Last.fm is the flagship product from the team that designed the Audioscrobbler system, a music engine based on a massive collection of Music Profiles. Each music profile belongs to one person, and describes their taste in music. Last.fm uses these music profiles to make personalized recommendations, match you up with people who like similar music, and generate custom radio stations for each person.
Last.fm is based on a social network model and requires that you install the Last.fm player. To get full benefit from the system you also need to install the Audioscrobbler plugin which monitors your computer media player; i.e. Windows Media Player, Winamp, etc., and uses that information to compile a playlist for you.
Pandora requires no programs to be installed on your computer as it is a flash program that runs in your browser. Pandora picks tunes for you based on the Music Genome Project.
We set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. It's not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records - it's about what each individual song sounds like.The strength and weaknesses of each program arise from their basic concept. Last.fm is a social network. I found that I liked to explore and discover music that other people enjoy. There are groups and forums and journals. The service identifies other users with tastes similar to yours and lets you listen to their personal stations. One of the downsides is that you have to install their player on your system and to get full benefit install the Audioscrobbler plugin which monitors your listening habits. Call me paranoid, but that's a little creepy to me.
Pandora is a simpler system to use. You can create up to 100 personal stations based artists and/or tunes. There are no forums, groups, journals. There's no way I've found to interact with other users. On the upside, the music is great.
At this point, I've been using Pandora more for a couple of reasons: First the system is more stable. Last.fm tends to drop out and at times the system has gone down for extended periods of up to a day. Second and more important, I've found that Pandora's music selections are more to my taste. Who knew that my passion for Ry Cooder would lead me to Thin Lizzy? Better service, better music. That's it.
Here are a few of my Pandora stations if you're interested in giving the system a whirl: Ry Cooder, Paul Revere and the Raiders (don't laugh, see where it will lead), Richie Havens, The Killers, and Wes Montgomery.