From London comes Last.fm, a sort of cross between Pandora and Friendster. The short of it: Users create profiles and, as with Pandora, listen to radio stations customized to their tastes. The ghost in the machine then attempts to suggest new music to listeners who are game, as well as introduce users to other members and groups with similar tastes. It's an interesting concept, and like Pandora, it's free, which leaves little room for complaints. It's possible, though, that Last.fm has bitten off more than it can chew by attempting to make the site a social network as well; only time will tell whether Friendsters and MySpacers have room in their hearts (and workdays) for yet another social networking site. The good news is that the social aspect is but one tiny facet of an otherwise extremely successful music service.
While Last.fm is far more involved than Pandora, it is also far more popular. It's not the customized radio stations that make it better or worse--both sites produce pretty similar results--it's the ease of use and availability of options. For instance, Last.fm's player uses its own free software (which you must download), so if your browser crashes, your device still plays, as long as there's still an Internet connection. However, this also means you must download the software wherever you want to listen to Last.fm, whereas you can access Pandora simply by opening a Web page on any Internet-connected computer.
Of course, Last.fm offers a bit more in the extras department. There are artist-profile pages; lists of artists similar to an artist you like, based on the tastes of other Last.fm users; and the excellent ability to tag a song. Tagging is just what it sounds like--if you label a song 80's new wave or Saturday Night, you can search your music picks by the tags you created (you can also give a song more than one tag). Users can also search other people's tags--and ogle other user profiles, if one so desires.