September 27, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Facebook Music’s Biggest Loser: Last.fm

lastfm scrobbler facebook

Last.fm's scrobbler, long beloved by geeks and music nerds for the way it tracks and shares listening activity, looks tame compared to the new Facebook Music.

About ten years ago, third-year computer science student Richard Jones wrote the code that would eventually earn him $38 million.

His creation, AudioScrobbler, was a simple plug-in that tracked what people were listening to on various programs including iTunes and used that information to build an online profile of their listening habits that could be shared with friends or used to fuel music recommendations.

Last.fm acquired Audioscrobbler in ’03, earning Jones 15 percent of Last.fm. Four years later, CBS bought Last.fm for $280 million, making Jones a multi-millionaire several times over. CBS let Last.fm perform more or less as it had done, expanding its reach to an estimated 40 million users, turning it into a mobile app, encouraging developers to build stuff around its user profiles, and using its knowledge to power radio services for partners including AOL.

Meanwhile, Facebook was busy building its “Open Graph” — a profile of not just musical Likes, but movies, friends, books, education level, employment, social popularity, location, and anything else you can think of — and that was in 2008, well before it launched Facebook Music last week.

Facebook scrobbles not only music but movies, reading, and even jogging -- and it shares that activity with far more people than Last.fm does.

Facebook now “scrobbles” from every major music subscription service, as well as many streaming radio services, and even recent upstarts like Turntable.fm. Unlike Last.fm, it actually provides the log-in authentication for many of these services, so it scrobbles what people do there automatically — even from users who aren’t smart or involved enough to figure out how to install an audioscrobbler plug-in, or enable it in programs like Spotify.

Yes, you can scrobble from Turntable.fm to Last.fm — but that means using Google Chrome as your browser and install a Chrome extension. On the other hand, you scrobble from Turntable.fm to Facebook by simply using it as you normally would.

Facebook’s scrobbling not only requires less effort than Last.fm’s — but less than a week after its launch, it arguably draws from more sources. MOG knows what you play on MOG. Spotify knows what you play on Spotify. Slacker Radio (and possibly Pandora) know what you play there. But only Facebook knows what you do on all of those services, can combine that data, and match it against your degree of influence over your friends, because it knows when they click on something in your stream.

If your listening habits influence your friends, Facebook knows about it — and also understands that ads targeted to you are more valuable. You’re what the marketing types call a “tastemaker.” Last.fm has no visible mechanism for tracking that, because it is not a social network on the level of Facebook.

As if that weren’t enough, Facebook also trumps Last.fm by tracking not only musical activity but, as mentioned above, the news articles you read, the television shows you watch, the movies you rent, the friends you have, and more — anything that uses Facebook as a log-in or is part of Facebook’s new and growing scrobbling ecosystem. All of these partners, from every media industry, have a big incentive to join up, because Facebook’s new Ticker and Timeline features are powerful engines for promoting content.

CBS's Last.fm has built scrobbling as an option into many cloud-based music services, but Facebook Connect means Facebook can enable it automatically. It also tracks other stuff in addition to music and it puts it all in front of a larger audience.

There is one thing Last.fm does that Facebook Music doesn’t, as Evolver.fm’s Andy Cush pointed out: It scrobbles from iTunes. However, it’s looking more and more like Last.fm and iTunes are consoling each other outside the Facebook party, where all the action is. If a song plays in iTunes and Last.fm scrobbles it, do your friends know? For most people, the answer will increasingly be “no” — they’ll be too busy seeing what you’re up to on Facebook.

Last.fm recently added the ability to find your Facebook friends on Last.fm and add them as friends there, so you can see what they’re listening to, assuming they have the knowledge and willpower to add scrobbling to all of their devices. But why would the average person do that, when their friends are already scrobbling to Facebook instead, from Spotify, MOG, and countless other services — all without anybody installing or understanding anything?

Richard Jones made $38 million by inventing scrobbling. Ten years later, Facebook stands to make billions from the same concept. It’s successful strategy: to accumulate an audience so large that media services would build Facebook scrobbling into their products, rather than counting on users to install a plug-in.

Apple will sell hardware and apps no matter what happens, and could still join Facebook Music when iCloud launches later this year. For Last.fm, a ten-year headstart will not be enough to stave off the growing Facebook juggernaut.

