It's like a very intimate radio show, where you get to set the tone and choose the tempo – and to some extent even the playlist, because you can skip over songs you don't like. There's an official Last.fm client and a few other options, too, so you don't have to connect to the site through your browser, but can have a client running in the background while you continue to work in other applications.
When you install the Last.fm software, it starts to upload to your Last.fm account a list of all the music you play in iTunes or on your iPod – which is known as 'scrobbling'. Your scrobbled music listening habits and preferences are then matched to your profile, which enables Last.fm to make recommendations of music that you might enjoy.
Pandora is a similar idea, based on the Music Genome Project, but unfortunately it's not available in the UK because of licensing restrictions. When you scrobble a track, it shows up immediately on your Last.fm page.
The social aspect of the site starts to come into play when you take a look at the music that other people who're listening to the same artist might like. You pretty quickly work your way into a web of recommendations and a rich sea of new music. And then, like other social sites such as Facebook, you can make 'Friends' on the site, and Last.fm will show you how similar your music tastes are on the basis of all the music you've each scrobbled.
The official Last.fm software is pretty universally held to be bloated, but there are alternatives around, many of them hosted on Last.fm's community extras site. Built-in scrobbling is another reason that CoverSutra makes such a great iTunes controller.
We've mentioned just a few ways to work with your music collections – they're a solid basis for digging deeper, but of course there's much more you can do. The iPod has revolutionised the way we listen to music, and perhaps its greatest feature is its simplicity and the intelligence of its design.
It's well worth taking some time to get to know its less obvious features, though, as well as those of its best pal, iTunes.
First published in MacFormat, Issue 201
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