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Waxing rhapsodic about MOG

Mog_logoToday, MOG rolled out a new version of its social network for music lovers, integrating the Rhapsody subscription service into essentially every nook and cranny of the site. The addition of Rhapsody enables MOGgers to hear full versions of the songs and albums that others review or reference on their MOG pages. Those who subscribe to Rhapsody (it costs upwards of $10 per month) can listen to tracks without limit; non-subscribers can hear 25 freebies per month. The combination yields at least two interesting results: a humanized front-end to Rhapsody, and a much more satisfying experience on MOG.

By humanized, I mean inserting real humans into the process of selecting what songs to play. In addition to a much improved way to search through Rhapsody's catalog for specific artists, albums or songs, the new MOG provides a number of ways to let MOGgers lead you through the virtual stacks. You can play the tracks featured in all recent blog posts or just in posts by people whose tastes are similar to yours. You can play the tracks that other MOGgers recently played. You can jump to pages devoted to individual artists or bands, and from there to the MOG pages of people who've been listening to those artists lately. I'm just scratching the surface here, because there's a lot of different ways to navigate (or, in many cases, stumble through) the catalog. Some of these ways are so random that they're off-putting, but others simulate the effect of a DJ delivering an unexpected and bracing mix. That's because real people are telling you not just what bands they like, but also which tracks from those bands to play.

It's not perfect, of course. The biggest shortcoming is that MOGgers know and refer to more music than Rhapsody has in its catalog, although that problem will diminish over time. For someone comfortable with today's hits (or the familiar songs of any other era), MOG can be overwhelming. It also can be a lot more work than just tuning in a webcast or MP3 blog. Still, if you're the sort of person who enjoys touring through the world of music, the enthusiasts who populate MOG make fine guides.

The new MOG made me think of a Bay Area company I covered back during the first Internet bubble. It was called Uplister, and it gave music fans a place to post annotated playlists -- not just lists of tracks, but explanations for why they were included. The lethal shortcoming was that the company couldn't strike deals with the labels to let people listen to the playlists. It was kind of like reading a Zagat's guide without being able to go to any of the restaurants. Still, I thought Uplister was on to something. At some point, the labels were going to make all their songs available to online services. And when they did, the winner would be the service that did the best job combing through the massive database of tuneage for the tracks that each user wanted to hear. The labels are making their songs available now, which is why MOG has made the leap that Uplister couldn't.

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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