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Summary:

A small Washington D.C. startup named Qloud is beta-launching today a collaborative filtering system for music along the lines of Last.fm. If it can achieve critical mass, the startup wants to be a social search engine for music, built on users tagging their iTunes tracks using […]

A small Washington D.C. startup named Qloud is beta-launching today a collaborative filtering system for music along the lines of Last.fm. If it can achieve critical mass, the startup wants to be a social search engine for music, built on users tagging their iTunes tracks using an overlaid Qloud plug-in.

I had some technical difficulties testing this product, most of which were due to the fact that Qloud doesn’t have a Mac plug-in yet (it’s in the works). Still, this is so rough around the edges, much of our discussion will have to be around what Qloud founder Mike Lewis told me about the company concept.

Since iTunes doesn’t have tags itself, creating playlists means manually dragging songs together or sorting by name or genre. I’m not an avid tagger myself, but I do see the benefit of using tags to create mixes (for instance, a distinct “mellow” playlist, “female singer” playlist, and “workout” playlist could be composed from the same library of music, and there would be some overlap).

The plug-in sends user input and activity up to the Qloud web interface, where users can search by music, tag, or person, refining any search by demographic information — for instance, limiting the tag “dance” to when it is used by women under 20. Demographics might be a bit crude, but tracks tagged “dance” music by 40-year-old man is likely to be totally different, Lewis points out.

Qloud will make it simple to export any search to an RSS feed, an email, or most importantly, a playlist to get onto your iPod. (So, for instance, you could subscribe to Lewis’ top 50 tracks in the last 30 days.) But music discovery is awfully hard without being able to sample new tracks. Qloud can only do the same thing as everyone else — give you 30-second Real or Windows Media Player clips, and direct you to iTunes and Amazon. Lewis said he’s thinking about adding a subscription streaming service for about $3 per month, but he absolutely does not want to get into doing full downloads.

Lewis and cofounder Toby Murdock both worked with digital music at AOL and Ruckus. Their development is done by a full-time team of 10 in Romania. They raised a round of “under a million” in June from a source they wouldn’t disclose, but we have a pretty good hunch it’s Steve Case.

The competition for music recommendation is intense, with Last.fm, Pandora, MyStrands, and MOG among the funded companies. That’s not even including projects from established music outlets as well as mobile and consumer electronics players. And for now, this is definitely a niche market.

The big picture, asserts Lewis, is that a good, subjective search engine will jumpstart long-tail music discovery. I do think tagging is a big hassle, but sorting music by tags within iTunes using Qloud is actually pretty neat.

It makes sense in the way del.icio.us and Flickr do, because it’s personally useful. However, there’s a heck of a lot of competition; some future version of iTunes could very well include tags; and social search for music is a very fuzzy concept. The best possible option for Qloud would be for Yahoo to buy it to complete its tagging full house.

  1. Qloud looks nice but it definately has its work cut out for it. Last.fm has a huge lead and nothing in Qloud makes me want to switch.

    One startup that I have been keeping my eye on is Streampad (http://www.streampad.com). You are completely right – the music sector is very crowded and many of these new recommendation services are not distinguishing themselves from one another. Streampad seems to be taking a different approach. They are tying together your own music library with new music found on the web through mp3 blogs.

    The future, and present of music tech is looking very exciting!

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  2. You have obviously never used iTunes.

    “Since iTunes doesn’t have tags itself, creating playlists means manually dragging songs together or sorting by name or genre. I’m not an avid tagger myself, but I do see the benefit of using tags to create mixes…”

    The “Smart Playlists” in iTunes can do much, much more than sort by genre or name. If you want to tag, you can put whatever you want (up to several paragraphs) in the “Comments” section of a songs info, and then use the Smart Playlist to search for a single word within that section, or a 2 words within that section, or a word within that section but only if it’s in song added more than a day ago with a bpm over 120, or pretty much anything you want. Before you start saying what you can and can’t do with software, first check to make sure you can do it.

    Though true, there is no built in web-interface to see what everyone else is tagging their songs…

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  3. Wow — Streampad has great potential… and I love the integration w/ the Archive!

    While we’re on this topic, I have to give props to a project I worked on called SoundFlavor… as in recommending music, it actually works on music that you already own.

    It’s currently for iTunes on the PC — but I’m anxiously awaiting the Mac version to come out.

    As for Qloud, I’ll give it a shot, but I really think something automated is a better solution than manually tagging my 20K tracks with metadata that iTunes itself can’t make use of.

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  4. MP3tunes just released a beta of their Oboe Sync software which adds a big list of new features. Topping the list is album artwork which is now added for all your songs. Yes, iTunes now does this but the MP3tunes implementation is much higher success rate. iTunes only does an exact match of albums they sell. Oboe Sync does a fuzzy search of a much larger collection of artwork.

    There are also many new sync features so you can selectively sync up or down from your computers. This means you can select just a subset of your music to move from one location to another.

    Another nifty feature is scheduling a sync. Since a sync can take a long time depending on your net connection and library size you can now schedule a sync to happen at a later time say in the middle of the night.

    The beta software is available from: mp3tunes.com/download

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  5. drew:

    The little-known iTunes “Grouping” field is indistinguishable from a tag field. I use it for tags like “Swearing” or “Live”, which are then easily queried using (as you say) smart playlists.

    But I would say there is a huge amount of interesting data stored in the iTunes meta data, even without user tagging. I think online tools/services could and should be mining this information more carefully.

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  6. I agree with the above comment…iTunes bought the best metadata going at the time – Gracenote. Pandora and Lastfm are using various user based choice systems already. Can’t see what added value this sort of service brings to the game

    A note on iTunes metadata – Gracenote was originally put together as an open source collaboration of enthusiasts as CDDB, and when sold the original contributors never saw a bean…so rebuilding CDDB as a Web 2.0 app would be so cool and one in the eye for those trying to commercialise others’ open source work

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  7. Check out musicbrainz.org for the new open source meta-database for music.

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