launches excellent new interactive site

After years of hiding most of its chart information behind a pay firewall, has relaunched with tons of detailed chart information and song samples.

Checking Billboard's chart of top-selling albums usually reinforces just how out of touch I am with modern pop music (Maxwell? All Time Low?), but sometimes I discover that an old favorite has a new album out, or I am surprised to see how popular a particular band has become. (The Silversun Pickups' new record peaked at number 7? I had no idea they were that popular.)

The new site lets users play full songs from albums on the chart.

Unfortunately, Billboard used to hide most of its chart information behind a pay firewall--you could see the top half of the Billboard 200 albums chart, but most other information was inaccessible.

Not anymore: Tuesday's relaunch of brings all of the venerable music magazine's chart information into the open, and presents it in a great new Flash-powered format. I learned all kinds of interesting trivia, such as the fact that electronic act MGMT's "Oracular Spectacular," while peaking at the relatively low number of 38, has been in the top 200 for a whopping 71 weeks, placing it alongside mainstream pop stalwarts like George Strait and Kid Rock.

Many of the albums on the chart have a little "play" button next to them, which launches a music player powered by (a label-authorized streaming service funded partly by Warner Music), and plays one full song from the album in question. If you like it, you can then click a link within the player to buy the song from the site. Imagine: the next time my teenage niece talks to me about some pop act, I might actually have heard it!

Another cool feature is The Visualizer, which lets you search on any artist's name and see a chart detailing album sales throughout that artist's career. Overall, it's an excellent redesign, and very nice to see such a major industry name finally taking full advantage of the Web.

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