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May 11, 2005


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A few weeks ago, with the usual apprehension, I forked over 48 bucks for a year's subscription to Yahoo!'s Yahoo! Plus service. Yahoo! Plus is like a free Yahoo! account, only on steroids. It supplies extra email-storage space, tons of photo-storage space, minimal ads, and some other goodies and frills.

I'm pretty happy with my subscription: what Yahoo! Plus creates for you is a snug little room of your own on the web. Unlike AOL, Yahoo! Plus is part of the Web. It doesn't hide the larger world from you. But unlike a barebones browser, Yahoo! Plus gives you a homebase, as well as many ways and places to stash parts of your brain.

Has Yahoo! shaken its post-Google grogginess and regained its edge? I'm impressed: the whole package works well, at least on my Windows 2000 work computer. My couple of cries for help were answered promptly and helpfully. As far as webmail goes, I find that I use my Yahoo! Mail account far more than I do my Gmail account. (Quick question? What's the big whoop about Gmail anyway? The way Gmail brings past messages up as groups and conversations is a nice innovation. But I'm not k.o.'d by Gmail otherwise. Is anyone else?)

I'm in serious love with Yahoo!'s Notebook feature. (You don't need Yahoo! Plus to get Notebook; it comes as part of a free Yahoo! account too.) Notebook is nothing but a place to stash notes. But it's a well-done stasher, with better-than-adequate searching and categorizing abilities. Being a serious 3x5 notecard addict, I have a tendency -- OK, a drive -- to collect piles and piles of notes to myself. Stacks of scribbled-on cards -- little bits of my mind -- collect anyplace I settle into for longer than five minutes. Now that I can transfer these scribbles into Notebook, my stacks have shrunk considerably. Some have disappeared entirely, making The Wife very happy. Another benefit: my scribbles are now available to me anywhere I can get to a be-Webbed computer. I no longer go nuts looking for a misplaced 3x5 card.

What's got me really hooked on Yahoo! Plus, though, is a feature I hadn't been looking forward to at all: Launchcast.

Launchcast takes a moment to explain. It's a music service that enables you to rank and grade songs, artists, and genres. Based on the tastes and preferences you indicate, Launchcast creates an online radio station for you. You go on ranking and grading, and Launchcast goes on tailoring your listening.

It's like a personal radio station, only one with no announcer and no ads. Launchcast is all music, all the time -- one song after another, broadcast in perfectly fine stereo. Unlike Netflix's absurd ratings-and-suggestions function -- in a year of subscribing, I don't think I've found a single one of Netflix's suggestions useful -- Launchcast's is a genuine mind-reader, even if it does seem convinced that I like Diana Krall much more than I actually do.

In recent hours, for instance here are some of the artists whose music I've been enjoying:

Dwight Yoakam, Billie Holiday, Rick James, James Brown, Kitty Wells, Aretha Franklin, Skip James, B.B. King, The Temptations, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Patsy Cline, Willie Dixon, The Flying Burrito Brothers, James McMurtry, King Sunny Ade, Willie Nelson, Van Morrison, Merle Haggard, George Clinton, Green Day, Etta James, Steve Earle, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Johnny Cash, Iris Dement, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Guy Clark, Allison Kraus, the Master Musicians Of Joujouka, Lucinda Williams.

Now that's my idea of a radio station.

Listening to Launchcast is a lot like using Itunes, if without the ability to repeat and skip. In fact, I like listening to Launchcast better than I like listening to my own music collection via Itunes, largely because many of the tracks Launchcast delivers are songs I don't already know. What Launchcast plays aren't the specific tunes you love but tunes that are suggested by the tastes you've indicated.

That's part of what Launchcast is selling: They're good at keeping your playlist congenial yet fresh. One way they do this is by throwing in the occasional oddball track, a strategy that sometimes pays off bigtime; it can lead to a new stream of terrific music. Other times, though ... Well, Pink Floyd. Frankie Goes to Hollywood. El DeBarge. Enough said. Still: a small price to pay to keep the music from going stale.

One major gripe: Why no western-classical music? A minor inconvenience: If I keep Launchcast playing for hours on end, it will at some point crash my browser. It just will. But I don't find this to be a major pain. I do find that Yahoo! Plus (as well as Launchcast) is unusable on the home (System 9) Imac. Damn.

