Two big problems with music recommenders: (1) They can’t tell me why they recommended something beyond the trivial “People who liked X also liked Y” and (2) If I want to interact with a recommender I’m all thumbs – I can usually give a recommendation a thumbs up or thumbs down but there is no way to use steer the recommender (“no more emo please!”). These problems are addressed in The Music Explaura – a web-based music exploration tool just released by Sun Labs.
The Music Explaura lets you explore the world of music artists. If gives you all the context you need – audio, artist bio, videos, photos, discographies to help you decided whether or not a particular artist is interesting. The Explaura also gives you similar-artist style recommendations. For any artist, you are given a list of similar artists for you to explore. The neat thing is, for any recommended artist, you can ask why that artist was recommended and the Explaura will give you an explanation of why that artist was recommended (in the form of an overlapping tag cloud).
The really cool bit (and this is the knock your socks off type of cool) is that you can use an artists tag cloud to steer the recommender. If you like Jimi Hendrix, but want to find artists that are similar but less psychedelic and more blues oriented, you can just grab the ‘psychedelic’ tag with your mouse and shrink it and grab the ‘blues’ tag and make it bigger – you’ll instantly get an updated set of artists that are more like Cream and less like The Doors.
I strongly suggest that you go and play with the Explaura – it lets you take an active role in music exploration. What’s a band that is an emo version of Led Zeppelin? Blue Öyster Cult of course! What’s an artist like Britney Spears but with an indie vibe? Katy Perry! How about a band like The Beatles but recording in this decade? Try The Coral. A band like Metallica but with a female vocalists? Try Kittie. Was there anything like emo in the 60s? Try Leonard Cohen. The interactive nature of the Explaura makes it quite addicting. I can get lost for hours exploring some previously unknown corner of the music world.
Steve (the search guy) has a great post describing the Music Explaura in detail. One thing he doesn’t describe is the backend system architecture. Behind the Music Explaura is a distributed data store with item search and and similarity capabilities built into the core. This makes scaling the system up to millions of items with requests from thousands of simultaneous users possible. It really is a nice system. (Full disclosure here: I spent the last several years working on this project – so naturally I think it is pretty cool).
The Music Explaura gives us a hint of what music discovery will be like in the future. Instead of a world where a music vendor gives you a static list of recommended artists we’ll live in a world where the recommender can tell you why it is recommending an item, and you can respond by steering the recommendations away from things you don’t like and toward the things that you do like. Music discovery will no longer be a dictatorship, it will be a two-way conversation.