Just got a private message on Last.fm from intuitionorphan, subject “I hope this makes sense to you,” body “I have an earnest desire to change the world,” with a MediaFire link to a file named “Kid is an Adult.zip.” I’m certain the file contains something bad, but I’m curious about which or what kind of bad thing it is. None of those phrases turns up any relevant results on Google.
First, some good news: Songbird is now in public beta! It’s amazing how stable things have gotten just over the last six months. And, significantly, it now features a Playback History API, which by the looks of things allows developers access to the entire play history of any song in a library, something that is crucial to the kind of deep library scavenging I’ve been pining for.
Since I last wrote, everything I see or read seems to inspire my half-baked ideas about the better ways we can browse our unmanageably large music libraries. After telling a friend about these ideas, he said:
Yeah, it’s actually really frustrating. I intentionally keep the number of artists on my iPod small so I don’t have to sort to find things I’m currently into.
Then there are the people who are doing a lot of (real) work towards novel interfaces like the (hypothetical) ones I’m describing; Last.fm’s “Islands of Music” (explained here) demonstrates the kind of artist-similarity topology that would make browsing your library a more pleasant experience; Lee Byron explains in more detail how he developed that Last Graph infovis; necimal releases a Music Recommendations extension for Songbird that promises to use Last.fm’s data to find within your library artists similar to the one playing; and the Aurora project, part of the Mozilla Labs concept browser series, depicts a radical three-dimensional view of files and data with auto-clustering, which, if applied to a music library, would be nothing short of incredible.
I’ve also thrown together a pitiful little mock-up of what Songbird might look like when you start it up with the kind(s) of extensions I’m hoping for:
The two core components depicted are the Start Page and the Timeline View. The Start Page I feel would be seriously valuable, one of the ideas behind all these blatherings of course being that one doesn’t always have a destination in mind when opening their music library. The Start Page would offer a number of convenient “jumping-off” points, pulling you into your library to explore it further — by artist similarity, maybe, or by play history proximity, after just a couple clicks.
The Timeline View is a zoomable timeline, shown here zoomed to a daily view. Zooming out could show you albums played within recent weeks; then months, quarters, etc. These albums might be sorted by Periodical Impact, something I explained in depth here; essentially they would be sorted not by the raw number of times they were played within any given period, but by how distinct they were to that period.
Even these meager ideas are leagues ahead of what’s available, and I’m not even a data analyst. Just imagine how a library’s play history data could be exploited by somebody trained in these things.
Everyone’s experienced that thing where you’re listening to something, and you think to yourself, “Holy shit does this remind me of fall 2004.” How strongly certain music is correlated with certain periods of your life depends on many things, including but probably not limited to when you first heard it, when you first liked it, and when your listening to it was most highly concentrated. So, for instance, in my case, most Destroyer albums will recall times and places that are vague at best, and that depend mostly upon first exposure rather than concentration — this as a result of the fact that I listen to every Destroyer album all the time, approximately.
Blueboy’s Unisex, on the other hand, will probably always remind me of the winter of 2006–7, as I listened to it for the first time that season, nine additional times within that season (racking up about 150 tracks listened, according to Last.fm), and virtually never again once spring hit.
Ever since I began submitting listening data to Last.fm in November of 2004, I’ve wondered whether I’d ever enjoy direct access to all those numbers. Then came Last.fm Extra Stats, mercifully collecting all my listening data for me in a tab-separated file that can be pulled into Excel and manipulated to my heart’s content. Here, as a small example of the data, are my top ten artists (by tracks listened) from winter 2006–7, along with total listens for each artist (since November 2004) (now that I’m finally getting around to publishing this post, all the following data is very old):
|Artist||Winter (S) ↓||Total (T)|
|The Moldy Peaches||49||51|
|Revolving Paint Dream||32||58|
Now for some methodology. Continue →
Advantages of sorted lists include:
- one can easily find the first n elements (e.g. the 5 smallest countries) and the last n elements (e.g. the 3 largest countries)
- one can easily find the elements in a given range (e.g. countries with an area between .. and .. square km)
- one can easily search for an element, and conclude whether it is in the list
The first two advantages are things you almost never need to do with music libraries. And the third has been supplanted by now-ubiquitous search boxes: if you know what you’re looking for, you search; and if you don’t, an alphabetized list is not the way to find it.
Web visionary Ted Nelson (<mst3k>Dr. Ted Nelson?</mst3k>) has been paraphrased as pointing out that “electronic documents have been designed to mimic their paper antecedents,” and that “this is where everything went wrong: electronic documents could and should behave entirely differently from paper ones.” If the folder metaphor is inadequate for digital documents, no wonder it’s so pitiful at handling music. The proximity between pieces of music in a library should least of all be based on the first letter in a band’s name – it’s as arbitrary as sorting them by the vocalist’s month of birth – yet this is how it’s universally done.
Music library organization needs to be re-thought from the ground up. We need to consider how it is that people used to listen to music before it was all on their iTunes. How are your CDs organized (or disorganized) on your shelf? How are they organized in your head? What is it that prompts you to listen to what you listen to when you listen to it? And how can we use computers to adopt and enhance these ways of thinking, rather than forcing us to think like computers? Continue →
Being still very interested in web feeds, both practically and philosophically, I subscribe to them often. Occasionally I’ll find a site that seems as though it should have a feed, but contains no link to one within a meta declaration or within the body of the site. Still, most content generators generate feeds, regardless of whether their users make the feed URLs public. In cases like this, it’s fun to poke around and see if I can’t guess the correct URL.
The same goes for archives; certain Blogger users, for example, apparently turn archive links off, so all that’s easily visible are the last ten posts or so on the front page. But, of course, as is especially the case with something as prefab as Blogger, the archives are accessible through a very predictable URL schema.
And what about comment feeds? These are even more scarcely linked to, but in many cases do exist.
Here are the ones I know so far. I plan to update this post as I discover more. This is as much for my reference as it is for yours. So, bookmark it, and, y’know, subscribe to the comments. If you know of any other schemata, please comment. And if you’d like to create your own feeds from any site, give Feed43 a shot. It’s a bit tough to learn, but I’ve successfully made several useful feeds with it.
- All blog posts: http://blog.myspace.com/blog/rss.cfm?friendID=[friendID]
Wow, I can’t believe I was able to do this.
Just tack your last.fm username onto the end of that url to generate the cover art for your most listened-to album of last week. Pretty cool.
Bands and albums with ampersands don’t work at the moment. urlencode() doesn’t seem to do the trick. Any theories?
For a long time, last.fm has linked to a purported weekly album chart feed on their web services page. Because I find this much more interesting than the weekly artist and track charts, I was happy to find today that these feeds have finally become active. Just replace “topdownjimmy” with your username in this url:
Unfortunately, this won’t reflect your listening accurately if you’re in the habit of listening to leaked albums. For what are certainly legal issues, last.fm plays dumb that these albums even exist, failing to report them in charts even though the track and artist counts are updated accordingly.
My next step is to use the url embedded in the feed to scrape the Amazonian cover art from each album’s last.fm page. This would be cool to do even for the recent track feed, come to think of it.