How Rainbows ruined the charts

Tuesday, 26 February 2008
by adrian
filed under Found On and Lunch Table
Comments: 61

Since I was a teenager I have always loved music and at the same time have also had an affinity for numbers. Put the two together and what more could a young boy want? I’m talking about charts. I was addicted to them. Still am. I fervently refresh my profile page on Sunday nights and Monday mornings to see my personal weekly charts. In the past I used to listen to the South African charts live on the radio to see how my predictions for the movements of certain tracks had panned out. I used to buy British pop magazines to read the UK charts. I would stay up late on the weekends to watch US video charts. I got pen pals in Morocco to put the North African charts on postcards and send them to me. You get the picture.

Now most of these charts have something in common – they generally feature new music and there is a lot of change from week to week. A hot new tune could shake things up in the space of a few days. This is where the top tracks chart differs. Top tracks summarises what our users have listened to in the past week and while this often does include new music, if a whole bunch of people decided to go retro and relive the 80s by playing Public Enemy constantly, then Public Enemy would show up, even though they haven’t released anything (good) in years. Now, this has a certain charm to it and it can be interesting to see when an artist generates a lot of publicity (by dying for example) that they leap up the charts without there being any new music from them during that period. However it can also be really boring when the charts just stay the same for months on end.

Case in point. If you go back to Top Tracks for the week ending Sunday 14 October 2007 you will see the 10 songs on Radiohead’s “Rainbows” album (which was released that week) come out of nowhere, blasting Kanye West from number 1 and taking over the entire top 10. At the time I thought, wow, cool, this really is proof of the power of a new model of releasing music over the internet directly to your fans. It also shows that the whole album is popular, not just a few “singles” which would be released with a bunch of wack filler tracks around them. So far so good. Christmas came and went without anybody managing to get a word in on the top 10. After 18 or so weeks, the top 10 tracks were still all Rainbows. Yawn. I’m not a big Radiohead fan at the best of times, so this was really starting to get to me. Please, somebody, anybody, release something awesome and save the charts from Radiohead!

And then two weeks ago it happened, someone else managed to nudge their way not only into the top 10, but into the number one spot no less. It wasn’t a new song though, it was Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” which saw a resurgence of popularity in the wake of her Grammy winnings. “Back to black” also made it in at number 9. Now, I’m not a big Amy fan either, but hey, at least here was something shaking things up a bit. Was this beginnng of the end for Rainbows in the Top 10? As much as a I would like to think so, last week saw them snatch number 1 back and drop Amy down to number 5. Ho hum.

Am I the only person who finds the Top Tracks chart boring? Surely not? Being a chart addict a few possible solutions come to mind – for example, adding more charts. Charts by tag could be nice, especially if more people were as anal as me when it comes to tagging music by genre. More detailed hype charts which would focus on new music? Charts which only cover music that was recently released? A worldwide Radiohead boycott? We are actually working on some of these at the moment (not the boycott!) and they will hopefully see the light of day in the coming months. If you’ve got ideas, we’d love to hear ‘em.

Blogging from the Ballpit

Friday, 21 December 2007
by max Howell
filed under About Us and Lunch Table
Comments: 44

It is surprisingly hard to type when nestled in a pool of balls. You type, you sink, you get attacked from the east by an enterprising young programmer. Settled now at the bottom of the pit you clear a small gap and realise, actually, you can touch type. You haven’t just been claiming you can for the last five years. It’s really true.

Our excuse that this is a relaxing harbour for meetings may not hold water. Nobody can stay still for thirty seconds before they dive to the depths of the pool rooting around for someone to pull under. Erupting magnificently, balls flying everywhere, before everything collapses into a game of who can hit Jonty on the head the most times in thirty seconds.

23 thousand balls goes surprisingly little distance. It was in the local, last night, over a feisty pint of best that the idea emerged. “Ball pool”. An idea so splendid, so ludicrous – it quickly became the only topic of conversation. “London is a big city. Someone must have balls to sell” postulated RJ. So we started the research. We got numbers. We booked the van. There was planning. Surprisingly, I turned up the next day to find RJ bouncing around all excited. Tony was getting the balls. We were building the pool.

