Blogs + playlists = collaborative listening

Something wonderful died with Napster: the collaborative discovery and sharing of a wide diversity of music. Lucas Gonze is on a crusade to bring that experience back, legally. On his site,, users share playlists -- i.e., lists of URLs that point to MP3s that are posted on artists' websites, or that are otherwise authorized for distribution on the Web.

My first (and so far only) Webjay playlist began as a couple of tunes by Betty Dylan, a Nashville-based duo who played my hometown recently and won me over with their energy and charm. Hunting around for more Betty Dylan tunes, I ran into some other Bettys -- Betty Roche, Betty Sue -- so I included them too.

Yesterday I noticed that the Betty Roche tune had migrated into one of Lucas' playlists, Streak of lean, streak of fat, and the Betty Dylan tunes had found their way into another of Lucas' lists, The Betty Destroyer.

In a recent blog essay, Lucas talks about the collaborative filtering dynamic he hopes to encourage:

There's one song in Treebot from Tofuhut, Yusef Lateef's Strange Lullaby. There's also one song from LargeHeartedBoy, Julie Doiron's mind-blowingly beautiful Pour Toujours, and that song had gone through three generations of filtering. In fact, every song in Treebot made it through multiple cullings, and that's why it's a good playlist.

It took Tofuhut to introduce "Strange Lullaby" into the ecosystem, and if he didn't have both taste and writing ability his recommendation wouldn't have made it through. But it always takes more than one person to do collaborative filtering. I want to make the path from obsessive record collectors to the average iPod as short as possible, and that's what Webjay does for him. [Lucas Gonze, 3/18/04]
And elsewhere:
Here's the business problem: I want to help music businesses sell products, then make my money on affiliate revenues. That way everybody's incentives are lined up in the same direction. The listeners are looking for the best music, I'm trying to find the music they'll like the most. Music businesses are looking for listeners charged up to buy, I'm trying to get the listeners charged up.

So how do I do it? An Amazon search for a song title? Amazon's product database isn't big enough (hard to believe, I know) and the lookup algorithms aren't smart enough -- I need a relevance match, not a keyword search. ISRC identifiers? Good luck getting them for online music, much less matching them to vendors. So help me out here, Music Industry: given a product and a buyer, how do I find a seller? [Lucas Gonze, 3/23/04]

There are a bunch of things that frustrate me about playlists. Competing formats: m3u, smil. Inconsistent behavior: if you want your tunes (and associated images) to render as you expect, you're looking at an insane test matrix. Crappy metadata: missing or incomplete, and often hard to find. Despite all these irritations I find myself returning to Webjay for the same reasons I write this blog and read others. What I know, I want to share with others. What others know, I want to know too.

If it's easy to buy music online, I sometimes will. But first it has to be easy to find, listen to, talk about, and share tunes. The intersection of blogs and playlists isn't yet nearly as smooth an experience it should be, but the ideas that motivate are exactly right.

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