Last.fm’s non-silence speaks volumes

Although I hate to jump on the whole “Day The Music Died” thing — which I think is a little over the top — I find it interesting that while a whole bunch of Web radio companies, including Yahoo Music and Pandora, are turning off their streams in order to protest the increase in licensing fees for Web broadcasting, Last.fm has decided not to, which has caused some consternation in the blogosphere, including this post at TechCrunch by Duncan Riley.

snipshot_e47fptthesl.jpgRiley says that the Last.fm decision could risk a backlash from users, and in a follow-up post at TechCrunch, Mike Arrington raises the issue of whether the company’s decision has something to do with it having become part of CBS, the media conglomerate that bought it for $280-million not too long ago. Last.fm, in a blog post in its defence, says: “We do not want to punish our listeners for our problems, period.” The company argues that royalty rates are a fact of life, and that because it is based in the UK it has had to deal with them for a long time, etc. It says the industry should fight for fairness, but that turning off Internet radio even for a day “is just plain wrong.”

While the idea that users should come first is an appealing one — and companies like craigslist.org have certainly prospered by making it a mantra — Last.fm’s argument seems a little disingenuous. If the doubling of radio royalty rates takes effect (Stan Schroeder at Frantic Industries has a nice overview of the issues, as does the SaveNetRadio site), small streaming companies could go under. That would obviously leave Last.fm in a pretty sweet position.

I’m not saying that’s why Last.fm made the decision it did. I don’t know the company or the founders, so I can’t judge. I’m just saying it looks kind of fishy — especially when Yahoo and RealNetworks and others have joined the protest. Turning off the stream for a single day doesn’t seem like a huge issue to make a point, and I would bet that Last.fm’s users would probably support the move.

(Incidentally, Pandora has been inaccessible to Canadians for more than a month, after the company turned off access to Canadian IP addresses because it couldn’t afford to reach licensing deals with all the record labels for Canada as well as the U.S.)

Is Friendster coming back? Puh-leeze

Matt Marshall over at Venture Beat has a post up about Friendster with a “returning from the dead” kind of vibe: Matt points out that the site — which is kind of the poster boy for early social-networking success, followed by equally rapid failure — has had what he calls a “massive” 40-per-cent jump in page views in May, to 9 billion (Facebook gets about 11 billion a month).

snipshot_e4h9jcpu7jw.jpgOf course, Matt also explains most of the reason for that growth by saying the site has adopted similar techniques as are used by Facebook and MySpace — which generates a mind-boggling 3 billion page views every day — including forcing you to click multiple times to get anywhere. Is that something to be proud of? Not in my book. There’s also a table in Matt’s post that tells a different story — and what I think is a far more worthwhile one when comparing sites: it’s a table of unique visitors at the different social networks.

Over the past six months, Friendster’s unique visitor numbers have grown by about 30 per cent, while MySpace’s have grown by about 20 per cent. And Facebook.com? Over 100 per cent in the same period, and close to 30 per cent in the last month alone. To me, that’s the whole story right there — something I wish Megan McCarthy had pointed out at Valleywag instead of just pointing to Matt’s post. I wish we could get away from the focus on page views.

Facebook is IKEA, MySpace is Las Vegas

Danah Boyd, a sociologist and researcher in the U.S. who specializes in youth culture and online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, has posted a draft version of a new paper she is writing on what might loosely be referred to as “class divisions” between the two popular social networking sites. Although she says that the differences between the two audiences are not strictly class-based, there appears to be a clear difference between teens who gravitate to one versus the other.

For the most part, Boyd says, the younger users on MySpace are what she calls “subaltern” — a term meaning subordinate, or lower in station — in the sense that they are outcasts in some way or another, either because they are involved in a social sub-group of some kind (i.e., they are gay, or goth) or they are a member of a racial or cultural group that is non-mainstream (i.e., Hispanic, Asian, etc.). As she puts it:

“The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college… they are primarily white, but not exclusively.

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm.”

Boyd admits that some of these differences are likely a result of the ways in which Facebook and MySpace evolved. The latter started as a social network for music fans to share information about their favourite bands, whereas Facebook started as a social network that was restricted to university students and faculty — and therefore has had a collegiate type of appeal ever since.

The different approaches taken by MySpace and Facebook extend to design as well — MySpace is much more chaotic and colourful, while Facebook is more clean and austere — and therefore the ways that the two sites are perceived by their users is different too, Boyd says:

“Teens who use Facebook see MySpace as “gaudy, immature, and “so middle school.” They prefer the “clean” look of Facebook, noting that it is more mature and that MySpace is “so lame.” What hegemonic teens call gaudy can also be labeled as “glitzy” or “bling” or “fly” (or what my generation would call “phat”) by subaltern teens.

That “clean” or “modern” look of Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design house (that I admit I’m drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year.”

Boyd has a blog post with comments about the paper here, and some of the comments are well worth reading.

Update:

Nick Denton injects some of his patented Valleywag skepticism here. And Joey “Accordion Guy” deVilla was at a recent presentation at the Harvard Berkman Center on Internet and Society that Danah gave about her research, and he has an extremely comprehensive set of notes if you’re interested in more detail. And Danah has posted her own thoughts on the reaction her post has gotten.