If you’re anything like me and you’re dangerously obsessed with music (I really am); then chances are you’ve already tried the music-based social networking service Last.fm at some time. Like a lot of web services it doesn’t give much away about how it works internally. This is fair enough and it’s their right to do that as a company of course but it goes against the principals of Free Culture and Free Software. Now there are plans afoot to create a completely free (as in freedom) alternative called Libre.fm. I’ve been on Last.fm for a couple of years now and the main benefit for me is keeping track of the music I listen to whilst also advertising my fabulous *ahem* taste and sharing with friends. It keeps track of the music you play through a back-end system called Audioscrobbler which records song names, artists, albums etc and shows them on your profile page.
Web services are an issue under heavy discussion at the moment, as more and more of what we use our computers for moves online and takes up residence in “THE CLOUD(tm)”; a heavily over used buzz term in my opinion, but in some ways it’s appropriate. The problem with the cloud is that we don’t own our data anymore and we don’t own the software used to manipulate it. Some people fear we’re sleep walking into another dark age of proprietary lock-ins. That’s a bad lock-in by the way, not the nice kind when your mate runs a pub and it enables you to get drinks after hours. There are people trying to fix this such as the Autonomo.us group using the GNU Aferro General Public License (AGPL). It allows you to make Free Software network services and license them properly. We’ve already seen quite a few sites built with it. The most notable one for me being Identi.ca which is a free and open microblogging site. I use it pretty heavily and you’ll see a link to my profile at the top of the page there.
Recently Last.fm announced they would start charging for streaming services outside of the US, UK or Germany, which upset a lot of people and raised questions about just how much we rely on their service. I’ve been reconsidering my use of Last.fm in the wake of this but haven’t come to a conclusive decision as yet. As I was mulling it over recently I saw the announcement of the Libre.fm project by Matt Lee, campaigns manager at the FSF. (See right – Photo credit: Steve Pomeroy — http://staticfree.info/ — CC-BY-SA). I managed to get in touch with him and here’s some of what he had to tell me about it:
Matt Lee - “At this stage, Libre.fm hopes to provide a replacement for people to store their listening habits, by implementing the Audioscrobbler API (which certainly seems to be completely public) and modified clients for various platforms.”
He went on to explain some of the projects future goals relating to Creative Commons music content, a subject close to my heart:
“A longer term goal ties back into some of the other things I’m very interested in, such as Free Culture and promoting and recording music with Free Culture artists. On Libre.fm, those will be the artists that people will be able to download, but we’ll have community members working to convince other bands to release tracks under a free culture license, such as the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, so they too can be included on the site. Free promotion can’t be bad for any band — maybe we’ll add in a music store and sell free music downloads for bands too. The music would be in Ogg Vorbis“
Like many Free Software projects however, Libre.fm will rely on the support and desire of the community behind it to be successful:
“Of course, all of this is really down to the community of people who want to see this succeed. I certainly hope lots of people will get hacking on it – The response from people has already been incredible… within about half an hour of announcing my desire to get this going, I had donations of money to buy the domain, quickly stuck up a website, and went to the movies. By the time I got back, my Inbox was literally flooded with dents and emails from people with suggestions, ideas and support.”
You can find the full text Matt sent me here. The project is still in it’s infancy at the moment but they need as much help with development, ideas, graphics and documentation as possible. If you’re interested in getting involved please head over to the website. I think this has great potential and I’ll be watching closely to see how things develop. Let’s hope it can be as successful as the likes of Identi.ca and really take AGPL network services forward.