No, that’s nothing statistical I’m afraid, its just that I feel strangely compelled to stick my neck out and state my opinion that by the end of 2007 Last.fm will be bigger than MySpace – at least within the UK, if not the rest of the music-loving world.
So if I am to pit Last.fm in a head-to-head battle with MySpace, I first need to explain what I think is wrong with MySpace.
The MySpace backlash
If it hasn’t started already, the backlash against MySpace is on its way. MySpace deserves a lot of credit for what it has achieved, but it is a victim of its own success. Spamming is rife, you can’t find a decent band amongst all the billions of YAMSBs and users are fed up with the crime against web design that almost every page on MySpace has become. In essence the very things that made it successful – the freedom of presentation, the P2P functionality – are now the worst things about it.
MySpace is function-poor
Have you ever noticed that MySpace blogs aren’t actually blogs? Not in a technical sense anyway – they are just bulletins to which you subscribe by email update, not RSS. Indeed you can’t RSS subscribe to anything on MySpace – in fact MySpace offers virtually no inbound or outbound syndication at all. The many facets of pages, groups and events seem wholly disconnected, with the best examples of contextual linking being the Google AdSense ads on every single page.
So while “Tom” is sending a bulletin to all 186 kazillion MySpace members apologising that “all our efforts are concentrated on eliminating the spammers“, Last.fm are marching on by “Putting all our efforts into building the best functionality possible“. And I think they may have achieved it.
Last.fm is completely End-to-end
The thing that makes iPod and iTunes so successful in my opinion is that they have considered the entire user experience, from where you buy your music, to how you store it and how you listen to it. But Last.fm may have taken it another step further by addressing how you discover what music you like. And while Pandora and others may be able to suggest music based on what you do and don’t like on their website, Last.fm allows you to scrobble what you listen to on your PC or even on your iPod on the move. The resulting profile it builds of your music taste permeates not only into your recommended artists, but also into which other users like the same music as you (neighbours), which are your favourite bands and even which gigs you should go to.
A push, a pull and even a destination
Most of the social sites of the Web2.0 boom either give you a networkable page onto which you can place widgets and content, or they are the tools that create the widgets. Last.fm is possibly the only site that performs both these roles, providing function-rich profile pages for networking between friends and neighbours’, as well as cutting edge widgets that can be easily placed on pages at MySpace or Facebook.
In fact, Last.fm has practically every feature and function you can imagine a Web2.0 site might have – all perfectly networked together. The profile pages, the players, the forum and the (proper) blog all integrate together into a single “dashboard” from where a user can keep tabs with their musical world.
The purest form of social networking
Of course, they have chosen the best possible subject matter around which to build their network, as music is undoubtedly the most emotive of all passion-centres that drive online interaction. But while MySpace enables a clumsy connection between fans and bands, or Facebook provides a cursory opportunity for members to say “I Like” to a few equally rated bands, Last.fm provides the ultimate proof of your tastes, based on what music you actually listen to. This throws up some interesting results, in both the proud validation of how much you listen to your rare Bloc Party b-sides, and also the shame of how much you indulge your guilty Avril Lavigne pleasures.
In fact Last.fm probably does indulge every whim of the proper muso – from the curiosity of discovering your new favourite band, to the pride of referring it to your friends, to the excitement of discovering that they are gigging at your local venue, to the vanity of saying you were there and sharing your photos to prove it.
What’s more is that with its new events functionality Last.fm has the opportunity to be the first site to really put the “social” in to “social networking”. Real social interaction doesn’t happen in front of an ad-ridden computer screen, it happens on the beer-swamped floors of venues across the nation where real people actually meet, drink, chat and snog. And with last.fm’s “I’m going” addition to the events calendar it has the ability to bring real people together.
The ultimate in Web2.0
Finally, and for the sake of longevity perhaps most importantly, Last.fm seems to have been architected on every key Web2.0 principle and has established RSS feeds for every cluster of information possible, seeding out into the programmable web hand-in-hand with syndication giants such as Flickr and Upcoming.org
A prophecy for profit
At the end of the day though, Last.fm is a business, so it must survive as a business. CBS’s recent multi-million pound acquisition of Last.fm certainly suggests that some believe they can do so, but what are the opportunities for it to do so?
The very first user-visible monetisation of Last.fm was the affiliate modelled offering of links from which users can buy the tracks they have been listening to. I’m not sure how much volume this generates (I’ve only done it once) but one must assume with such an uncommonly highly qualified lead, the conversation ratio at the end commerce site must be higher than normal, which creates compelling opportunities for CPA based commercial partnerships.
With the addition of the events functionality we can see this model extended to affiliate referral of ticket sales, which again must be very well qualified traffic. From here Last.fm have the opportunity to move into peer-to-peer ticket exchanging, or even 2nd-level p2p sales operating on a Betfair-like model of supply and demand.
Then of course comes the opportunity for selling of advertising space to 3rd party advertising space – the first examples of which are just starting to be seen on-site now. With such a function-rich service being provided for free users are unlikely to rebel against the intrusion of advertising, while advertisers can enjoy the ability to accurately target ads to extensively profiled users that generally fit the spec of most big brands’ strategic audience.
With increased penetration of advertising comes increased disillusionment on the part of the user. But while increased advertising on most social networks will lead to increased user attrition, Last.fm is one of a very few sites that could feasibly convert its’ most engaged users into a subscription payment in return for an ad-free experience. Because after scrobbling several thousand tracks since joining, Last.fm now seems to know my music taste better than I know it myself – and that is worth something to me. It’s difficult to say how much exactly, but would I pay a few pounds a month to keep evolving that profile and be pushed artists and gigs that may become my next favourite? Yeah I think I would.
Last.fm is possibly the ultimate implementation of the fundamental Web2.0 principles of platform, the value of data, the wisdom of crowds and the device independent service. And from here the opportunities to diversify seem huge. With such a highly developed infrastructure Last.fm could quite easily replace its “.fm” with “.tv”, the music with videos and offer a video service to blow YouTube out of the water. Or why not use the revenue generated to branch into DAB radio and explore a way to deliver a number of stations where user groups, not DJs choose the music that is played to them on their drive home.
But what do I mean by “bigger”? Well if Last.fm manages to keep the spammers at bay they won’t have the member counts to rival MySpace, and if they stay true to RSS instead of email they won’t rival Facebook on outbound communications. Where they can win is on length and depth of interaction of users with the site. And as advertisers increasingly become aware of the value of quality over quantity of interaction, coupled with the various other revenue streams available – Last.fm could become the biggest money spinner of them all!