Clay Shirky is looking for someone to come up with a music-filtering system to bypass the label’s hegemony – are we up to the task?
- Several attempts at such a thing have been launched, but most are languishing, because they are constructed as extensions of the current way of producing music, not alternatives to it. A working collaborative filter would have to make three assumptions.
First, it would have to support the users’ interests. Most new music is bad, and the users know it. Sites that sell themselves as places for bands to find audiences are analogous to paid placement on search engines — more marketing vehicle than real filter. FarmFreshMusic, for example lists its goals as “1. To help artists get signed with a record label. 2. To help record labels find great artists efficiently. 3. To help music lovers find the best music on the Internet.” Note who comes third.
Second, life is too short to listen to stuff you hate. A working system would have to err more on the side of false negatives (not offering you music you might like) rather than false positives (offering you music you might not like). With false negatives as the default, adventurous users could expand their preferences at will, while the mass of listeners would get the Google version — not a long list of every possible match, but rather a short list of high relevance, no matter what has been left out.
Finally, the system would have to use lightweight rating methods. The surprise in collaborative filtering is how few people need to be consulted, and how simple their judgments need to be. Each Slashdot comment is moderated up or down only a handful of times, by only a tiny fraction of its readers. The Blogdex Top 50 links are sometimes pointed to by as few as half a dozen weblogs, and the measure of interest is entirely implicit in the choice to link. Despite the almost trivial nature of the input, these systems are remarkably effective, given the mass of mediocrity they are sorting through.
A working filter for music would similarly involve a small number of people (SMS voting at clubs, periodic “jury selection” of editors a la Slashdot, HotOrNot-style user uploads), and would pass the highest ranked recommendations on to progressively larger pools of judgment, which would add increasing degrees of refinement about both quality and classification. Such a system won’t undo inequalities in popularity, of course, because inequality appears whenever a large group expresses their preferences among many options. Few weblogs have many readers while many have few readers, but there is no professional “weblog industry” manipulating popularity. However, putting the filter for music directly in the hands of listeners could reflect our own aggregate judgments back to us more quickly, iteratively, and with less distortion than the system we have today.
We are performing these functions, but so far only for music “approved” by a label of some kind.
Kevin Marks has his own ideas on a new creation/promotion system at his mediAgora site here.