Last.fm got an update a few weeks ago, its first visual upgrade since 2008. Coincidentally, I discovered Last.fm’s update on the same day that I discovered that I can’t use Snapchat on my phone until I update to the latest software. The Last.fm update forces Spotify integration, despite the fact many people used Last.fm as a Spotify alternative. These events are representative of Last.fm’s scramble for monetization of an audience: but at what cost? With the addition of Russia’s banning of the website this week for hosting the song “Kill a Cop”, it seems likely that Last.fm will bleed a slow, exhaustive death.
I don’t really know much about UI/UX development, but from an aesthetic perspective, it seems to me like the Web 2.0 look (massive block images, huge text, mobile optimized, metro/material design) makes the website seem extremely dated. The site was last revamped in 2008, with a design much praised for its simplicity and easiness to navigate. One of the things that made Last.fm so appealing was the minimal, easy to navigate interface of charts and readily accessible information. The 2015 update is a clunky and trendy eyesore designed to entice the music streaming crowd and the smartphone users. It’s kind of like an uncanny valley Spotify. There is now much less information taking up precious screen real estate — the design is now optimized so people can thumbmash the large photos and giant text on their phones.
Last.fm’s functionality is all fucky as well, as is to be expected when a “Beta” is released way too early. I think one of the worst aspects of the change is being forced into something that’s still obviously in beta and nowhere near being functionally complete. Awkwardly pixellated banners (ads?) appear stretched across the top of the site with no explanation, no “now scrobbling” function exists. Events are missing and/or obsolete. Album art no longer appears next to the scrobbling track. The format was changed from the canonical ‘Artist – Song’ to ‘Song – Artist’, for some reason choosing to ignore the long held formatting convention. It makes makes the site look super disorganized and messy.
If this seems petty, what looks better?
Spun — Babes in Toyland
Bruise Violet— Babes in Toyland
Handsome and Gretel — Babes in Toyland
Bluebell — Babes in Toyland
Same Old Man — Karen Dalton
When a Man Loves a Woman — Karen Dalton
Take Me — Karen Dalton
Something On Your Mind — Karen Dalton
Babes in Toyland – Spun
Babes in Toyland – Bruise Violet
Babes in Toyland – Handsome and Gretel
Babes in Toyland – Bluebell
Karen Dalton – Same Old Man
Karen Dalton – When a Man Loves a Woman
Karen Dalton – Take Me
Karen Dalton – Something on Your Mind
It seems like the devs at Last.fm completely prioritized the wrong things with this update. The cute animations on the front page can smoothly tell me that the most popular band in the US is Tame Impala or that “Meat is Murder” was a rock song from the 1980s. The trendy (but useless) charts are definitely an ripoff of Spotify’s global music streaming stats. Though these trivial details work fine, the performance of the practical aspects of Last.fm is abysmally low. Users currently are not able to delete scrobbles, love tracks, or leave shouts. Seriously, I’d forfeit the motion graphics for functional charts.
Besides the bloated functionality, the update has removed the essential social media-like quality of the website. To many users, Last.fm felt like a time capsule. The 2015 update has blanched any type of individuation on the profile page. There are now no widgets, no custom images, no text, no website link, no charts. Groups that people have invested years into are gone, journals are wiped, profile descriptions lost in favor of serving more advertisements. There are no more “friends”, which are now instead called “followers”. The user profile is blank and impersonal.
The design of something certainly signals its intent, and Last.fm’s latest update is so obviously a departure from it’s socially driven past. Last.fm’s transition is emblematic of a larger trend in UI/UX design to cater to mobile users and advertisers. The devs tried way too hard to make Last.fm something it never was, and in the process destroyed the community that has been built over the last decade. CBS Interactive is so clearly out of touch with its audience, and it seems the new Last.fm will go the way of myspace. As a casual user who would check the site every 1-2 weeks, I definitely won’t be using Last.fm anymore. The removal of the personalization makes the website much more neutered, much less personal, much more product-focused. A place for music discovery, analytics, and discussion, becomes another place to get advertised to.
Here’s a petition you can sign, if so inclined.