I’ve been meaning to do a post on this for a while and as is the case lately, I was propelled to do so based on chatter heard on Twitter. You will hear quite a bit about services supported on the various Lifestreaming sites out there. What they often don’t tell you though, is what they are actually bringing in from the service. Beyond that, there’s also the issue of how the data is presented.
A good example of a service whose data can vary greatly is the Last.fm music service. Keep in mind that you need to be running their software on the computer you play music on for some of these feeds to be created.
Here is a list of RSS feeds they provide
- Recently listened to tracks
- Top Artists this Week
- Top Artists Overall
- Top Tracks Overall
- Events Attended
- Journal Entries
- Friends Events
- Recommended Events
Also.. there seems to be a method of pulling tracks that a user flags as “Love” on their pages (see image below). I don’t see a feed for these “loved” tracks so I’m guessing this data might be pulled via API?
Last.fm method to “Love” a track
So you can see that with all this data provided by just one service, it can be a bit confusing knowing what is going to be imported into your Lifestream if they don’t provide details up front. Now since for me a Lifestream is largely based on the real-time events happening in my life. So I prefer that at a minimum, a service use my “Recently Listened to Tracks” when importing. But even then there is the issue of how that information is presented. So let’s take a look at how a few Lifestreaming sites handle importing your Last.fm account.
Import Details: None
What’s Imported: Loved Tracks
FriendFeed only lists the tracks you have flagged as “Loved”. I had never used that feature until needing to for this post. This is limiting on many levels. The main being that not every track I listen to is listed on Last.fm so I can’t “love” it. My guess is that few FriendFeed users are using this feature either as there is almost no activity from Last.fm. This is a big negative for me as I enjoy sharing and viewing what recent music my friends are listening to. Apparently they used to provide recently played tracks (thx @dalziel) but felt those feeds were too noisy. That seems strange to me because FriendFeed clusters feeds into groups very well with a nice Ajax expansion method (see below)
FriendFeed group clustering
Import Details: They state that data based on listening to songs will be imported
What’s Imported: Recently Listened to Tracks & Top Artists this Week
Iminta does a great job of providing a popup dialog box describing what they will be importing when you add the last.fm account. They actually do a great job of this across all services and even provide details on how to set some accounts up properly. This is an extremely user friendly feature and I think they lead all sites with respect to how they handle this.
Iminta last.fm Service Dialog
They display the recent tracks by placing them in an iFrame that scrolls. Not as fancy as an Ajax expander but it gets the job done. As a bonus they also offer a feed of the top artists of the week which isn’t offered by any other service automatically. This interestingly enough seems to appear on my page on a weekly basis.
Import Details: None (You provide an RSS Feed and they provide description and last.fm icon in your feed)
What’s Imported: Recently Listened to Tracks (only feed I’ve tested)
Jaiku doesn’t support providing your Last.fm account info. What you do on their service is provide a feed you want to add (in this case recent tracks) and they recognize the Last.fm service and provide the icon and details accordingly. They also group the tracks but do it by only listing one item in the Lifestream with a subtle link listing other entries. You need to then click on the link which then loads a seperate page. Not a very fluid method compared to others.
Import Details: None
What’s Imported: Recently Listened to Tracks
Profilactic is the king of services supported, sporting 155 services as of this writing and I’m sure they will have added another batch by the time you read this. One of the big questions is what data is being brought in when you add a service. In the case of Last.fm you don’t know at the time you add them. It’s at the point that you visit your feed mashup that you realize it’s the recent tracks. Once making it onto your page, they are displayed as individual items. This is what some people will refer to as noisy. That of course depends on what you want your Lifestream to look like. One cool thing that differentiates them is that each individual track is time stamped. For instance in the case of Iminta you only have a group of recently played tracks with a single timestamp.
I really feel this post is important because with the rise of Lifestreaming services, most people are just focusing on high level features. They aren’t paying attention to subtle details. This post highlights how taking a granular look at specific functionality can differentiate services greatly in this space. This post isn’t to tell you which service has the best Last.fm support. It’s to show the need to dig a lot deeper on specific features to find the right Lifestreaming service for you. Yes, the devil is in the details and the devil will also take your service to the deadpool if you don’t pay attention to important usability issues as this race continues to be highly competitive.