Sunday, February 04, 2007
prepare to be Bzzed!
Alright, so we all know that bloggers are good for spreading the word about everything from news to favourite new computer games, right? Well allow me to fill you out on something that's got me buzzing these days.... but first, a little background!

A few months ago I got an email from a friend I spent time with in Israel in 2005, and the email was offering for me to sign up for a website called BzzAgent. It's basically a site set up to help spread the word about new products and services. You can sign up as an agent, fill in a little information about your interests and likes and then you will be offered campaigns based on the information and surveys you have filled out. Mine were very much geared towards computer stuff and music.

I was soon invited to join a campaign involving AOL Radio (in MY case, AOL Radio Canada) due to my avid interest in music. At first I was unsure whether or not I wanted to join because I am inclined to avoid all things AOL. When I first went on the website to test out the music I was happy to see that it did not require me to sign up to listen, I could just click on the radio button and pick a station. Nice! Eventually however, I did choose to sign up as it allowed me to customize the stations so my favourites were at the top of the list. And what a list of stations it is!

There are a WIDE variety of stations to choose from, anything from 80's tunes (3 different stations, in fact!) to classical, hip-hop, country, jazz/blues, metal, kids, comedy, dance and more! There are even specialty stations.... all Pearl Jam or Green Day, for instance. I immediately got into having AOL Radio playing in the background all the time while I sat at my computer... or even when I was cooking or getting ready for work. As a person who has music going on in the background at all times this was perfect. It was like having a radio station playing stuff I like without all the annoying commercials! I *hate* commercials!

Alright, alright... so it all seems to be good to be true, right? Well, allow me to share the good and bad of it all and then you be the judge. Let me make some comparisons for you...

When I first started listening to music online (via streaming "radio" stations) I began with Yahoo! Music. It was too bad as it allowed you to rate the songs you like. 0 to 5 stars, which is nice because it's not so black and white; sometimes you like a song but you don't *love* it. This also 'taught' Yahoo what you liked and could adjust what went on your playlist by taking off things you didn't like and suggesting new stuff that you might like. So why did I stop using it? First of all, the sound quality was awful (unless you paid for an upgrade, which I didn't want to do). Also, the free version subjected you to commercials, and plenty of them. Did I mention I hate commericals? It also had a feature that allowed you to skip a song you didn't like, but only so many times an hour. This became frustrating if they played songs you didn't want to hear and you used up all your skips for that hour to get past them. Over time it became clear that certain new bands had paid to get some airtime and that turned me off Yahoo for good.

Then there was Pandora (which I told you about in Jan 2006, much like I'm telling you about AOL radio now!) This is a innovative concept in which a program has been created to break down songs to their basic elements and catalogue them based on those elements. This is great because then when you enter in the songs and groups you like the program can break down those songs, compare them to songs with similar melodies or beats, and suggest other music you might like. You can create different stations you like based on the names of a few groups you have submitted for each stations and they will play those groups and others with similar backgrounds. If you don't like what they have suggested you can give it a thumbs down and they will note that in the programming (which makes it a little black and white for my liking.. I prefer a rating system, not a simply thumbs up or down). Very much a program for those looking to find new music they might not have heard before. The drawbacks? Well, the sound quality is great but it has a similar setup to Yahoo, in that you can only skip "x" number of songs in an hour. This is again frustrating if you have to waste your skips on stuff they have suggested just to get to a band you have actually requested. I definitely got the feeling there were bands being showcased which took away from the grassroots feeling the website is trying to portray. Overall, I liked it far better than Yahoo music...

Then along came AOL Radio. As I said, I love it... but that's not to say that it doesn't have cons of it's own. While you *can* customize your stations if you sign up, it means you can only "preset" your top 5 favourite stations. This is a pain in the butt because there are SO many stations to sift through to find what you like. Gee, it's tough when you complain about having too much selection, hunh?

It also seems to have a definite rotation or playlist of songs.... because of my extensive playing of the radio for weeks on end I started to hear repeats of songs. Not too often, but I could hear the same song 2 or 3 times in a 30 hour period. Also, and most peculiarly, when a song is playing there is a spot in the 'radio window' that lets you know what's "Coming Up"... and it lists two groups that are next in rotation. Or are they? Sometimes the next song isn't either of the two promised which is a bit frustrating when you waited on that station to hear a group rather than switch stations (case in point: I have the radio on now and it said that coming up was The Cure and Talk Talk.... then it played the Psychedelic Furs. I like the group so it's no big deal, but hey, it's not what you said was coming up!). Oh, and one last gripe? I can't play AOL Radio on my Firefox browser... I have use Internet Explorer! Ack!!

Anyway, I leave it to you to try and I recommend you do. It has all kinds of awesome music to choose from, fantastic sound quality. And no, AOL won't install nasty stuff on your computer (I looked into it a bit before I signed up..... I'm a bit paranoid of spyware).

Let me know what you think, what stations you like, what you think the good bad and ugly of it are.... Oh, and you can thank me later! *wink*