Sound & Music, School of Interactive Arts & Technology

Musical memories refreshed: Olo Radio gives Last FM users a new way to interact with their music-streaming history

November 07, 2019

Imagine accessing an archive of all the songs you’ve ever listened to—organized by the time of day, day of the year, or time of your life that you listened to them. With Olo Radio, a device designed by School of Interactive Arts and Technology professor William Odom and collaborator Tijs Duel, you can do just that.

Olo Radio links to a user’s account and uses simple metadata, including the time and date a song was played, to organize a personal music archive and make it accessible in a new way. Established in 2002, Last FM now has over 21 million users generating their own listening data, but it remains inaccessible and of little use for most people.

With Olo Radio, Odom is continuing to explore the design philosophy of slow technology—technology used to enhance reflection and mental rest as opposed to pure efficiency. The goal of Olo Radio was to design a piece of technology that better supports people to interact with their massive amounts of personal data in reflective, contemplative and curious ways that change over time.

Odom’s previous project, Olly, is a device that links with a user’s Spotify account. When a song from the past is played, a circular wooden disc on Olly rotates — the slower the rotations, the further in the past the song was from.

“Olo Radio was the next step in developing slow technology projects that people can use to interact with their personal data across time in different ways,” says Odom.

By setting the time mode to “day,” “year,” or “life,” and then choosing a point on that particular timeline by moving the slider on the device, people can access songs they have listened to over the course of their life—whether in the morning, in the summer, or when they first started their Last FM account, for example. While a song is playing, the time mode can also be changed and the slider will move to indicate where that song fits into the other timelines.

“Olo Radio wasn’t designed to replicate the physical music-listening experience digitally, but to be a physical representation of a digital archive that is accessible and lets you reflect on, and explore, music that is bound up in your past,” explains Odom. “It’s a piece of technology that evolves with us as that archive grows.”

During the next phase of this research, Odom worked with his master’s student Minyoung Yoo and collaborators Henry Lin and Tal Amram to create product-like versions of Olo Radio that were installed in people’s homes to understand their experiences with them over time. They custom-designed and made six Olo Radios in Odom’s lab, and five are now being enjoyed in homes in the greater Vancouver area.

“The reaction has been extremely positive,” says Odom. “People have become very attached to their Olo Radio; it’s a source of nostalgia and it provides them with a unique impression of who they are. It represents a living and growing embodiment of the totality of their digital, music- listening history archive.”