We had fun.

It was awesome.

More pictures can be found on flickr

It’s been decided, in future, all interviews will be held in the ballpit. But we don’t plan on stopping there. The meeting room next door is begging to be converted into an ice-rink. The kitchen is lacking for a climbing frame. The toilets are not yet complete without a waterslide.

Fancy a job?

Spot the difference

Monday, 15 October 2007
by anil
filed under Lunch Table
Comments: 36

What a week. From the moment Radiohead announced their plans for latest release ‘In Rainbows’ we’ve been itching to see how you, the listeners, would respond. We let our friends over at Drowned In Sound in on some early data after just 12 hours. Now that our weekly charts are compiled there’s not much else to say apart from “Wowzer”. Below you can see the global tracks chart for last week, and below that the official UK downloads chart for the same period. Spot the difference? global tracks chart - Week Ending Oct 14 global tracks chart for week ending October 14th

Official UK Downloads chart - Week Starting Oct 15

Official UK downloads chart – Week Starting October 15th

Scrobbling... From my ClemePod?

Monday, 15 October 2007
by tony
filed under Lunch Table
Comments: 18

It’s more likely than you think…

Here at Last.HQ, we get a wonderful weekly delivery of fruit, which seemingly takes about 4 weeks to ripen. That aside however, there are oft good things to be found in the boxes that arrive. They ship a little sheet along with the fruit too; though, we haven’t worked out yet whether this is to aide in the identification of said fruit, or just to subversively teach us that fruit is good.

While perusing the sheet of fruity goodness, we suddenly happened upon a here-to-undiscovered delight, and quickly set to testing it in our lab… The ClemePod.

Immediately, we thought that perhaps Apple had released a new Pod device, in the shape of a fruit, and had secretly shipped us a test batch to add experimental scrobbling support to. We grabbed some speakers and plugged it in to see if, despite the lack of user interface development, it would play…

To our delight, a hum came forth from the speakers. Unfortunately, as yet, our client team have been unable to decipher the interface, so scrobbling is likely to be impossible for the moment.

Watch this space for more ClemePod device updates. community enables music research

Monday, 1 October 2007
by elias
filed under Lunch Table
Comments: 9

Researchers all over the world have started using tags (which are available through our open API) in their studies. So the next time you tag something cheese on toast or woopwoop you might actually cause some researchers somewhere out there sleepless nights while they are trying to understand what kind of music those tags define ;-)

Here are some research papers that were presented at the International Conference on Music Information Retrieval in Vienna last week and that used tags:

  • Eck, Bertin-Mahieux, & Lamere (USA), Autotagging music using supervised machine learning: In this paper the authors describe their work on algorithms that try to tag music like humans. I saw a demo and the results are impressive (but I doubt they’ll ever get woopwoop and related tags right). To learn more about their work check out Lamere’s blog.
  • Geleijnse, Schedl, & Knees (Netherlands & Austria), The quest for ground truth in musical artist tagging in the social web era: The authors use tags to compute the similarity of artists and classify them into genres. Geleijnse also made some excellent points on why tags used by a community of listeners are so interesting (compared to categories invented by experts who might not even like the music they are talking about).
  • Levy & Sandler (UK), A semantic space for music derived from social tags: The authors use tags to compute music similarity and investigate important dimensions of similarity. It’s nice to see our neighbours in East London doing such interesting work :-)

Thank You Taggers!

Friday, 24 August 2007
filed under Lunch Table
Comments: 36

I love exploring tag radios. For example, this morning I woke up listening to wake up radio. Then I listened to breakfast radio. Now I’m listening to coffee break. I like how those tags aren’t limited to genres, and I enjoy wondering why something got tagged the way it did.

Our most popular tag radios include chillout and alternative rock but we got a lot more to offer. For example, have you ever tried fado tag radio? It’s improved a lot recently thanks to a new algorithm Norman developed.

