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Last month, Google Music users in Europe were given exclusive access to what is essentially Google’s free answer to iTunes Match. The song-matching service allows you to upload your music library to Google Music without literally uploading; instead, Google scans your music library and matches your songs with high-quality, 320 kbps copies on its own servers. For those in Europe who found uploading gigabytes of music files to be tedious, this feature was a very welcome addition.

Today, Google Music’s matching service has officially launched in the United States. The price? Zero dollars.

That’s right. Google is offering this service, which Apple and Amazon both sell for $25/year, absolutely free. While Google’s 20,000 track limit is still in place, it’s hard to argue with free. And it’s easy to see how launching this service in the United States — and, perhaps, in other territories in the future — can help both Google and Google Music’s users.

For starters, users are no longer forced to upload their entire music libraries to Google. While I viewed Google Music as not only a way to access my music anywhere, but also to store it safely, the process of uploading my library was a chore. In a world where upload speed hasn’t quite caught up to download speed, sending gigabytes of music to Google can take a while. And if you’re trying to upload a 20,000 song library, it takes a really, really long time. Don’t think hours, think days. Google Music’s new matching service cuts uploads out of the equation, instead offering instant gratification. Depending on the bitrate of your music files, you may even be getting higher-quality tracks as a result.

Don’t think for a second Google doesn’t benefit with this feature, too. At the moment, Google Music is likely host to a grotesque amount of duplicate tracks, differing only by file names or artist/title metadata. By turning on this new matching feature, Google can cut down on amount of space it needs to store entire music collections by only keeping one copy of a track that everyone can access. And now that everyone can be listening to the same track, with the same metadata and same audio quality, Google can turn an eye toward offering more social features that might have been tough to implement previously. As I wrote earlier this month, social features are a real weakness for this otherwise great service. Perhaps Google Music matching is a necessary step toward improving in that area.

For files that are already uploaded, it appears that Google plans to support the 320 kbps streaming bitrate quality for those files, as well, though we don’t have a clear answer of when. And if you think you’re going to be uploading your low-bitrate music collection and re-downloading from Google Music at the much-higher bitrate, think again; Google will only allow you to re-download your tracks at or close to their original quality. With those caveats aside, Google Music has certainly become a much stronger service today, and it’ll be interesting to see where the new year takes it.

What are your thoughts on Google Music’s new song-matching feature? We’d love to hear from you.

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