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Imeem music service doesn't quite rock

Imeem, a service that combines ad-supported music with social networking, has gotten some press recently in the wake of adding major label EMI to its list of content partners. But five minutes on the site left me confused about its mission.

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.