PLUGGED:

So, somebody finally snatched up Last.fm, the progressive and popular digital music social networking service based in England.

This was an eye-opener in many respects, not the least of which that a successful technology play could emerge from somewhere other than Silicon Valley. Who'd a thunk?

But the real story here has yet to be revealed -- exactly what will CBS do with it?

On the surface, it's easy to see how CBS would want to use Last.fm as the keystone to its online radio play. My colleague Brian Garrity wrote a great cover story last week that outlined how Clear Channel reinvented itself online. CBS now needs to do the same. Even in the face of an uncertain Internet radio future, thanks to the ongoing CRB debate over royalties, it's clear that radio stations need to develop a strong and stable Internet play.

What's interesting is this -- the coolest thing about Last.fm is how it allows the users dictate the programming. That's a bit of an about-face from how the corporate playlist Nazis program terrestrial radio today. I'd love to see music bubbling up on Last.fm find its way onto mainstream media more often.

But $280 million seems a bit steep, which has led some to speculate that CBS is into Last.fm for more than just a radio play, but a technology play. Perhaps it wants to take the same community elements of the music service and create a similar service for its TV network?

Lots of questions, to be sure, but lots of opportunity as well. Now's not the time to be playing it safe. CBS' acquisition of Last.fm may be a risk, but a risk well worth taking.

UNPLUGGED:

The reaction among some of the more shrill members of the digital sewing circle to the introduction of iTunes Plus this week was simply laughable.

The small, but vocal, group protested over the fact that music purchased from the iTunes Plus service embeds the name and e-mail address of the purchaser in the file's metadata. Now I'm fully against embedding any personal data in digital files of any sort, for whatever reason, but the negative reaction this sparked seems somewhat misguided when your account for the fact that ALL iTunes -- purchased files contains this information -- not just the unprotected filed acquired from the new Plus tier.

But what really caused me to spit water out of my mouth was how the harshest critics somehow blamed EMI for this. This is an Apple policy that's existed since the dawn of iTunes, not some tacked-on demand from EMI to ensure unprotected files don't end up on P2P networks. (Not that it wouldn't be without precedent. One major label that I won't name had floated the idea of embedding users' credit card numbers in any DRM-free files as a way to discourage users from sharing them.)

A more legitimate gripe is how iTunes Plus forces users to choose between seeing only the more expensive DRM-free tracks or the less expensive restricted tracks in the iTunes store. I can't see why Apple can't just list both and offer consumers the choice. I understand the need to reduce confusion, but c'mon-it's not exactly rocket science to choose between two prices.

Another fair complaint is that users who want to upgrade previously purchased iTunes tracks to the newer, DRM-free high quality versions can't do so on a track-by-track basis. It's only 30 cents a song, but it's an all-or-nothing offer.

But all in all, this is an important step and one that should be applauded. I don't know what these armchair quarterbacks were expecting to cause them to tear their hair out over a few minor issues.

Look, this is an experiment, and a much needed one. We've finally got a live DRM-free service in the marketplace and can start collecting real data on whether it will have any affect on increasing digital sales.

Is it perfect? No, but iTunes never was perfect to begin with.