Libre.fm – Building An Open Last.fm

Libre.fm

Libre.fm

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.

AGPLv3

AGPLv3

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.

Matt Lee, FSF

Matt Lee, FSF

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.

About Dan

Hi I'm Dan, I'm the nutter who creates the content here and oversees things. You can read more about me on the biog page if you like. Thanks :)
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24 Responses to Libre.fm – Building An Open Last.fm

  1. edythemighty says:

    An interesting project, though they’re landing page could use a bit of work :P

    I’ve no doubt they’ll be able to get the scrobbling part of the equation done rather quickly, but the part I’m interested in is that Last.fm can stream music, and the proposed music store. Running a large music streaming website costs money, there’s no doubt about it.

    Last.fm was clear that their reason for cutting off free streaming was two-fold, a combination of licensing problems coupled with infrastructure costs not covered by ads in other countries. Yes yes, it’ll be free, but let’s face it, not a lot of people would have the time or patience to run something like this. Fab himself nearly threw a fit when he tried keeping linuxoutlaws.net on the bleeding edge ;)

    Optimally, I believe a setup like bandcamp.com, where you can stream and give away lower quality audiofiles while being given the option to charge for higher quality audio files is a big step forward, setting your own base price or allowing people to pay what they want. Hey Matt, keep that in mind! If not, I’ll just have to propose it myself once libre.fm gains steam ;)

  2. Dan says:

    @Edy – Thanks. I did have a section of text about my feelings on the new Last.fm charging scheme, I said I had no problem with them charging but I didn’t think it was fair to penalize people outside the big countries. I don’t have any particular problem with them and I understand they are a business (now owned by CBS it’s worth remembering). I cut that out of the article because it was far too long that’s all. I wonder if Libre.fm could be tied into Jamendo or similar services in some way in future. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops.

  3. Fab says:

    I don’t care for the streaming. Fuck that! I already have all Bruce Springsteen records there are. ;) I just want Free scrobbling, please! :)

  4. edythemighty says:

    @Fab – You might not, having all Bruce Springsteen records, but think about the young impressionable German kid who hasn’t heard about Bruce yet. He sees you, his Linux hero, talking so much about this yank, so he decides to stream a bit from the website, and has it scrobbled. Having it scrobbled as he streams it means other German kids who’re into Bruce can connect with him, and who knows? That weird goth kid down the street might just be way into Bruce, but he never would have known because she looks like Tokio Hotel spit her up. That’s the power of streaming+scrobbling.

  5. Alexander says:

    Free scrobbling is a great start.

  6. This is interesting. Something to keep an eye on. I was never into Last.fm myself, but it is good to keep an eye on the offerings.

  7. Hanna says:

    Hopefully this project will grow. I liked (and still like) last.fm a lot but if there will be something similar and open source, I’d definitely change. :)

    It’s last.fm’s business if they want to charge their users but the whole favouriting US/UK/US is bullshit.

  8. Dan says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone. As I said I think it’s fine if Last.fm want to charge for streaming, there must be costs involved in running the service and maybe advertising isn’t enough. That’s all well and good. I don’t use streaming much personally but I’d pay a couple of quid a month to keep it going. The only bit I find strange is that 3 countries are being exempted from this out of the nearly 200 countries in the world. I think the recording industry pressure groups have some involvement here but that’s only speculation on my part. The Internet is supposed to be a level playing field, a truly global marketplace but time and time again we see how we’re divided along national borders. If you’re shipping goods I can understand that selling globally is harder, but with downloads and digital products it makes no sense. The old world needs to adapt and catch up I think.

  9. turin says:

    Great news! Now, if only you could integrate this free scrobbling with the free music from Jamendo (http://jamendo.com), it would be really nice!

  10. Fab says:

    @edy: Your theory would have to include Bruce releasing his music under a Free license to be streamed over Libre.fm. Very unlikely…

  11. Dan says:

    @Fab – He’s not gonna do that, the freedom hater (ducks for cover) :D

  12. Jackie Plage says:

    Apart from the odd time that I listen to my friends radio on last.fm I hardly ever stream music, so if that feature totally disappeared from last.fm it wouldn’t phase me at all. It’s the scrobbling that keeps me there and has done for coming up to 4 years now. I don’t give my loyalty easily, especially not to websites, but I have to say last.fm is about the only one I will stand by through thick and thin.

    No, they’re not anywhere near open source in the true sense, but they have been the most open minded of all the similar music network sites. Prime example being iLike, where you either use iTunes or Windows Media Player or you’re out of luck. Last.fm has always supported a huge amount of media players and across all platforms including linux, and that’s one of the things I always loved about them. I’m not overly happy about CBS buying them but I’m also realistic and realise that a service that huge needs big funding.

    So unless things change very drastically, I will stay a loyal fan of last.fm. :) That’s not to say I won’t support libre.fm too though, I’m all for more open efforts especially when it’s tied in with music.

  13. Ed Morgan says:

    Free scrobbling is a great start, but I’ve found a lot of great music on Last.fm that I either haven’t listened to in years, or flat out hadn’t heard of…

    I’ll support Libre.FM, but I doubt very much whether they’ll have the ability to stream like last.fm does…

    Let’s just hope that they do..

