Three Rock Mountain  

The Last radio station you'll ever need

This is one of those modern technology "Gee-whiz, look at this gizmo" pieces that will probably date really, really badly, so I've stuck it in an obscure corner of my website in order that I can deny all knowledge of it later, much like gushing reviews of the amazing computer graphics in 'The Lawnmower Man' which once inspired crowds to come marvel but are now regarded as an undesirable momento of times past, like an aged distant relative with a gas problem that you can't disown no matter how much you might want to. Don't bother getting it out on DVD, it's not that good

Once upon a time technological marvels were trumpeted with the tagline "It has more computing power than was used for the Apollo moonshots". This was in the good old days when the USA actually had a Military-Industrial Complex and we were all afraid that the Russians were going to invade (with guns, not with plumbing and electrical tools as actually happened). To be more precise, this was in nthe good old days when people actually knew what you were on about when you referred to the Apollo moonshots. Those of you under 35 can click here for some extra study and come back to us when you're ready. Of course time and technology have moved on to such an extent that my mobile phone probably has more computing power than the Apollo guidance computer. It certainly has more memory than the hard drive of the PC I had after I graduated from college.

Incidentally, while we're on the subject of moon landings, I thought you might enjoy this site which claims the whole thing was a hoax and Capricorn One was in fact a documentary. In the interests of balance, this site posits answers to all the first's challenges such as nutty shadow angles and who was filming Neil Armstrong from the moon's surface as he stepped down to become the first person to step upon it.

Anyways, this is a column about Web 2.0 - this is a title that geeks give to websites that have a degree of interactivity. It makes them look cutting edge and ahead of the curve, rather than just a bunch of sad geeks sitting around posting on each other's bulletin boards using the names of characters from Lord Of The Rings.

Regular readers of this column will be familiar with passing mention of MySpace. A social networking site, the founder (a bloke called Tom) opens up the servers to bands and general hangers on such as yours truly. We write all the content, then Tom sells the whole thing to Rupert Murdoch, who decides that having a load of blokes flirting with girls and arranging to meet their mates down the boozer constitutes a valid Web 2.0 business model.

Next up was YouTube, where you can actually upload blurry videos of you and your mates in the pub as a kind of exhibitionist home movie. More entertainingly, the girl might flirt back and if you're recording what her webcam picks up you have another type of exhibitionist home movie, albeit one that's not likely to remain posted on a public website for long.

Most recently, I've come across Last FM an internet music station. Unlike rebroadcasts of normal radio stations on the web, this is something different. If you simply call up the homepage, it invites you to type in the name of a band you like and then streams tunes of similar groups, all without commercial break. Copyright problems have been avoided by the fact that all of the music played to you has been posted to the site by the performers themselves (or their labels).

When you sign up to the site, it takes on a whole other dimension however. Signing up is free and relatively painless, but you're prompted to download a device called an 'audioscrobbler'. This little widget is the key to the whole LastFM experience and yet the one which gives me the most pause. The audioscrobbler posts out to the LastFM servers details of any and all songs you listen to on your PC, whether through its own radio streams or MP3s saved on your hard drive. It logs and collates these and produces your very own Top Of The Pops, cataloguing your favourite artists. Being the internet, the LastFM site has clickable hyperlinks to pages about each of the artists. On those pages you can see which songs by those artists are the most popular and who is listening to them.

You get a homepage. It pops up neighbours who listen to similar music to yours. As per MySpace, you can reach out to these people and sign them up as 'friends' and get streams of what they listen to on your homepage as a form of mutually consensual voyeurism. There's a form of comment posting where you can tell your friends how much cooler they are now that they've started listening to the same music as you.

Even more impressively, after the audioscrobbler has reported back enough of your music, the system will know enough to generate your very own radio station - the very ultimate in egocasting!

The fly in the ointment for me is the audioscrobbler. You have to ask yourself - to what extent do you want to surrender privacy about your tastes and actions, just to boast to the world about how hip your taste in music is? What are people going to do with that information? Maybe not now, but those data trails aren't going to go away….

© Kevin O'Doherty 2007