Last.fm

Friend Requests

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Social Networks have been around for a relatively long time (in Internet years). They continue to mushroom. One of the reasons is the constant Friend Requests (invitations) one receives when anyone they know discovers a new network/site.

I see the utility of some of these sites, but in the end, unless they are used sparingly, and with a specific goal in mind (LinkedIn for example), they can very quickly become time sucks, geometrically if you end up feeling the need to keep up on multiple sites.

After hearing the buzz about Facebook for years, I succumbed and joined in August 2007. I had two purposes:

  1. See if the experience was interesting and/or useful
  2. See how long it would take to get invites

To test #2, I decided to not invite anyone to be a friend of mine, even those people who introduced me to Facebook. I’ve been a member now for six months, and I have still not invited anyone. I only have 26 friends, so I haven’t been overwhelmed with Friend requests either.

The requests can be divided into four categories:

  1. Bulk uploads
  2. Word of mouth
  3. Friends of friends
  4. Strangers

After I joined Facebook, I started getting a few invitations from people I hadn’t heard from in years. In a few cases, the last contact might have even been a bit strained. It took me a bit to realize that in likely all of those cases, those people joined Facebook after I did, and they uploaded their contact data (from Outlook, Yahoo, etc.) to Facebook, and permitted the site to match any members it had the same email address for.

While I applaud the ease with which these sites make these connections possible, ultimately, I find it extremely lazy (and intrusive) on the part of the uploader, who is building a (phony) network quickly, rather than a quality network, more slowly or painfully. That’s one of the reasons that I have never taken advantage of this (not just on Facebook, but on the dozen or so other sites that I could have), even though my Outlook contact database is reasonably large.

Word of mouth has made for high quality connections (for me). This will usually come in the form of some casual conversation where someone will mention something about Facebook (or another network), and ask if I’m a member. After admitting that I am, I will often get a friend request the next day. Those have typically amounted to more real interaction/sharing after the initial connection than the bulk upload ones.

Friends of friends has also been reasonably satisfying (to me, personally). One of the nice touches in Facebook is the concept of a social graph, understanding how you are connected to others. When one word of mouth friend connects with me, often other people in our circle are already connected to my friend, and they instantly discover (in their feed) that I too am on Facebook, and they friend me. Once that happens, we all see our overlapping friends on each other’s profile.

Finally, strangers. Here is one extreme example. I am a member of Last.fm (which I’ve written about in the past). I have three friends there. A month or so ago, I received a friend request from a name I didn’t recognize. I looked at their profile, and it was (supposedly) from a 17-year-old female. Uh huh, I am exactly who she is looking to friend to share musical tastes.

After declining, I mentioned it jokingly to one of my three real friends on Last.fm, and he too got an invitation from the same person. Oh well, I guess I wasn’t really all that special after all… 😉

But, it’s not always spam, just because it comes from a stranger!

This past Sunday, I received my first friend request on Facebook, from someone I never heard of. His name is Scott Dale. Before declining (which was my first instinct), I decided to Google him. I found this link, and was pretty sure that it was the same person who had invited me. OK, so he’s a musician, and maybe I somehow know him, and have just lost my mind.

So, instead of accepting or declining, I send him a message through Facebook. I ask him (apologetically) whether I know him. Even this form of contact made me hesitate and think before I acted. When you send a message to someone who isn’t your friend on Facebook, you are explicitly granting them access to view your profile for 30 days! Yes, Facebook makes it reasonably clear before you hit send (good!) and it makes sense, or they too would likely ignore your unsolicited message.

I decided to do it. I also hoped that he would only have limited access to my profile (which would exclude things like my IM, etc.), but I really wasn’t sure.

I ended up having a nice email-like conversation with Scott (eight messages between us). He wasn’t sure how he originally got my contact information, but he had just joined Facebook, so I got the invitation as part of the bulk upload. I mentioned that I blog about music quite a bit, and perhaps he picked it up there, but neither of us was sure.

I then asked him whether he was using Facebook just to network with friends (in which case I would graciously decline his invitation), or whether he was using it to promote his music, in which case I would willingly accept his invitation, because I had listened to his music on Fuzz.com (at the link above), and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was the latter, and we’re now officially friends.

