December 11, 2010
March 8, 2009
Hi, I am a newcomer in the world of blogs. Most of my blogs will be about the Last.fm community, though I may take a few detours. My insights and design claims about the community can be found here and I am open to comments and critics.
March 7, 2009
The community that I am studying is Last.fm which is a website based on music. Last.fm’s basic feature is a recommendation system (item-item) which plays songs according to one’s prior selections. They publicize the fact that the more one listens the better it gets. Once a song is being played it can either be ‘loved’ (added to recommendation) or ‘banned’, which is then used to determine the next song. Users can start from a particular artist and the player plays songs from other artists of similar genre. Basically a music based community, the website content spans from music, videos, and artists to forums, groups, and blogs to events, promotions and contests. Therefore the site supports a number of interaction paradigms.
While music is the main theme which drives the community the site has all the features of a social networking site. When the website started; it had more of the music related features but slowly it evolved into an existent community space for music lovers, much like Wenger described the need for evolution . Since each user has to login into the site so that the system maintains their preferences, the system automatically creates a personal profile page of each user. This page consists of the user profile data, music he has heard recently, bands and groups he belongs to, his ‘shouts’ page (like wall posts) and his music library. There is also a mini-feed about latest activities like Facebook which can be accessed from the profile page.
The forums, groups and blogs on the other hand have more community generated content. These pages each deal with three different aspects and realms which are true for any other e-community. The forums basically deal with support and general discussions while the groups are based on music genre, bands or fan clubs. Any user can create or join the group as long as he has the owner’s consent. The blogs on the other hand are personal insights from individuals who want to share their thoughts based on music, bands and new feature add.
According to Wenger, the main attributes of any community are participants, purpose and the community. To define the participants it is of utmost necessary to define the domain as the community based on a particular theme tends to attract a particular set of users. As obvious from the brief introduction the domain of the community in general is ‘Music’. If we dig deeper into the community we find that the domain is more of getting people together who has similar taste.
Apart from this the site also extends into a number of different domains of web applications, desktop applications, widgets as well as information visualization. All these are based on tools to interact with the amount of data related to music that is present on the site. These increase the number of ways the participants can interact with the site. There are also special applications called ‘scrobblers’ which in effect keep a record of the music played. All these applications and many other are available for hacking, building and modifying these systems. The domain can therefore also be thought as an application development as there are quite a few users whose main activity is to visit the site for development.
The latest figure puts the number of active users to 21 million based on more than 200 countries which means that the users are widely distributed over geography as well as culture, language and norms. The participants of the site can then be divided into three main categories based on administrative rights. First are the general music listener and enthusiast who come to the site for listening music and sharing views, critics and thoughts about a particular song, artist or any event in general. Second are the moderators who are responsible for maintaining a clean community by looking after forums, artists’ images, wikis and groups. The criteria for selection of a moderator are not very clear and it can be presumed that they are selected from the user population belonging to high usage. Also, since the community supports users from a number of different languages the moderators are divided based on language as well. Finally, the last types of users are the Last.fm administrative and development staff who are responsible for uploading latest music files onto the system (this right is not available to other users).
While the listeners make a large percentage of the users, there are a number of other participants as well. Since the site diverges into a number of different spheres each with their own characteristics and features, other participants include application developers and content providers. While application developers are in general interested in the beta testing and hacking, content providers consists of new bands and music labels. These groups find interest in the community because of the advertisement they can get from it. They can post their music online for people to listen, analyze the data about their listeners, publicize their events as well as get a royalty for each of the songs played.
By enabling features like ‘shouts’, groups etc they first created a user base which could interact with each other, listen to what others are listening and recommend and share songs with others. Also, features on the groups like group members, discussions, recent activity, and shouts tend to create a speaking place for the members of that group and stay connected with people who have similar taste in music. Therefore by creating a social network they have increased their user base from music listeners to music enthusiasts. The community is then thriving by evolving at each stage. First it created a user base from the open music available and then used this user base to attract the providers of these music and songs. And even though a major redesign was not well accepted by the present users, effective strategies to attract new users lead to an increase in the user base by almost 20% .
The main activities that the community engages itself in, which is of interest and which can be observed easily ranges from listening, sharing, tagging, filtering music to sharing views about a topic in hand. The activities of sharing and tagging are personal in nature and is used a particular user to share/tag a track. The feature of music compatibility helps the user to identify other users with similar likes, whom they can add as friend and listen to their selection of music. While these personal activities and pages are moderated by the user himself, group and community activities are moderated by an assigned moderator. Other activities include posting on forums where the users reply in quick succession to each other on topics of general interest and writing blogs. Any user can add comment at one of these pages i.e. personal, artist page, group, blog and forum.
The site in their community guidelines mention “Our goal is to create a connected environment that is fun, unique, enriching and safe by encouraging our users to conduct themselves with a high degree of integrity, decency and respect.” The community also mentions the need to avoid commercial messages, diverging from the topic, breaking the law (copyright) and most important of all to be respectful to others. Considering the fanaticism with which music drives the followers and low barriers for entry, irregular behavior is highly anticipated. There are points of conflict as the community has both die hard followers of a band as well as users who hate them. There are therefore a number of anti-groups. These groups also have a large user population participating in them and which is constantly trying to degrade the value of a particular band. Also, since the number of moderators is very less (equal to 25) therefore it is very difficult to put a screener on all the activities. Many activities go un-moderated and are at times are abusive in nature.
As it is evident from above the community as a whole is very big and also very active. Posts in groups and walls are updated every minute because of such activity. Therefore, although the main interaction is to play music, to keep the study in scope I plan to focus more upon the secondary interactions like users’ interaction on group pages which belong to two opposite genre. For the same purpose I want to observe a specified set of users who although in the community belong to different demographics so that the study can present some interesting evaluation on cross culture interactions within communities. Basically I want to compare e-communities with two contrasting themes and participants to analyze how the issues related to such sub-communities like entry barrier, formation and group interaction vary with the design decisions.
 Wenger et.al. Chapter 3, “Building Communities of Practice”.
 Ben Cardew . “Music Week – Last.fm claims controversial re-design a success”, Musicweek.com, http://www.musicweek.com/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=1035180&c=1.