Elisa Bray: Caught in the Net

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The Independent Culture

When The Charlatans gave away their new album You Cross My Path as a free online download earlier this month, they may not have anticipated 60,000 hits in the first week. REM (right) haven't quite done a Charlatans, but you'll be able to hear their 14th studio album Accelerate first through Facebook, via the iLike application, a week ahead of its release. From 24 March, the album is available to stream from the site, and they are the first major rock band to preview an album through the application.

REM are not new to internet forays; in early 2002, they gave away remixed songs from Reveal on their website ( www.remhq.com). The result, r.e.m.IX – while free – was criticised for, well, not being particularly inspiring.

This new move sharpens the competition between social networking sites Facebook and MySpace. Both plan to create online music services. If you look at the figures, it's MySpace in the lead with 110 million users to Facebook's 66 million; it's possibly also further ahead in plans with record labels to launch the MySpace Music service, which would allow ad-supported free streaming to computers, but also offer paid-for download MP3s.

Facebook is "in discussions" with labels on plans for a service, and last month launched the Facebook Music page, on which artists can create profiles and stream music. Oasis are the latest band to jump aboard. And you don't have to join Facebook to hear the REM album – iLike is also available at http://www.ilike.com/.

Meanwhile, if you missed Sigur Ros on YouTube last Friday with their 97-minute feature film Heima and 10 videos streamed over 24 hours, if you go to the band's site http://www.sigurros.dloadshop.com/dvd1.asp, in exchange for your details, you can download a nine-minute video clip of a concert performance of "Ny Batteri".

And if you plan to go to Glastonbury this year but have not yet registered online, today is your last chance.