Tonight Napster rolled out their new advertising supported free portal. For my money it's the last newish thing I can remember in digital music in a while and Napster seems to be the first to launch this. I keep waiting for Mashbox or one of the legal P2P swappers to launch but I suspect that publishing has this locked up tight for now. I hope I am wrong on that.
You can see the details of the Napster free portal service here.
So is it really free? Well, sort of. You can play any song you want five times before you get locked out unless you want to buy the individual track or sign up as a Napster to go member. The five play limitation probably won't be a big consumer earthshaker but if you think about the flexibility to create playlists and add them to your blog and social networking site etc. it is pushing things a bit further than Last.fm or Pandora.
From a label perspective it is a push for more experimentation. I have to play with it a bit to see what I think of it but it is encouraging to see the labels trying to dip their toe in the water a bit more with each passing day. If the widget style stuff is good then this could be a big deal for them. If those pieces are lacking then this is a marketing advertisement disguised as a portal, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but not a needle mover.