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May 19, 2006
Music Genome Project Opens Pandora's Box
Somehow I missed the existence of the Music Genome Project. This brainchild of Tim Westergren, a composer and graduate of Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. The infrastructure for the Pandora project was built by Westergren's dot-com company, Savage Beast.
As its name suggests, the Music Genome Project is an attempt to catalog hundreds of attributes of music. The technical infrastructure is there to support the human work of this cataloging - no software exists that can do this work because we don't know how to teach computers to analyze music to the depth that we can teach them to analyze, say, text. And now there is Pandora, a way to collect people's notions of their favorite music and, using the musical genome, recommend new things to them. The process is automated - you start with an artist and the system plays something (usually by that artist). You give it a thumbs-up/down response and things go from there. You can guide it at any point, giving more artists to add to the mix, asking for explanations of why something is playing, etc.
Past attempts at this sort of thing have tried to use social navigation techniques (most familiarly seen these days in places like Amazon where you get told "people who liked this also liked..."). These techniques deliberately attempt to distance themselves from the qualities of the items that are linked. If you get two country-and-western artists, it's not because the system itself knows anything about C&W - it's beceause the humans using the system know about it. Pandora takes just the opposite approach. If it works at all, it works because humans (mostly composers and musicians) have painstakingly recorded a tremendous amount of knowledge about what makes music be music.
I can see I'm going to lose a lot of hours to this thing. Oh, and did I mention it's shareable? You create a station and share it. They have licenses to stream music inside the US, and depend on you entering a valid US zip code (which might be secretly correlated with your IP address for all I know). The free version is ad-supported, or you can pay money for a no-ads version.
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