So, at least until The Wife and I upgrade the Imac, I do my Launchcast listening at work. But at work I'm listening to an awful lot of Launchcast.



posted by Michael at May 11, 2005


I'd like to suggest for some good twang. It's no Launchcast, but I like it a lot for free.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on May 12, 2005 12:44 AM

I haven't really looked at "Yahoo! Plus," but I've subscribed to a handful of their premium services in the past. Launchcast is just about my favorite thing on the web; that and streaming talk radio got me through the four years of desk job hell I finally managed to crawl away from in Dec '03.

Launch does do some weird shit to browsers, though. The biggest problem I have with it is sometimes it gets caught hanging between songs--just freezes, loading or buffering the next tune interminably. The ability to mash genres and ban hated songs/artists makes Launch one of the best things on the web, and I've discovered more good music through Launch than...well, anything.

And I really enjoy Gmail, but I'm finding myself drifting rapidly back into Yahoo. Still, "Anything but Hotmail," that's my motto.

Posted by: Scott Cunning on May 12, 2005 1:46 AM

I am a big gmail fan, but the primary reason is I'm still dialing up at 56k (and at work using a Packard Bell at 28k - and the boss keeps pestering me to maintain a more active web presence!). Gmail's approach: streamlined, text-only ads, quick loading, is a huge boon to me over these connections.

Plus, they were the first to offer so much free storage, and I think they still offer more than anyone else. That, and having to be "invited" by a current gmail user makes you feel you're privy to some secret goods, or something.

Posted by: Nate on May 12, 2005 11:00 AM

So when is satellite radio gonna copy this Launchcast thing? Sounds like a future necessity for road trips.

Posted by: Brian on May 12, 2005 2:55 PM

I cancelled my Yahoo! Plus service for one reason only: Gmail doesn't charge you for POP3 access, and Yahoo! does.

If you use Entourage, Outlook, etc., to download your email, you need it, and Gmail gives it to you gratis. (Using one of these email programs also negates the issue of storage, since all your messages are sucked out of your inbox and into Entourage or Outlook every time you 'Send/Receive'.)

What's more, Gmail uses its own POP server for sending & receiving, whereas Yahoo! uses your ISP's server for sending mail. This makes sending email wirelessly much easier, especially if you're roaming around with your laptop, in a coffee shop or park, etc.

I like Gmail. Yahoo? More like Ya-Boooooooooooo!

Posted by: Dick on May 12, 2005 5:12 PM

also, the new iMac G5 is an amazing little computer.

Posted by: Dick on May 12, 2005 5:17 PM

Thanks for the nice write-up on LAUNCHcast. It's always great to hear what listeners think of the service. Let me know if you ever have any more feedback.

Todd Beaupre
Director, Personalization (and LAUNCHcast Co-founder)
Yahoo! Music

Posted by: Todd Beaupre on May 13, 2005 12:10 AM

nice! carlos p f

Posted by: peres feio on May 13, 2005 1:01 AM

Reiterating what was said above: Yahoo charges for POP3, GMail does not. I have both. GMail is trendier (Why? Because Google is trendier), so that's the one I give out to people. I don't like that GMail reads my mail, and in general, I think Google is far more nefarious than most people believe. Still, POP3 is much easier than logging in with a web-browser.

The notecard thing doesn't seem that useful to me (I just email myself notes, when necessary, or use the old-fashioned paper method.

Launchcast seems interesting, but I doubt it's very useful with music too far out of the mainstream. I do like some web-radio, but for the most part I prefer my own radio streams, which I can listen to anywhere as long as I leave my home computer on. I often find myself listening to my own stream even when I'm at home, because I try to organize my music not by genre but by mood. Very helpful for keeping yourself in the zone, but without getting repetitive.

Posted by: . on May 13, 2005 2:05 AM

On Notebook:

Huh... I use Yahoo! for e-mail, and have never known about this feature. I'm keen to check it out, as scribblings on the back of receipts, scattered around my apartment, seems to have not worked all that well as a system of organization.

On suggestion functions:

Aren't they almost universally terrible? For example, I once bought two books by Dan Savage - a collection of Savage Love columns and his memoir on adopting a baby - on Amazon, and for several months afterwards, I was exclusively suggested gay & lesbian-themed books, despite subsequent purchases of titles on history and economics.

Posted by: Nick on May 13, 2005 12:00 PM

So...another has discovered the delights of Dwight.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on May 14, 2005 12:12 AM

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