However, all our algorithms wouldn’t work without your help. Everyday we receive lots of tags for lots of music. Thank you!! And special thanks to drsaunde, spacefish, and JessiCoplin who are our all time top taggers. Our top three staff taggers (Erik, Felix, and Mischa) are light years away from their contributions. But every tag counts!

Btw, do you tag music? What are your favourite tag radio stations?

Monday Night at

Wednesday, 30 May 2007
filed under Lunch Table
Comments: 24

I think it has been raining in London everyday since I moved here a few weeks ago. Last Monday was no exception, so instead of checking out the beach at Brighton I decided to spend a fun day at work. Monday was also a bank holiday, and at around midnight I was the only one in the office. It was wonderfully quiet and peaceful. My thoughts had deeply sunken into the advantages and disadvantages of different procedures to evaluate computational models of similarity.

At we have an IRC channel that we use for internal communications. Everyone logs in wherever they are as long as they have Internet access. Here are some excerpts from our IRC channel from Monday around midnight: (maybe I should add that the line starting with “pub” contains a list of special technical terms that help attract the attention of my colleagues)

<Elias> i think someone just tried to kick the office door open :-/
<Elias> pub beer porn
<Elias> ...
<Russ> inner one or outer one?
<Elias> I'm inside
<Elias> there was a hell of a noise at the door
<Elias> i went there, saw that part of the door closing system has come off, and there seems to be a hughe crack in the upper part, I'm not sure if that has been there before
<Russ> I don't remember any huge cracks before
<Elias> I guess I should have a look outside? ... are there any weapons around? :-)
<Russ> this is the white one, not the black one right?
<Elias> yes
<Muz> :/
<Russ> there's an electric drill and a pocket knife by my desk

(I’ll skip the advice they gave me on building a fighting robot.)

<Elias> what's the number of the police?
<Elias> i guess i could give them a call and just ask what they recommend?
<Muz> google?
<Russ> you can report crimes online! genius!
<Elias> i tried, but it wasnt the first hit :-)
<Russ> Elias: is the web site
<julian> what's the emergency number in the uk, btw?
<Muz> 999
<Russ> julian: it's 999, heh
<julian> good to know :D
<Russ> 112 also works, I think. Definitely works from mobiles
<Muz> 08 too iirc
<Russ> naaah
<Russ> don't be silly
<Muz> oh?
<Russ> that's french
<Muz> I thought it redirects
<Elias> I'll give them a call and see what they say…
<Russ> Muz: 0845 numbers don't make any sense
<Russ> if that's the case
<Muz> Ahhh, good point
<Elias> duh. 999 doesnt work
<Elias> i get a wrong number signal
<julian> haha
<Russ> wtf
<Muz> lol

I finally got through to the police, they said they’ll send someone over, and then they called back to double-check on the address, and then they called a second time…

<Elias> the police just told me that it was police who did that
<HawkeV> 0-0
<HawkeV> wtf
<Russ> could you ask for it in writing?
<HawkeV> the police broke our door?
<Russ> no
<Elias> she said they had a call earlier saying that someone had collapsed behind the door?!!?
<HawkeV> um…
<HawkeV> so they kicked it once
<HawkeV> then left?
<Russ> the HACKNEY police ∗failed∗ to kick down our door.
<Elias> so they tried to kick the door open and then decided to go away again.
<HawkeV> wtf
<Elias> ??
<Russ> HawkeV: it's fairly sturdy
∗ erikf_ has joined
<Elias> i just heard somethihng again…

I went outside to talk to the officers, but there was no one there.

The next day I had a chat with the police. They explained that there was some confusion. There is a building with the same name not too far away. At this other building a lady had collapsed in her flat and her doctor (standing outside the door) had called the police for help to open the door. The police had never been at our office.

Just in case the robbers read this…

Be warned: we are prepared and we got brutal death metal music!!!

If you try this again you’ll be begging for mercy when our speakers blast out the songs by the artist most frequently tagged with BDM!

(And we also got an improved security system now.)