Do Music and Movie Suggestion Algorithms "Get" You?

Illustration for article titled Do Music and Movie Suggestion Algorithms "Get" You?

I pretty much universally hate streaming music services. They all promise to broaden my horizons, analyzing my tastes to bring me music I never knew I couldn't live with out. They can all go to hell.


My typical algorithm-driven streaming music experience goes like this: I'll punch in a song, or artist, or whatever, that I want to explore. The algorithm will spit out a few half-assed choices. I'll hit skip/fast forward/frowny face/thumbs down as many times as I can without purchasing a subscription. Then I'll just close the damn thing and go to YouTube.

Movie suggestions aren't any better. I love crime dramas and action movies, but c'mon — nobody can watch that crap all the time. So whenever I open Netflix, it either goads me to watch the same "gritty, minimalist noir" I've already gorged myself on, or it gives me a completely wackadoo suggestion based on the terrible indie dramedy I watched for 17 minutes sometime in February.

I'm fully willing to admit that this is all my own damn fault. When I like a song, I like that song — which is different from being addicted to the whole genre. I love AC/DC, but that doesn't mean I wanna spend three hours with Axl Rose and Geddy Lee. Maybe expecting Pandora to understand that nuance is unrealistic. No wonder it keeps trying to convince me that I don't actually hate Fleetwood Mac.

Am I just plain weird? Is searching for artistic sympathy in a cold machine a fool's errand? Or do you folks just magically find unexpected gems in the "you might like" column? What does that even feel like? Damned if I know.

Image: Shutterstock / alexnika



You sound like you've got the same problem my coworkers had: you don't grasp the point of a service like Pandora. It isn't there to gratify your wish to hear a single song(or songs), it's there specifically to expand an organic genre you define as you listen, and each station is a unique creation. If you're going to use Pandora, just think of a 'type' of song you want to listen to. Create a station with one or two songs that are of that type, and then refine it by up-thumbing the stuff like it that you enjoy, and down-thumbing the stuff that doesn't appeal to you. Over time, you'll create different stations each with its own 'feel' that doesn't get bogged down by artificial genres. You'll hear new music from non-mainstream sources and mainstream sources alike, and I bet you'll find your horizons expanding. If you're like my co-worker Glenn, though, this concept terrifies you and you'd rather sit in a box with things you've already experienced. Don't be that guy, man.