  14. dely says:

    I’m excited. I’m going to make an account as soon as possible and help build up the site =) We’ll just see, if it’s shit. I’ll leave it like i left last.fm. It’s fun, but we don’t really NEED last.fm. So i just hope libre.fm will be a succes.

  15. Ricardo says:

    I hope i can keep my username and maybe my gobbles for so far. I like it even though theres not much to do on libre.fm right now.
    I hope they make good artist pages, because i want to help putting pictures on it (maybe with a vote system like on last.fm) and i’d help putting video’s of songs on it and artist info. I can’t wait woeh. And i want to be able to comment on artists, leave a shout at people and add them as friends. if those things are done, the site will grow fast i think. Id would also be nice if there was just a standardgobbler to download from libre.fm, because my friends are waiting with libre because they are too lazy to change the Host file and download another musicplayer.. HAHAHA. Sounds silly, but i bet very many people are that lazy, they just want a gobbler to download and install. GOOD LUCK all!!

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for the comments everyone. I’ve lost track of the project a bit in the last week with other things going on, but I’ll try and test it out this week. I hear some of the developers have song reporting supported already. That’s great work, good luck to them indeed! :)

  16. Tarantula says:

    It really seems like a great project and I’m already fond of it. I’m quite pissed with Last.fm’s attitude and I stopped scrobbling (aka enriching their site), after disrespecting my as a user.

    The thing is that through “Last.fm Scrobbler” I had the chance to listen to similar artists, according to the one chosen, with really very high accuracy. I let the Scrobbler do its job perfectly and even hours later, the musical theme was of the exact same aesthetic. Is there any chance of having again something like that through Libre.fm?

    Continue your excellent work…a new era is rising.

    • Dan says:

      @tarantula – I never found the Last.fm recommended artists that accurate personally. Hopefully Libre.fm will have a similar and maybe even better feature. I don’t have a great problem with Last.fm or the developers working there though I must say. They’re bound by what CBS their corporate masters tell them to do now. You take the money you have to do as you’re told. There are a lot of pro open source developers and good people working for the company still. Thanks for reading

  17. kmf says:

    This is the way to go :)
    Good Luck to Matt

  18. Baronfuming says:

    I have been using last.fm for over a year now, and I have found it in decline since the new layout was introduced. Much like some of the other people who have posted here, I rarely made use of the radio feature, I do not care about the state of it. I use it primarily for the scrobbling and communicating with other users about music (I have befriended quite a few warm, welcoming individuals).

    However, libre.fm leaves a lot to be desired, both aesthetically and functionally. For example, I am unable to edit my profile, and I am not able to scrobble the plays on my iPod. I know the site’s still in it’s early stages, but it will take some major improvements to get me to fully and wholeheartedly make the migration to their website.

    • Dan says:

      @Baronfuming – I agree that Libre.fm has a way to go yet with development, but I think they know that. Lot’s of people are working hard on it and it’ll take time. I made many great contacts on Last.fm as well and I did value the service they offered. Like you I don’t think their redesign and purchase by CBS has helped. The original founders have left now due to disputes with the corporate bosses. It’s not the same site it was 2 years ago when it was independent. That’s a real shame

  19. CrybKeeper says:

    And there you have it – it’s those other 200 or something countries, that force Lastfms hand in this, as they impose various restrictions and red tape on digital content. Licensing for on-demand, streaming and even the ability to pause a track and resume it later, is extremely expensive. I am in the USA, but I prefer to pay the subscription fee at Lastfm, because when we subscribe and stream the music, it pays double royalties to the music artist, so in turn, we are not only supporting Lastfm, we are also showing more support and appreciation to the music artists.
    I check in at Libre.fm often to see what progress is coming around, but frankly, it doesn’t look to be catching on so well.

    I also subscribe to Mog.com for 5.00 USD a month and belong to several other music streaming and radio communities, on-line. Pay to play is fast becoming the wave of future digital offerings. Although, I am not willing to pay exhorbitant amounts for that privilege, such as Rhapsodys’ $14.99 USD a month – That is just too much cost for getting all the music I want. Compare that to NetFlix for example, which gives me all the movies I want for just $9.99 USD and you begin to realize, just how this should be weighed – price verses quality and quantity. I say 5.00 USD or Euros should be the staple for streaming on-demand and 3.00 USD for streaming shuffled radio is fine too.

  20. CrybKeeper says:

    I could go on forever, this is true. I would love to see Libre.fm become a break out web offering, but even now, plans are in the works to make micro-payments a major part of internet offerings on medial content.
    Sure, music artists can offer their content for free and that is really cool, but it stands to reason, they are eventually going to need to support their offerings, financially and as an avid supporter of the independent musician, I find it very important to show some financial support to those artists. Lastfm makes that easy for us, as the subscriptions help pay the artists their royalties and we are currently pushing CBSi(parent corp.), to raise the royalty percentage and lower the cost of the music artists ‘Lastfm Powerplay’ campaigns.

    As a music publicist, I have contacts in very high places and although, I cannot say too much in public, I can tell you this much; Lastfm is suffering and profits are not what was hoped for. There is a good chance, Lastfm will raise their sub prices, sell out, or just go bust.

    Libre.fm will be running into these same issues, if they start offering protected content. However, if they do not offer that, I can see them getting bigger and better, just like Jamendo, which is also struggling to stay afloat, by the way.

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