I had also never heard of Fuzz.com before, so my new friend taught me a new trick as well. 🙂

Anyway, I am not all that active on Facebook, though I do find that I log on more frequently than I thought I would. Ironically, a while ago I added a blog application called My Blogs, which is an RSS feed which injects links to my blogs into my Facebook feed. I have been surprised by the number of clicks I get through Facebook on this blog, so my friends are definitely logged on to Facebook enough to notice new posts from me in my feed, and they then click on them to see what I’m up to. Cool!

Finally, these bulk uploads work to identify up-and-coming new networks. Lately, I have gotten quite a number of invitations for the new Pulse service by Plaxo. Plaxo has been around for years, as an online contact manager. Pulse feels like a hybrid between LinkedIn and Facebook. It’s actually remarkably similar looking to Facebook, with a touch more business orientation. There too I haven’t invited anyone, but my network is growing nonetheless…

Online Music Services

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I’ve threatened for a few months now to write a Pandora vs Last.fm post. Every week, I decide to finally write it, and then procrastinate again, for numerous reasons. Recently, I decided to boil it down to a very few points, just to get it out (finally).

But, before doing so, I decided to do a little research, since a number of things have changed recently (some dramatically, like Last.fm’s recent announcement about being able to stream songs for free, up to three times).

In doing the research, I found this blog post which summarizes and categorizes 38 different online music services (including the ones I intended to cover). While he doesn’t go into depth on any one of them, it’s a fantastic resource to decide what sites you might wish to explore.

I wouldn’t have, and couldn’t have done as good and exhaustive a job putting that list together. Therefore, I can now (happily) concentrate on the few things that I specifically wanted to get off my chest.

In January 2007 I signed up for an account on Last.fm. At the time, I was mostly listening to XMRadio (I posted about my XM Radio experience here). At the time, we hadn’t had our explosion of discovering new music. Last.fm sounded like a good idea, a way to discover new music by typing in an artist that you already liked.

It amused me for about a month, then I got tired of it and stopped using it completely. The main reasons were that at the time, they never included any songs by the artist you entered to begin with, and they often ran out of similar artists (quickly sometimes) if you didn’t start with a mega-star.

Some things have changed, some things even dramatically (recently), as you can now pick specific songs by specific artists to hear, up to three times each, for free. Still, the biggest value (to me) in Last.fm, is one that I think is interesting, but doesn’t grab me personally all that much. That’s the ability to have friends, and see what they’re listening to, in real-time, in graphs of the past, etc. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool, and I check out my own listening habits on my profile on occasion, but I only have three friends at the moment, and I’m not desperate to increase that list. 😉

Months later, I finally started using an alternate service that I had been aware of for a while, Pandora. I am dramatically happier with Pandora than with Last.fm. If you start with an artist, in addition to hearing similar artists, you also hear a ton of music from the artist you started with mixed in as well.

Their selection of similar artists is fantastic. I can listen for hours on end and it’s extremely rare for me to hear something that I feel the need to rate poorly, or skip, etc. I’ve discovered a number of new artists via Pandora (and yes, I’ve bought their music, so Pandora helped promote them!).

I have a number of stations, and I most often play a quick mix of four of my stations. The only complaint I have about Pandora (and it’s extremely minor) is that they repeat the same songs a little more frequently than I’d like (it could be hours before a repetition, but sometimes, I listen an entire day while working at Zope). To be sure, they are repeating songs that I love, and that I’ve thumbed up, so it’s not terribly annoying. 😉

They too have some kind of friend stuff, but I have zero friends on Pandora (and I’m not looking for any), so I don’t really know how it works. I’ve added the Pandora App to my Facebook account, so when I’m listening to Pandora, friends of mine on Facebook can see what stations I’m listening to on Pandora.

