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The Life of P

Late to the Last.fm Party

I first stumbled upon Last.fm about two years ago and was intrigued by its idea of storing the regularity with which you play all of your music and sharing it with others. At the time I was using Musicmatch Jukebox as my primary player, which was unfortunately not supported. I recently revisited the site and decided to join now that I tend to default to WMP11 (at least until the next release of Amarok which finally has a confirmed Windows port).

The basic idea is simple enough: download the small Last.fm client and it will watch your music player, writing (or scrobbling) to the server whenever you play a song. This updates your profile on the site with the latest songs you’ve been playing as well as charts of your weekly and overall top artists and songs. Linking up with friend’s profiles it will also tell you how compatible your music tastes are. It’s all very Web 2.0 but has the unusual advantage that its premise is actually grounded in something that people already want. People have always wanted to share music with their friends and find out what their friends are listening to in order to discover new bands. Last.fm actually provides a surprisingly intuitive way to do this.

I’ve already linked up with Philly J, El, Jon and Louis. Let me know if you’re using it as well. No doubt my played songs will reveal a few dirty secrets and guilty pleasures, but my alibi is that Kirsten also uses this computer. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

One of my major gripes with Firefox has always been its lack of true fullscreen browsing. It still leaves far too much clutter that while not using much real estate is still distracting when I want to browse fullscreen. This has finally been fixed with the excellent Autohide add-on. This lets you select exactly which elements remain in fullscreen mode and which should be autohidden (i.e. until you move your mouse over them). Decent fullscreen performance is a feature I think should be incorporated into the main browser, but until then this add-on certainly does the trick.

4 Comments

  1. It sounded like a bad idea to me by the end of the first sentence, then came ‘Web 2.0’ and I was reaching for the nearest baseball bat.

    Incidentally, are the RIAA your friends as well?

    ‘Privacy was invented the day people stopped believing that God knew everything they were doing, it died when Governments decided to take His place’ or something along those lines.

    Now, we have people who vermently protect their privacy from the government, and yet openly destroy it for the ‘benefits’ of automatic social networking.

    We could of course all take the attitude that because people only have a concept called ‘privacy’ because we might each be ashamed to admit what we’re doing if we can’t see that everyone else is doing it.

    But until that day, I have no desire whatsoever to admit to the world that I’m listening to ABBA or something equally shameful, and I certiainly don’t want to reveal that I listen to it *all the time*.

    And you’re trying to shift the blame off onto your girlfriend?

    What is the world coming to?

  2. Okay, so I admit the “Web 2.0” line was bait. Mostly for you. The term certainly has negative connotations for me too, but I was highlighting the difference between this and most services under the same moniker which invent some “need” to attract users.

    When we talk about privacy from the government, I’m not entirely sure we mean to what music we choose to listen (though if they secretly tap my hi-fi I still have a right to be annoyed). Running websites for years before these various social networking systems popped up, I am all too aware of the fact this stuff is all going into the public domain (vis a vis friends, future employers and anyone else — because I know they read this stuff). But I still choose what ends up there, and for me the benefits have always outweighed the negatives.

    The bottom line is that so long as I am confident that I am in control of what content is broadcast, I remain satisfied. The Last.fm client can be deactivated in moments should I wish to listen to something suitably salacious or dangerous. In return I get to see what gigs friends are attending which they may not have told me about since they don’t know I like the band.

    But the truth is I don’t mind people knowing my music taste, even the stranger bits. Conversely you won’t see me posting YouTube videos of me fumbling with a rugby ball (What? It was compulsory school!) because that’s not part of the image I wish to broadcast.

    We all know everyone wears a mask when they interact socially. The internet is very much a tool for individuals to broadcast their own “mask” more strongly and further afield, to be seen as they want to be seen. All this “social networking” stuff falls into the same boat — automated or not, so long as you choose with which to get involved, it’s part of that mask.

  3. Kirsten

    29 November 2006 at 11:20 am

    “And you’re trying to shift the blame off onto your girlfriend?

    What is the world coming to?”

    Exactly. I agree. :d And “Spaceman Came Travelling” is a good song. 😛

  4. >Okay, so I admit the “Web 2.0” line was bait. Mostly for you.

    I was aware of that, and so I responded as I thought you would appreciate 🙂

    I’m still in the process of judging the effectiveness of several technical attacks against this music system, so I won’t comment too much about that, but generally there are serious, and as yet underappreciated attacks against social networking systems….

    >which invent some “need” to attract users.

    Indeed, though this occasionally works. As usual with new technologies, especially ones which involve humans, there’s a process of near random search until the world settles down and decides what it can actually use. (Witness .com 1.0)

    >When we talk about privacy from the government, I’m not entirely sure we mean to what music we choose to listen (though if they secretly tap my hi-fi I still have a right to be annoyed).

    Indeed, I was being flipant. There is a general point though in that people are angry at anyone who decides to break their privacy, however they will often sell their privacy for very little indeed if offered. My serious point is there is a massive asymmetry in this, which depends on the users’ view of the people doing the disruption.

    Witness, Google’s progressive fall from grace, it’s OK for a small friendly company (Google in the early days), to destroy your privacy, esp. if they’re small, however the likes of Microsoft are ‘evil’ if they do the same thing, because they’re big, powerful and not very friendly.

    So if the government was smart about acquiring information they’d set up a whole bunch of no-home startups, and use them to havest information in cross-correlation attacks, yet they’d still appear friendly and small.

    Breaking people’s privacy is (yet again) all about psychology and very little about technology.

    >The bottom line is that so long as I am confident that I am in control of what content is broadcast, I remain satisfied.

    I agree, and I seriously doubt that this predicate is satisfied by most systems.

    >The Last.fm client can be deactivated in moments should I wish to listen to something suitably salacious or dangerous.

    Hmmm… This type of argument has a long history of not working. It’s very vulnerable to usability attacks that manipulate the properties of the interface (Church 2006, PPIG), showed that user interface attacks to essentially remove any ‘enable-disable’ operations that were needed to ensure privacy etc.

    Further, there may well be covert channels in the files that can be manipulated (e.g. Metadata) such that it can be arranged that you’re playing one thing when it reports to the music service that you’re playing another.

    So there are all sorts of nasty reputation damaging things that can be done. My initial security analysis of a social networking site argued that the only way to defend against this, was the way society does it, using statisitcal behaviours and trust paths.

    Your music service stands some chance at that kind of game, because it’s simple enough, however other major social networking systems we use are chronically more vulnerable.

    >But the truth is I don’t mind people knowing my music taste, even the stranger bits.

    Sure, but in many way’s that’s not the point. Yeah, you’re willing to sell your privacy fine, but the social processes that are designed to cope with slander/libel don’t translate properly into the online version, and so consequently they have substantial reputation manipulation attacks.

    All of this is the kind of thing that happens when we indulge too much in technologising social processes. Security is very very hard even on processes that are technically very simple to model, when we start doing the same on social processes, the likelyhood of it going wrong with current technical ability is close to certainty.

    We just haven’t (yet) seen any wide-scale attacks.

    >so long as you choose with which to get involved, it’s part of that mask.

    Indeed. As was always the case, I mearly wish to point out that I don’t think people have understood the way that the mask can be manipulated before rushing in to building the systems. Consequently if one wanted to they could cause substantial damage as the technology becomes more accepted.

    It’s an interesting area, and is typical of security, people deploy things without thinking too hard, make a lot of money and then have the consequences of their actions shown to them and spend substantial effort putting the piece back together again. I don’t state that this is a good or bad thing, mearly the way it tends to work.

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