  • Bodicadidit

    The app called AudioVroom that had the really colorful logo at the f8 conference is pooling everything together for Facebook. Not only are they going to scrobble itunes and twitter and facebook, but they can integrate with all of their “competitors” as a coalition of the willing. They are also going to be gamified, awarding users for taking actions that support artists. They will even be able to crowdsource music preferences for venues, set lists for performances… sky’s the limit. This is just the beginning of the next generation. I can’t wait for them to release their app! 

  • Shwaytaj Raste

    Last.fm’s scrobbling feature is great! But since most music these days in online, this feature comes very less in handy. I have bought so much little music over the last 4 years that I can literally count those songs & albums on my finger.

    So I don’t think Facebook’s Open Graph has killed Last.fm. It is covering a different audience.. an audience which is more tuned to music online..

    Some of Facebook’s partners like Spotify, Rdio, Mog, iHeart and AudioVroom will be able to take full advantage of this target audience and thus bypassing last.fm

  • Ybox4

    I’m not a fb user. The reason I like the last.fm site is because it focuses solely on music. I’m quite happy to be the outsider on all this. I wouldn’t want for example, for last.fm to start tracking things other than music. So while fb is busy utilizing this graph for everything now, I’m quite content to stay in my music world over at last.fm with like-minded people.

  • intrusive much

    With all that facebook is talking about tracking, it makes me think twice about using it anymore. Big brother/1984 thoughts running through my head. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

    I really hope to find a way to link my last.fm scrobbling to facebook and have it sent there as well.  Anyone heard of anything?  I scrobble everything I listen to and like to discuss it on facebook.  

  • briesmith

    Surely this article only makes any sense at all if there is some kind of near perfect correlation between the facebook audience and the people who use last.fm?

    I can see no reason why this relationship should exist.

    I imagine that last.fm will follow a totally different trajectory from facebook in developing and retaining its user base. 

    I would be interested to see the utilisation figures. Intuitively I can see that last.fm subscribers might use that service a bit like a favourite radio station, tuning in every day for years. facebook strikes me as something you might use at a certain stage in your life and then either never use anymore or find your use slowly declines.

    Taking on all that facebook means in terms of user experience – its complexity, otherworldliness and lifestyle aggression – seems like a high price to play just to listen to your music.

    As for scrobbling, who does that? Why would a sufficiently large percentage of people – to be worthwhile in terms of identifying them as a marketing segment – actively want to share their music playing activities with other people?

    This premise sounds as false to me as the one that says twitter is important to most people.

    Is this whole article an exercise in straw man building?

  • http://twitter.com/jesstherese Jessie

    For me the attraction of last.fm is being able to review what I’ve been listening to over the past week/s, month/s, and year/s.  If Facebook offers this, I missed it.

  • Ezra Shanti

    There are a lot of uses for FB such as posting to “group” walls, posting things you want your friends to check out (videos, articles, etc.), chatting with friends, and posting photos.

    I like last.fm because I can review which bands I was really into during different periods of time and revisit those bands when I check my last.fm scrobble history.

    Personally I use Pandora for “radio” because I think it has a superior algorithm or something for finding related music. I just think the stations more accurately find related music than Last.fm’s radio.

    I really wish last.fm would scrobble Pandora radio, but it does a great job of scrobbling most other sources.

    This new FB feature is useless to me, although I see why it’s useful for FB developers. If I can set it to just post all of the music I listen to in real time to my FB page (it does for Spotify, but not all sources that Last.fm grabs, that would be amazing. The one bummer about the FB thing is that it will only post from Spotify, not my phone, google music, etc. I want Last.fm to make an app that I can stick on my FB timeline.

  • http://nonsmokingarea.com/blog subnet

    hi guys,we’ve built an inoffical scrobbler f. facebook timeline/opengraph a while ago, and last week it’s been approved by facebook. you might want to give it a try:http://www.facebook.com/LastfmScrobblerfeedback welcome!

  • http://twitter.com/rodedwards rodedwards

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that with 900M users (or whatever), FBs audience overlaps the vast majority of Last.fm’s.

  • http://twitter.com/awesomerdotcom Awesomer