Yesterday, the New York Times ran an article about Imeem, pegged to the news that this fledgling site has signed a third major label, EMI, leaving only Universal in the "not yet" column. The service is getting credit for trying to pioneer a new business model for digital music distribution: users can select songs and stream them for free, as long as they're willing to sit through the occasional advertisement.
I registered and fired the service up, and while I'm not ready to call ad-supported music DOA, Imeem isn't about to unseat the current digital music leaders. The main problem: I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing on the site.
The registration process asked me to invite some friends, so there's obviously a social-networking aspect to it. But what would those friends get? Access to my home page? Well, thanks, but I've already got a blog and a MySpace and a Facebook page, all of which give me ample opportunity to tell them about my favorite music.
OK, there's a "music" heading--so maybe I'll browse some music. Most of the artists on the front page aren't tailored to my over-30 tastes, so I'll run a search for my usual guinea pig, Pink Floyd. The results are a complete mess: songs, videos, user playlists featuring Pink Floyd songs, a Pink Floyd user group, a Dream Theater live medley featuring a cover of "In the Flesh" (it's not bad!), and on and on. There's no order, no organizing principle that I can discern. What am I supposed to do with all this stuff?
Maybe if I click "playlists," it'll let me build a playlist so I can listen to some music while I work, or impress my friends with my clever selections. But instead it brings me to a list of top-ranked playlists from other users. There's a link promising to tell me how to create my own, but when I go back to a page that seems to be a Pink Floyd album to try and add songs to a playlist, I don't see the "add to playlist" link that the instructions promised me. There's lots of other stuff--it's got that anarchic amateur designed-by-users feel of MySpace--but I don't know what I'm supposed to do with it. What does "Feature" mean? How about "Share"? How does that tie into the playlist feature I was looking for?
Just as I'm ready to give up in frustration, I'm interrupted by a full-screen advertisement informing me that today's Imeem was brought to me by Kelly Clarkson.
So here's my question for Imeem CEO Dalton Caldwell: who (and what) is Imeem for?
If I want social networking, I can already use Facebook, which has a bigger user community (many of my friends and colleages are already on it), and lets me embed all kinds of music-related apps in my page. If I want to listen to streaming music on my computer, I'll stick with Pandora or Last.fm, which have no ads, do a reasonably good job of playing music I like, and are so easy that I can have them up and running in seconds. And if I want to download free music that I can transfer to my iPod, I've heard there are ways to do that as well.