Music Retrieval: Algorithms or Explanatory Context?

At SXSW this year, Paul Lamere of The Echo Nest and Anthony Volodkin of Hype Machine engaged in a head-to-head panel about the utility of:

  1. Using computer algorithms (e.g. collaborative filtering, tag-based, content-based, etc.) to automatically recommend music, versus
  2. Using computers to (a) connect people who can directly recommend music to each other and (b) provide contextually relevant information around any shared songs

Perhaps I don’t fully understand the full subtlety of the conflict, but I find myself wondering: Why can’t you do both?

I am a strong advocate of content-based recommendation and retrieval methods, i.e. extracting rhythmic structure, harmony, timbre, and using this information as part of a music retrieval system.  This helps you get at aspects of a song not easily describable in any other way.  At the same time, I am also a strong advocate of Explanatory Search, and giving users more information about the retrieved item than just the item itself.  It seems to me that if you can combine the strong voice of human explanation with the automated, and naturally exploratory ability of content-based methods you would have an unbeatable combo.

Music is the perfect environment for Exploratory Search, after all.  The more ways there are to explore, the better.

I have not yet been able to find an audio or video recording of the session; if anyone comes across it, please let me know.  In the meantime, here are Paul’s slides, and here is an open response by Anthony.  Slide 56 on Paul’s presentation is particularly humorous, and Anthony makes a interesting point when he says:

The way to drive genuine discoveries without a significant reliance on collaborative filtering or recommendation algorithms is to intelligently select and present information that captures the context of a particular piece of music and creates meaning for the person interacting with the system.  Use computer systems to connect people, spotlight individual voices, then have voices and social connections define what music everyone interacts with.

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