About Curation

Spotify users have created over 4 billion playlists. Most of them are not that great. But there sure are a few great ones. Finding them can be hard. I found one of them and want to write about this experience.

A key point is that this particular playlist is awesome very specifically for one particular listener – me in this case.  Many others listeners will certainly not share my enthusiasm for that particular mix of pop, rock, “indie” etc.

Indeed, I am one of a total of less than 500 Spotify users who have “liked” that list on the platform. The playlist’s creator maintains other lists, and several are more popular.

Finding a great list can be harder than finding a needle in the haystack. Every user is looking for a different needle. What might be a needle for Alice will look like haystack for Bob and Carol and Daniel.

Recommending music for friends and relatives can be hard. Preferences vary wildly. What is great for Elias may sound awful for Fred and indifferent for Georgina. Hubert cares a lot about rhythm, Ingo is more about melody and Jacob focus on lyrics. And so on.

So what should be an awesome list? A lot of music that is really enjoyable, obviously. A majority of very good songs. A good amount of great songs. A significant amount of amazing songs. A minority of songs that are just meh. A very small number of songs that are annoying.  Also important, most of the very good/great/awesome stuff should be new to the listener.

Isn’t that an obvious description for a great list? But this is exactly what I encountered. A playlist that has over 6,000 songs. The most recent song was added today, the first was added a decade ago. There is a lot of stuff in there that is very familiar, but not a majority. Many familiar bands, but also surprises. It contains actually thousands of good/great/awesome songs that I did  not know. Really few annoying songs. 

It is really a great find, a huge source of great music that is exactly the kind of music that I would like to listen and also recommend to other people.

And more importantly, I remain eager to listen to the next song of the list because I am inclined to trust the decision processes, tastes and sensibilities that drove the inclusion of every one of them. I found this list via twitter, by chance. 

In my opinion, the challenge for Spotify is to multiply this kind of experience. Encourage curators to express their distinctive tastes and sensibilities. Help users find those that relate to these particular perspectives. Create the tools to support and improve all this activity. 

“Curation” is a word that has been so abused online in the last decade but – done right and truthfully – may be the best way to serve the best music.

P.S. Spotify has released “Blend” today, which seems a very intriguing feature “for two users to merge their musical tastes into one shared playlist made just for them, making it even easier for users to connect, discover, and bond over the music they love with one another”. But this seems a right step at the end of the problem: the first challenge is finding the right other users. Spotify mentions blending tastes with “a friend or loved one”. This remind the old phrase “Twitter makes me like people I’ve never met and Facebook makes me hate people I know in real life”. Blend as described feels more like Facebook than Twitter. 

But this other detail is very intriguing: “now, the experience includes… taste match scores to see your listening preferences compared to your friends’”. Maybe those ‘taste match scores’ will eventually serve as a foundation for the ultimate search tool?

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