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Pandora Pandemonium

From The Onion, a story about Pandora employees desperately trying to please a man who kept disliking the songs on his personalized “Steely Dan Radio” station. Assumptions are made about what Mr. Lipton (the listener) might like, and a “panel of genre-bending musicians” is even convened to figure out how to get him to stick with a song. At the end, one of the panelists determines that Lipton is “probably just some bored, bitter asshole who isn’t capable of genuinely enjoying anything.”

Interestingly, The Onion didn’t ask Lipton himself why he kept skipping songs. We are only left with the impression of someone difficult to please.

In Lipton’s defence, perhaps Pandora is making assumptions that are all wrong. The story is, of course, an exaggeration, but it hints at deeper truths about such systems. How they rely too much on making selections based on genre, with selected artists as the primary guide. Even the biggest fans of certain musicians do not love everything by their favourites.

The solution is to look past musicians and genres, and to develop more sophisticated systems that make recommendations based on common characteristics that transcend genre. This can be for people whose stations cover a broad range of genres, or for those who wish to explore music outside the genre (or even subgenre) they typically listen to. In such a scenario, perhaps Mr. Lipton would be happier with the selections made for him… and Ms. Stefano of Milwaukee wouldn’t keep listening to Physical Graffiti over and over and over…

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