Can Spotify finally fill Launch void?

While social networks get more sophisticated and online video (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, streaming sports) gets better and better and better, online music is an area that has frankly gone backward.

No one will ever convince me that Pandora and Last.fm are better than Launch, the old service Yahoo ran.

Launch was simple but sophisticated. You could listen to a genre radio station and rate songs — 100, 90, 80 on down to “X.” An “X” meant you wouldn’t hear that song again. (If you changed your mind, it wasn’t hard to undo.) The more you listened, the more Launch understood your preferences and played songs (and comedy routines) that fit. I discovered so much new music that way.

And you could still vary things by mood or occasion. I could tell it I wanted quieter fare for background or stuff that really rocked.

Pandora isn’t bad. You can pick genre stations and mix them up a little bit. Yet it’s a little erratic. Add too much variety, and it doesn’t know what to pick. You can’t rate by number — just “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” — and your preferences are only recorded on that particular “station.” In other words, I can tell it I really don’t want to hear Matt Nathanson on the alt-pop “station,” but then I have to tell it again on the “Metric” station.

I finally made peace with it when I compiled most of my “thumbs up” songs onto one station and used them as “seed” songs, but even so, it tends to play five songs reflecting one “seed” and then five from “another.” Not quite the same sense of serendipity that I got from Launch, and I had to remove a Fall Out Boy song so I wouldn’t hear a five-pack of Fall Out Boy clones. Now I’m hearing five straight flamenco songs based on one or two of my “seeds,” and that’s actually kind of cool.

Last.fm? Please. I could never get much control over what I heard, and then I could see all these charts telling me what was popular.

Spotify addresses at least one vital purpose. You can pick out a new release and listen to the whole thing. It’s safe to say my buying decisions will be better informed from here on out.

And as they keep adding features, I’m finding other impressive aspects. For one thing, their genre list is staggering. “Celtic Rock”? Sure, I’ll give that a try. This page teaches you how to do advanced searches.

So that’s promising, at least. Now can we get videos for these people on MTV? MTV2? VH1?

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