Last.fm fell into an interesting predicament a few years back. Furiously popular, enough to be purchased by CBS Interactive in 2007 for roughly $280 million, the site appears to have passed its prime.
I love my music stats, it’s one of the factors I look at every December when compiling my end-of-year lists, but I don’t live by the site anymore like was once the case. Years ago it was amazing to visit Last.fm and see what friends were listening to. It was organic social music discovery before music services knew that’s what they were even looking for. Now with spotify, Facebook, and other avenues producing the same results, I don’t visit Last.fm. I don’t get the urge to take advantage of any of their music features, and it appears others don’t as well. It’s been years since I heard someone mention Last.fm naturally in conversation or even for practical use. The times I do visit are in-between other tasks, simply to fill time, which isn’t very often.
The problem now, maybe always, Last.fm is a backbone, a utility, rather than a consumer product. Though scrobbling wasn’t fully merged with the site until 2005, it’s the first thought that comes to mind, it is what makes Last.fm what it is and was. The invaluable data it collects on your music listening across services is just not enough to save it. Is tracking listening habits across different services still an issue? Absolutely, in fact, maybe more so with so many different services, but it’s the lack of mainstream appeal that will cause the slow decay. In the same way the majority of people will move onto tablets and small devices for their everyday computing, so will Last.fm slowing become a distant memory.
In 2009 the site announced they had 30 million users. Hopefully, before the momentum turns on them, the site can figure out a new approach to grab back their mindshare. Before people forget they have the scrobbler installed. Beyond the obvious streaming service, music news, concerts, and other similar areas, I’m not sure where they would bulk up to become the dominant player again. It was the lack of thinking about Last.fm that caused me to realize they had slipped from being a desire to being caught in the friend zone, a place no site wants to live.