I have over 7000 songs in iTunes, so I really don’t need an online service to find something to listen to. That said, I still listen a bunch, for three reasons:

  1. Convenience. I don’t need to think about what I want to listen to, just what type of music I’m in the mood for. I then don’t have to operate anything, the music just continues to come at me. I can pause a song, and come back to it hours later, and it picks up exactly from that point.
  2. Discover new music. I have tons, but every once in a while, it’s nice to wander into new territory.
  3. Surprise! Even if Pandora were to serve me songs that I already own, the order comes as a surprise, so it’s often like a little gift. Sure, I could turn on shuffle in iTunes, but I’d still have to pick at a minimum a genre, in order to get a similar experience, and Pandora keeps it even narrower than that, in a very nice way.

I had a few other things I wanted to cover, specifically, but I’m going to punt on them for now. With one exception, and I welcome any thoughts on this particular topic.

A number of bloggers have some sort of streaming widget on their site. Some even have more than one. Others have links to mp3 songs that can be downloaded (whether they mean you to or not).

While I applaud the desire to share music as widely as possible, and understand that it can easily end up creating a much larger audience for the artists in question, in the end, something feels wrong about it. I can’t imagine that the majority of bloggers are getting specific permission from the artists or the label.

If it’s only available via streaming, it’s a little easier for me to swallow. While some technical types will be able to capture the stream if they want, the overwhelming majority of people won’t bother, even if there are software downloads that they can use to do it for them.

But, when the link can be right-clicked, and saved, it amounts to mass distribution of copyrighted works. Am I missing something here?

I have promoted many artists in these posts, often with links included. That said, I’ve never once considered offering up a link to something that I own of theirs. I link to their site, to their MySpace site, to YouTube videos, etc. I’d love to attach particular songs to my posts, but again, I just feel that without explicit permission, I’m taking a liberty that isn’t mine to take.

So, any contrary opinions out there? Some of the people who are freely sharing music on their blogs are people I respect enormously, so I’m not saying that they are doing anything wrong, just that I don’t understand all the ins and outs yet. If I don’t get satisfactory answers here, I might post a comment on some their sites, but I don’t want to appear to be pointing a finger, which is the last thing I want to do!

Acoustic Guitar Update

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This is another long post, so bail now, while you can, or grab a cup of coffee (to keep you awake). 😉 Actually, the post itself isn’t insanely long, but if you watch each of the videos that I’ve linked it, the entire trip will take a while…

I’ve gone on and on in a number of posts about my long-time love for acoustic guitar music, and my recent discovery of some masters of the genre. I could link to those posts, but if you have an interest, it’s simple enough to type the word “acoustic” in the search box and see the titles and decide for yourself.

This post has been rattling around in my head for over a week, begging to be set free. I was waiting for one of two things to happen before writing it. Neither has happened, but a third (unexpected) event occurred last night, finally pushing me over the edge to get this on paper. 😉

This new adventure was officially kicked off when I saw Bill Cooley live accompanying Kathy Mattea. I wrote that he might be the best acoustic guitarist I’d ever heard. Eric Sink commented that those were fighting words (not really!) 😉 and pointed me to Phil Keaggy. When I reviewed The Master and The Musician by Phil Keaggy, Eric commented that I should check out Michael Hedges and possibly (only if I dare!) Kaki King.

Like I’ve said before, anyone who doesn’t pay attention when Eric Sink speaks is likely a dummy. I try hard not to be a dummy (not always successful), so I checked both of them out. What, exactly, does that mean?

When I was growing up, one discovered music mostly on the radio. Word of mouth was probably second, but then the circle of mouths was relatively small. Third was TV, with shows like Ed Sullivan showcasing some musical group every week. All of that is different today. I’ve had a specific post about Pandora and Last.fm rattling around in my head for months now, and I’ll birth that sometime in the next few weeks (and therefore ignore it for now).

Today, with the Internet (you’ve heard of it, right?), one can purposely or accidentally discover music to the extent that one cares, with extremely little effort and time invested, with little risk of purchasing music that will eventually disappoint. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of sites to listen to music on, but for me, the two juiciest targets are MySpace and YouTube.

An incredible number of bands have MySpace pages, with the vast majority of those offering at least four songs for immediate streaming. If someone mentions a band to you, see if they are on MySpace, and check out whether you like their music or not. For my personal quintessential example (no surprise to anyone who has visited here before), I learned in 30 seconds that I would love Girlyman from their MySpace page.

