Listening makes it personal

I am now a pretty well embedded Spotify user. As a keen music fan (with excellent taste), I probably listen to more music than I have ever done. Much of this music is new to me. Combined with the seemingly endless trove of tunes on YouTube, I am experiencing a renaissance in my music education. The digital revolution is troubling the industry but for listeners, there has never been a better time. For curious listeners there has never been a better chance to strike out in new directions  – some of them in glorious South London.

Spotify is not unique in the use of data to offer a listener a ‘better’ discovery experience. It is very good at it though and has worked hard to understand what we like in a playlist. The Daily Mix is their most recent step to keep ahead of the growing competition. This is what big data can do when clearly focused on user needs and acting in constant response to them.

As Spotify grows, it is becoming interesting to ancillary businesses (a little like Twitter was before it lost it’s commercial way). Songkick is a really smart example of this. As a ticket vendor, the business needs to recommend shows and gigs that meet members demands and tastes. In my personal experience as a subscriber to many email lists of concerts and tickets, I have tired of the poor matching and spammy recommendations. “Customers who liked this also liked that…”. Very often I am not one of the customers in that first premise. The conclusion is therefore clumsy and unhelpful. The bad matching makes it worse.

Songkick overcomes this with a simple inference. “You have listened to that band. Would like to go and see their show?”. My Spotify habits make it clear what I like. Very clear. I may have listened by accident or my playlist may have been hijacked by a family member. Even in this case, it’s a fair punt on their behalf and someone I live with may want to go.

This is a simple and obvious point, I know. It is a simple and obvious lesson (I know that too). It does seem very hard for corporate product owners to take it in though. We struggle to overcome the belief that we know best. That we have a more valuable view of what a personal experience should be and manage it accordingly. This is the stakeholder view. It is a foggy view because it is not the users view. As we struggle with creating valuable personal products and services, we need to focus on where the personal value lies. We also need to recognise at what height the benchmark of comparison is set.


A digital echo of a missing friend

I have paused my work to record a moment of my social media day. It’s one of those moments where technology, data (or the lack of it) and commercial imperatives combine to create an unintended jarring moment.

Over a desk picnic, I was endorsing friends and colleagues on LinkedIn. I am happy to do this and do think it has (modest) value. Faces from the recent and distant past slid across the screen and I clicked or passed on the skills and experience they may or may not have. I like these occasional moments. It encourages me to mentally reconnect with my working past and people I have worked with.

Then a clang and a sigh. The next face to fill the space is long time friend, sometimes colleague and mentor. This is someone who has been instrumental in my understanding of my work, my career and my sense of value. One of those rare and valuable individuals. It is also someone who has recently died.

When I saw his face I experienced two immediately juxtaposed visceral reactions. Firstly, a sad moment. One of those moments of considering that someone has gone. A loss. Then I had a sense of frustration that a whole series of digital identities are out there with little reflection of the recent radical news. It was one of those moments where technology is revealed as a dumb brute. The algorithm turned and produced a really poor piece of data.

Sigh again.

I realise this is a very complex problem to solve It is, by now, an old problem to solve and there are start-ups and projects afoot to tackle our digital legacies. I don’t have an answer. Just a sense of a great deal of progress still to be made for products and services to deal with the most inevitable of needs.