Last.fm is the Best Site / Application I Have Ever Seen
Now I don't extol web applications regularly, nor do I think that many sites or application deserve my laudation, but in this case I think that last.fm has encapsulated what people want in a better fashion than any of the large companies, apple, microsoft, etc…
So what is it? Well, it is somewhat hard to categorize. On one hand, it is a music discovery service sort of like musicbrainz, but on the other hand it is far more. Some of the features, and probably the most important one, is what they call the scrobbler. What this does is that whenever you play a song, I'd guess it sends the ID3 information to last.fm. In this way they create a quite excellent database of what types of music you are interested in.
At the same time as it is a music discovery system, they have internet radio channels that you can listen to. There are many different criteria for you to choose from. You can listen to music that is like a particluar artist, or you can see what tags come up when you type in an artist or genre. From there you can drill down by the tags until you find the radio station that has exactly what you want. There are other methods also, you can find a station that has either the music that your “neighbors”, who are people who share your musical tastes. They also, of course, have traditional channels based on genre.
When you are playing songs from the radio, they show you details about the artists, and the tags that relate to your search criteria.
As far as the site goes, there is a suggestion system where they give you songs based on what you have recently listened to. The songs will range from mainstream to really edgy and independent. But, if you're like me and are somewhat tired of mainstream, they have a handy slider that you can move toward indie or mainstream to suit your mood. While you are on the site, if there is a song you can listen to immediately, there will be a blue play button if they have a sample of the song available, and a gold play button if you can listen to the entire song. One of the best features is that if the artist has submitted their song, you can download the free track as an MP3. Usually these are submitted by the indie artists, but sometimes mainstream artists allow unfettered access to their music. They link to the store to each artist so that you can buy the album. Usually if its mainstream, it will link to Amazon, but if its indie it could link to a more obscure site.
Another cool feature about the site is the ability to post short blog-like entries that others can read. You can post questions about an artist or whatever and get answers from the community, or commentary about anything really.
If you are into concerts, they have an events tab that suggests coming attractions that may be of interest to you based on your physical location, which isn't mandatory by-the-way. Again, you can get details about the artists they are suggesting, also, you can see posts from attendees elsewhere to find out what to expect from the show.
The charts section is cool, you can see what is climbing up or descending in popularity. Probably what I like the most is that their software is small, ad-free, and gives me something in return for my MP3 information. The other cool thing is that they don't give preference to the mainstream garbage music that other sites do. You can get a pretty true idea of how indie music compares with commercial music.
My reaction when I started using Last.fm was the same as the first time I heard Midnight Marauders by a Tribe Called Quest. My jaw dropped, and I thought “of course!” If anything can topple the ITMS / iPod monopoly it is this. Also, for developers, the scrobbler has an API so you can integrate it easily with your music players, like Amarok has. Last.fm is clearly the future, and it is light-years ahead of anything else out there. I hope it doesn't get acquired by some crap company that would make it all mainstream and destroy one of the true gems of Web 2.0