember reading a list of the jobs that last.fm had available in 2009 and you would have been hard pressed to discern between their job descriptions for marketing and technical staff and job listings for a biotech scientist. The guys at last.fm understand nodal modelling and that the real social graph looks more like something you see in a petri dish in a microscope - constantly changing, fault tolerant, nodal, duplicated, overloaded and alive.

Some howcome last.fm are making some cardinal sins with their customer relationships at the moment?

1. Introducing subscriptions that can only be paid for by PayPal. This was moderately annoying when I was in Latin America recently and my PayPal was suspended after one too many transactions in Brazil making their fraud algorithm jumpy.
2. Removing the two key features that most subscribers pony up their cash for - streaming personal playlists and 'loved tracks'.

The on-demand streaming isn't something I use last.fm for as I use it as my personal auto-pilot radio station and secondly as my database of music likes in the cloud. The truth is I use Spotify for on-demand '' listening. The changes in service however do bother the legions that had moved from their iPods to iPhones and Android devices to have on-demand on the move.

What bothers me is the way that they are making the changes.

No push of email to subscribers to alert them of the situation and a terse statement on the site inevitably sees a raft of users angrily hitting the forums and web. The path for resolution is simply to cancel your subscription if you are unhappy about it.

Problems with licensing seems to be the battle cry with most upheavals in music services but did they really try an explore all the options they could have taken?

  • Two tier subscriptions with a higher delta for on-demand streaming.
  • Aborting the free model and charging a nominal fee for all users.
  • Offer different services/rights to different countries

.....or even less radical - cancel the services that they were going to but run an 'ease the shock' campaign pre-warning users of the reasons why they need to do this.

We're listening to last.fm but they aren't listening back.

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