In its first incarnation, Lala.com focused on helping people trade and buy CDs cheaply, all the while building a community of music listeners and a catalog of preferences. Today, newly revamped Lala is launching a free service that scans your digital tracks—everything you own from ripped CDs, iTunes downloads or any other means—and then lets you log into the website anywhere to access that music. You can even sideload tracks to your iPod when you're far away from home.
OK, first: how does that work? Lala doesn't upload everything. Most of the songs you own are probably in its servers already; it will only upload the stuff it didn't have. If you are wondering if that includes The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Dave Matthews Band, stuff famously not available online, it does. Lala assumes that if you own it, you have the right to it. It's a fair-use defense that makes sense, since you can't really distribute music through the service, you can only access it for your own use.
Next: what's this about my iPod? At this point in time, Lala is storing tracks as MP3 files. (I think 128Kbps, but could be greater—in the future, they say they will offer their stream at the original resolution of the track you own, but for now there's a bandwidth issue.) You can't download the tracks to a computer hard drive, but you can sideload the tracks straight to your iPod. If, and it's a big "if", you set up your iPod to sync with the service. You can't use the iPod with your iTunes again without reconfiguring it. Lala says you wouldn't need to, since it will give you access to anything you buy at iTunes, but I still think it's a bit of a leap of faith.
But what's in it for Lala? Well, for starters, the company wants to grow the music-sales business, selling cut-rate CDs and facilitating music swaps with other members. Logging your preferences is an easy way to build an oh-so-sweet customer profile, just like Amazon.com and iTunes do.
Will there be any digital tracks for sale? They have already inked a deal with Warner Music, letting you sample Warner tracks as many times as you like on the service, like a free baby Rhapsody. The company is talking with other record labels, too, so it soon could be a free alternative to Rhapsody, Napster and the like, with similar digital-download catalogs.
Is that all? With the DRM-free business taking off, the obvious next move is to sell non-DRM tracks for download to the iPod—like much of the American populace, these guys do not have any real interest in other music players. Before all of the deals are signed, there are lots of music samples available under net radio licenses, so you can easily get artist-themed user-generated radio stations a la Pandora.
How well does this whole thing work? So, it's in beta. There's a lot of stuff that doesn't make total sense yet. I'll spare you the specifics only because beta is as beta does, and frankly, free services are fun to try even if they end up screwing the pooch. Last I checked, the system was down, because the old Lala.com was giving way to the new Lala.com.
When it's back up, have a try and let me know what you think. I'm excited because a) anywhere access is just cool and b) I think what these guys are doing is a little bit crazy, and I want to see where it goes. Their last idea, the CD swapping thing, was also crazy, and I'm not sure it totally worked, but it was original enough for muchos kudos, and this idea is even more ballsy. Let's see what happens.
Service Homepage [Lala.com]
Note: The site appears to be back up and running.