All that said, lately, I am much more hooked on YouTube. It has boggled my mind how many clips (many of them of reasonabe quality) are available for an amazing number of artists. Since I love live music, YouTube gives much more of a feel of the performance in addition to just the music. With some of the incredible styles that today’s acoustic guitarists have, the video is much more powerful (to me) than just listening to the music.

So, after watching quite a number of YouTube videos (I’ll link at least one to each artist’s name in the coming paragraphs), I have purchased a bunch of new albums, mostly downloaded on Amazon’s MP3 service, with the rest on real CDs.

Following Eric’s advice, I ordered two Michael Hedges CDs. He’s not available for download on Amazon 🙁 so I have to wait for them to show up. Since his CDs haven’t shown up yet, he was one of the reasons that I was waiting on this post.

Also following Eric’s advice, I checked out Kaki King. He was correct, as some of her stuff is out there. Still, even that stuff, when seen, is amazing. The rest of her music is gorgeous. I downloaded both of her albums that were available on Amazon. I can’t tell you how hard it was to boil her down to two videos for this paragraph. The selection is very broad, and most of them are truly entertaining. Check her out!

Bill Cooley himself (yes, he’s kind enough to respond when I email him!) suggested that I check out Phil Keaggy’s Beyond Nature CD. It wasn’t available for download at Amazon (though many others are, including Acoustic Sketches, which I’ve downloaded and really enjoy). I had intended to purchase Free Hand – Acoustic Sketches II from Amazon, but on PhilKeaggy.com they had a special bundle.

Three CD’s, Beyond Nature, Acoustic Sketches, and Free Hand – Acoustic Sketches II, for a very good price. Unfortunately, I already bought Acoustic Sketches. I bought the bundle anyway, since Beyond Nature was only available on that site, and the price was great, and I’ll give Acoustic Sketches as a gift to some lucky person! 🙂 They haven’t arrived yet, so I can’t review Beyond Nature. That was reason number two for holding off on this post…

On Phil’s site, they mentioned that Beyond Nature was ranked #3 on the DigitalDreamDoor list of the 100 Greatest Acoustic Guitar Albums. In addition, Acoustic Sketches and Freehand are both in the top 100 as well (hence, their idea for the bundle!).

On that list, in number one is Aerial Boundaries by Michael Hedges. Cool, it’s one of the two of his that I ordered. Number two is 6 & 12 String Guitar by Leo Kottke. I remembered at that moment that I had a CD of his that I hadn’t listened to in 20 years, and hadn’t ripped on to my iPod. I ran downstairs and found it immediately (my CDs are filed alphabetically), it’s called Guitar Music from 1981, and it’s fantastic. I also downloaded 6 & 12 String Guitar from Amazon. Also fantastic!

So, while I owned Leo Kottke already, without the list at DigitalDreamDoor, I wouldn’t have looked for it. I then noticed that the guy in number five, Adrian Legg, had three other top 100 albums listed. I bought two of his albums on Amazon Downloads as well.

What prompted me to finally write this post when I’m still waiting for the Michael Hedges and Phil Keaggy CDs? Yesterday evening, Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation, the portfolio company that I spend the majority of my time with/on) IM’ed me this video of Andy Mckee. It’s the first time he’s recommended any music to me, so, to humor him, I bought all three of Andy Mckee’s albums that were available on Amazon Downloads. 😉

I wasn’t a very careful consumer though. While I think Andy is wonderful, there are four songs that are on both his Art Of Motion and Dreamcatcher albums, so I now own two copies of each of those…

Whew, I think that’s most of what’s been screaming in my head on this topic. One last thing though. I need to contact Bill Cooley one last time in 2007, and ask him (or beg him) to put his music up for sale at Amazon.com, and iTunes as well. It’s very hard to promote him to others when it’s difficult to buy his stuff online. At the very least, his new album (coming sometime in 2008) better be available for download! Now, if I could twist his arm to put up a YouTube video or two… 😉