I Like iLike

Yet another social network slash music recommendation service launched yesterday, named — almost too predictably — iLike.

Like other similar sites, it collects information on the music you like (via an iTunes-specific plug-in for both Windows and Mac) and suggests other stuff you might like. You can connect with friends, see what songs they’re listening to, and recommend songs to them (or to anyone who visits your profile). The interface is clean and full of clever touches, including the ability to sample songs, narrow an artist’s song lists to tracks not already in your library, and of course click right into the iTunes Store.

And since iLike comes from the guys behind GarageBand.com, one key differentiator is the fact that independent artists are mixed in alongside the big-label names. You say you like Damien Rice? Why not check out Lionel Chaz?

This Techcrunch entry asserts that the indie angle may be a liability, because “most ‘independent music’ is not very good.” Of course, podcasters who’ve broadened their horizons with podsafe music know that Marshall Kirkpatrick just doesn’t know any better. And iLife CEO Ali Partovi actually chimed in to point out that there already is a rating and filtering system in place at GarageBand.com that ensures that only the most highly-rated artists over there make it into the recommendation pool at iLife.

Technically, iLife is in “alpha” release, which means rougher and more incomplete than “beta” software. Even so, it shows a lot of promise. The nearest comparison I can make is with Last.fm… but iLife is certainly more elegant and does some things Last.fm doesn’t. It clearly speaks iTunes’ language, for better or worse. Sure, you can manually flag favorite artists and recommend songs via the website, but it’s clear this product is designed for those who have already sold their souls to Apple’s ubiquitous jukebox. Indeed, iLife’s plug-in for iTunes seems a bit more straightforward than the way Last.fm taps into your library. (Ever since Last.fm switched from a background service that lurked in the menu bar, in fact, I can’t remember how it works at all.) I only realized today that I hadn’t been running the Last.fm link for the last several months, but the iLife plug-in puts the social, sharing, and recommendation elements front and center.

Some pieces are missing or incomplete, of course. I’d really like to see auto-magically created custom music “stations,” perhaps folded in like iTunes’ existing radio stations, where you can stream a music you already like mixed in with recommended tracks and give a thumbs up or thumbs down (or buy tracks outright). This is one key feature of Last.fm that iLike needs, as I definitely prefer the human model over the mathematical wizardry of Pandora.

Also, profile pages are pretty sparse (what social network site doesn’t support blogs and photo galleries these days?) and right now, your profile URL is based on whatever you enter as your first and last name upon signup (most social network sites know members love to choose their own). Too bad if you didn’t expect your real name to be public. There’s also no web widget to let you automatically show your latest tracks or other stats on your external blog or website… but to their credit that’s clearly something on their radar.

If you love music, and haven’t gotten sick of social networking yet, iLife is definitely worth a test drive. And if you’d like to share your playlist and trade recommendations with me, here’s my iLife profile. (For completeness, here’s my Last.fm profile.) Geeking out, and rocking out, is more fun with friends.

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