Untangling Web 2.0

An aspiring information professional shedding light on the Web 2.0 phenomenon

Last.fm – Leveraging the Long Tail

on May 4, 2013

Last.fm is a music website that takes note of the music you currently listen to, and uses a technique called scrobbling to provide you with recommendations of similar music that you may also enjoy.


Headphones Smiley [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved from http://jekhinji.deviantart.com/art/Headphones-Smiley-60513279

Last.fm is a great example of Chris Anderson’s theory of the Long Tail and follows Tim O’ Reilly’s best practice recommendations in one of his patterns of Web 2.0, Leveraging the Long Tail.

Leveraging the Long Tail is all about taking advantage of the connectability of the Internet to reach smaller markets that were once not economically viable to exploit. Production and distribution costs are much lower, and your users can do a lot of the work for you, in terms of recruiting new users and contributing content.

The clip below features two classmates discussing the Long Tail theory – I’m not sure why one of the characters is dressed as a ninja though!

So now that you have an understanding of Long Tail theory, here are some of the ways that Last.fm Leverages the Long Tail.

1) Build on the driving forces of the Long Tail

a) Democratised tools of production

Last.fm aggregates its products by encouraging artists and labels to upload their work. More importantly than that though, Last.fm heavily relies on scrobbling and its API to provide its service, so really, it wouldn’t exist without its users’ contributions!

b) Decreased cost of consumption by virtue of democratised distribution.

Last.fm’s users play an important role in sharing what they’re listening to on the site. There is the option to log in with a Facebook account which will share your Last.fm activity for all on your friends list to see, and you can share sounds on Twitter, Google Plus and by email.

c) New forms of connecting supply and demand

I personally think that this is the area in which Last.fm particularly excels and distinguishes itself from other music websites that are taking advantage of the Long Tail phenomenon, eg. SoundCloud. Last.fm already knows in great detail what type of music you as an individual are listening to and their recommendation system strategically connects product to user. This level of personalisation is completely necessary as there are so many musical genres and such a vast amount of content on Last.fm.

2) Use algorithmic data management to match supply and demand

So, as I just explained, scrobbling is a great data management method but Last.fm uses other ways too. The most popular genres being listened to at any given moment are listed on the homepage, showing exactly how many people are listening.

(3) Use an architecture of participation to match supply and demand

Users can leave comments on every track and can also write and edit summaries of artists. This is an example of harnessing collective intelligence. In order to control the wisdom of the crowds, users need to log in to their account to contribute to the site and are able to flag inappropriate content.

(4) Leverage customer self-service to cost effectively reach the entire web

Everything on Last.fm is pretty much self-service, from setting up and managing your profile, to troubleshooting your problems. Users even answer each other’s questions  on the help forum!  The site is available in a number of languages as well, so anyone, anywhere, with an Internet connection can connect with Last.fm!

(5) Leverage the low-cost advantages of being online

Last.fm saves on customer service by providing a great search and filtering service, they save on advertising because their users are spreading the word, and they save on production and distribution costs… now that’s what I call smart money!

I’ll end this post with an ethical dilemma. Saskia Korsten mentions on her blog that Last.fm users are providing a ton of useful marketing information to get that level of personalisation I was talking about earlier. But this is true of many Web 2.0 applications. Has anyone been aware or bothered about this in their experiences with Web 2.0?


12 responses to “Last.fm – Leveraging the Long Tail

  1. sukhshans says:


    By allowing providing services such as recommendation and suggestion, Last.fm has indeed tapped into the market of the long tail. In terms of the music collection, does Last.fm suggest the music that is only uploaded into the site or from external too?


  2. PrapatW says:

    Hi Eve

    I think the music industry is an excellent example for long tail market. Last.fm has lots of musics including popular musics(Mainstream) and some music that most people aren’t aware of(Niche product). To answer your question, Yes I have been aware of it and No I doesn’t bothered me that much. My reason is you can get lots of services for free. You want those services to be better so you want to contribute your effort and you also want lots of people to do the same. A lot of Web 2.0 collect our information. Just the data from Google and Facebook already has too much information about you. In 10 or 20 years from now, who do you think that you can trust? The one that you can see lots of their information? or none at all?

    Prapat W.

  3. ngjerfen says:

    Hi eve,

    I love last.fm! i did a blog post on last.fm on the pattern on Data is the next intel inside.

    Last.fm’s leveraged tail has been a great success where it Last.fm caters to anyone around the world that has the access to an internet connection and a PC. Many music lovers out there would adore last.fm. Last.fm reaches out to users through the use of Youtube. Youtube is a also great platform to reach out to customers base on the filtering search.

    I think Last.fm can be compared to spotify when in comes to leveraging the long tail! Cheers!

  4. evecrithary says:

    I am very impressed by Last.fm I must say! I will need to check out Spotify too! Thanks for the comment!

  5. bronwynsc says:

    Thanks for a great post, Eve. I think these types of apps are a great use of Web 2.0 and Last.fm is a great example of ‘leveraging the long tail’. I think your analysis really hit it on the head – well done.

    I noticed your question “Last.fm users are providing a ton of useful marketing information to get that level of personalisation I was talking about earlier” and whether this is a good thing. I think it is a catch 22 – where people only get the value if they release their information but the company needs to maintain their users trust by using the data carefully.

    With so many people on the web, it is easy to gain value from non-identified data eg what music is becoming most popular. This has already identified up-and-coming artists and I think is a good thing.

    However, when all of our personal information is available to all eg what we read, what we listen to etc I think we need some control over what is released where. I don’t want all my personal details on public display…but maybe I am an exception?

    • evecrithary says:

      Great points Bronwyn and thanks for the comments! I don’t really have a problem with my information being shared as long as it is not too personal, and as long as companies make it very clear to me that this what they are doing BEFORE I sign up for a service.

  6. bronwynsc says:

    Yes – terms and conditions for signing up…but who bothers to read them on their phone J

  7. Yiting Zhang says:

    Hi Eve,
    Nice blog. Last.fm is a good example of leveraging the long tail. It takes advantages of the network to do some best practices. Since it focuses on small market, that is the long tail, then what seems to be the head of this music market? I mean, what are working for the major groups..

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