Alex Wright


March 15, 2006

Whit pointed me to Pandora, a new music recommendation service with a compelling twist. While most recommendation engines rely on some variation of collaborative filtering - the familiar "people who liked this also liked this" approach - Pandora takes an altogether different approach. Instead of tracking data about audience behavior, they have assembled a team of actual musicians to create a so-called Music Genome Database, an enormous compilation of analytical data covering more than 10,000 different artists.

For example, Doc Watson's musical genome includes "blues influences, acoustic sonority, a vocal-centric aesthetic, major key tonality and acoustic rhythm guitars." So, if you like Doc, Pandora suggests you might also like Reverend Gary Davis, Leadbelly and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. By contrast, comes up with three acts I have never heard of: John Hartford, The Dillards and the Kentucky Colonels; followed by Chet Atkins (a great guitarist, sure, who sounds nothing like Doc Watson) and Jerry Reed (of "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Cannonball Run" fame). Nothing against the affable Mr. Reed, but I'll take Leadbelly any day.

Chick Corea's genome includes "block piano chords, jazz fusion elements, brazilian jazz influences, afro-cuban influences and smooth vocals. If you dig Chick, Pandora thinks you might want to check out Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, or Joe Sample., on the other hand, recommends Return to Forever, Herbie Hancock and Weather Report - which are actually not bad recommendations if you're a fusion-head. But personally, I'm more partial to Mr. Brubeck.

Pandora's manual metadata-driven approach suggests that for all the recent hoopla about "collective intelligence" and the wisdom of crowds, there's still a lot to be said for the wisdom of experts. Or as Charles Darwin put it: "The old saying of 'vox populi, vox dei,' as every philosopher knows, is not to be trusted in science."

> Pandora

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