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In search of better scrobbling: Some recent improvements to Last.fm

Scrobbler

A joyous scrobbler from last.fm.

After announcing some changes to their “scrobbler API” last week, the developers at Last.fm have decided to pay closer attention to user feedback on their blog, various discussion forums, and “elsewhere.” As a result, Last.fm recently announced a series of improvements to their website in an article titled “The artist feedback loop” on the blog portion of their website. Before elaborating on these changes, here’s how Last.fm actually works.

What’s “scrobbling?”

scrobble: skrob-bul

[verb] To automatically add the tracks you play to your Last.fm profile with a piece of software called a Scrobbler.

As explained on the Last.fm website, “the scrobbling API defines how data gets transmitted to Last.fm every time you listen to a song. Scrobblers are incredibly important to us. They’re the building blocks of your music profile, and put together, they power basically everything that Last.fm knows about music.”

Essentially powering the entire website, the Scrobbler depends on a community of users who use the software to fill their music libraries on Last.fm with music that they’ve been listening to on their computers or ipods. If this sounds appealing to you, the software can be found here.

To be a little more technical, another name for Scrobble API is “submissions protocol,” which defines “scrobbling” as “the submission of now-playing and recent historical track data to Last.fm user profiles.” The protocol consists of three stages: handshake, now-playing, and submission, and Last.fm states, “Typically a client should perform the handshake once at the start of a listening session and then use the values returned to perform as many now-playing and submission requests as required (i.e. the handshake does not need to be performed for every track submitted just once).”

A handshake, the initial negotiation with the submissions server to establish authentication and connection details for the session, must occur each time a client is started, and additionally if failures are encountered later on in the  submission process. The now-playing notification, the “optional lightweight notification of now-playing data at the start of the track for realtime information purposes,” tells Last.fm when a track has started playing, and “submission” allows for the submission of full track data at the end of the track for statistical purposes.

The call for feedback

On March 18th the developers of Last.fm posted this in their discussion forums, requesting user feedback for the next version of the Scrobble API. Here’s a list of some of the proposed changes:

  • The Scrobble API will become part of the Last.fm Web Services API under a new “Scrobble” package.
  • A separate client id is no longer necessary.
  • More detailed error messages.
  • The removal of loving and banning of tracks from the Scrobble API.
  • The XSPF playlist will contain a “stream id” for each song.
  • The (optional) ability to send the album artist in cases where this is not be the same as the track artist.
  • An optional track duration parameter.
  • Sending single scrobbles will be a different API call to sending batched scrobbles.

But does it scrobble?

Based on the initial round of user feedback, Last.fm developers posted an article titled “But does it scrobble?” to announce their plans for the new Scrobble API. Mentioning that their list of changes is being released  as a “request for comment” for developers and the user community, the Last.fm developers listed the following (see the link for a full list):

  • Improved ability to track the use of scrobble applications.
  • Corrections information will be  returned where relevant.
  • More specific listener feedback because loves, bans and skips can be tied to a specific radio stream, not just to a particular track.
  • More detailed error messages.
  • Third party developers will be able to  upload their own icons which will show up on a Last.fm user’s profile when they are listening with a particular scrobbler.

Yes, it does!

After consulting the second round of data, the developers of Last.fm posted an article titled “Yes, it does!“which describes a renewed focus based largely on user feedback.

According to the post, scrobbling forms the basis of one of the core missions of Last.fm: helping users make the most of their music listening across a variety of services and platforms by saving it all in one place, their Last.fm profile. In an attempt to consolidate some of the music services offered by Scrobble, Last.fm, along with Spotify, MOG, and The Hype Machine, is launching a new “track page beta” with the hopes of also working with We7 and VEVO in the near future. As a result, Last.fm will no longer be hosting music videos as it gradually integrates video from Youtube and VEVO.

Ultimately, Last.fm aspires to “efficiently connect any user to ALL of the relevant streaming options in their country for every track we know about, as  well as being able to  personalize listening prefernces Last.fm-wide.”

Disclaimer: “To clarify,  today’s changes don’t affect Last.fm radio stations at all, just single-track playback on the website.  Radio is one of our flagship music discovery features and has  long been the  most popular way to stream music on Last.fm; we’ll keep improving it in future. Play on!”

The artist feedback loop

Featured in the “Yes, it does!” article is another set of announcements titled “the artist feedback loop,” including additional information on Music Manager for independent artsits (allows them to upload their tracks), streaming services, and royalties.

The new Scrobble API will offer a “Play direct from artist” option which will allow unsigned artists who hold global rights to their music to soon be able to again offer tracks in full to their fans via their track pages. Because these plays will be considered promotional, the tracks will not accrue royalties (although the tracks on Last.fm radio will still continue to accrue royalties). Although the developers have a few more improvements in mind, their intentions are to focus on the development and release of the “Play direct from artist” feature.

It’ll be interesting to see where they end up!


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