My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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pandora: authority-driven music streams

Thanks to Ryan, i’ve been playing around with various music streaming sites. I’m particularly having fun with Pandora which creates radio stations based on “essential” qualities of particular songs. You put in a particular artist and they rotate around that.

To test it, i created four different stations – Bluetech, Tipper, Ani DiFranco, Aphrodite and Ween. Tipper is a bit strange – they seem to think it’s jazz. (Perhaps there’s another Tipper that doesn’t do breakbeats?) With Ani, i get a lot of folks and i am not really into folk other than Ani, but it all makes sense in terms of “essentials” – this is just where cultural components are missing because i connect things like Kaia to Ani even though they’re structurally different sounds. Bluetech is *dead on* and i got to listen to a whole lot of psychill by artists i’ve never heard of so that was super super exciting. Aphrodite is also fantastic, but drum and bass is pretty easy to match. Ween is interesting. They seem to be latching on to Ween circa “White Pepper.” (For those who don’t know Ween, Ween is known for mocking every music style on the planet, from country to funk, sappy love songs to deathcore.)

Most hysterically, when you look at why it recommends certain songs, it tells you a bit about their “essentials.” Apparently, most of what i listen to has “mumbling vocals.” Aphrodite has “lyrics about partying.” ROFL.

I’m very fascinated by this because its antithetical to the tagging approach. This is all about having an authority tell you what music you should like based on qualities that they have marked as experts. As much as i love tags, i’m already pissed that some asshole on Last.FM labeled shit like Led Zeppelin and Tool and Stone Temple Pilots as psytrance. This totally ruins my ability to stream all things tagged psytrance since i can’t alter others’ tags. Clusterfucking the radio station is far more irritating than messing with my Flickr photos. At least with Flickr, i can scan and skip and not be too annoyed. But with a stream, it disrupts my focus completely.

Once again, issues of authority versus collectives come up…

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