Last.fm founders to use your browser history to conquer the Web

The pair behind the site that recommends music based on your listening history wants to do the same for the entire Internet with a new service called Lumi.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
3 min read

Last.fm founders Felix Miller and Martin Stiksel think they have the solution to the overabundance of Web sites and the ever-flowing rivers of social media feeds.

The two European entrepreneurs, who created the service that recommends music based on your listening history, have decided to apply their technology to the entire Internet.

"I've been browsing the Web for like 15 years and I've got nothing to show for it. All this knowledge I created just disappeared," Stiksel said during a visit to Silicon Valley this week. "So we applied the Last.fm principle to the Web as a whole."

The pair launched a new product on Thursday, a Web discovery tool called Lumi. In the spirit of Last.fm, which Miller and Stiksel sold to CBS in 2007 for $280 million, Lumi is a site that relies on a user's browser history to determine what they should see or read on the Internet. (Editors' note: CBS also owns CNET.)

Users must install the Lumi browser extension and allow the tool to collect their browsing history. It's available on Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Lumi starts processing your information once you install it and spits out results in about 20 seconds. (Two-thirds of Stiksel's results are music-related, of course.)

The idea is that results can be anything that has a presence online. Everything has an online version, Stiksel said. Whether you want to check out movie trailer, a news article, a blog post, or a restaurant menu, it's all available. You just need to find what's relevant.

It's a tall order, given the fickle nature -- and tastes -- of humans, but Lumi's creators said it is up to the task. Miller said the results are based on what you click on. If you don't click a lot on a certain topic, Lumi will make sure not to show you similar results. The more you use Lumi, the better it is supposed to get.

In addition to a main results page, users can check out different sections, save items for later pursuing (they call it "starring," another indicator of what you like), and see what other people like. Lumi will also show you what is trending based on other Lumi users and your own interests. And, it's Web-based so it can work across multiple devices. While you can star and unstar things, there's little control otherwise. That's the point, according to Miller. It should work automatically.

"It's 2013. I shouldn't have to do anything ever to make this work," he said.

When they started testing Lumi in December, 10,000 users signed up for its trial run. Those testers were most concerned with privacy, Miller said. If you browse with incognito mode, which hides your browsing history, Lumi can't see where you have surfed. Otherwise, your movement on the Internet is fair game.

Miller and Stiksel wouldn't say how they expect to make money off the service but said they don't have any plans to use the browser history for analytics.

Like most entrepreneurs, they said they want to focus on improving the product first, so it can have staying power similar to their last discovery product. Both men said Last.fm is still as good as it was when they first started it. That's how a discovery service should be, they said, effective no matter how much time you spend on, or away, from it.