Why I’m leaving Pandora for Turntable.fm
I wrote a post for Mashable a little while ago, in which I claimed the three most important qualities in an internet product were its appeal to (1) ego, (2) serendipity, and (3) familiarity. Serendipity is especially important for applications where discovery is involved.
My mainstay for music discovery, in particular, has been Pandora, but over the last 6 months I’ve officially shifted from that service to startup Turntable.fm, which is nailing serendipity all over the place. This shift is kind’ve a big deal for me, if you know how serious I am about music. I’m also serious about not paying for things (read: cheap!), so while I use the free version of Spotify, I haven’t yet turned on its full feature set.
Turntable gets serendipity very right, mainly because its real-time human curation captures something that Pandora simply misses. Turntable is comfortable with large amounts of variability from song-to-song, while Pandora seems to pick songs which are sequentially more similar. By way of example, here’s what a sequence of songs may look like on Pandora:
- Tool, “Sober”
- Alice in Chains, “Would?”
- Nirvana, “Smells “Like Teen Spirit”
- …some other 4-chord, power-chord-laden grunge tune with soaring vocals
Starting with the same song, here’s what a sequence may look like on Turntable in the 90’s Alt Rock room:
- Tool, “Sober”
- Temple of the Dog, “Call me a Dog”
- Hole, “Violet”
- Blind Melon, “No Rain”
- Third Eye Blind, “Crystal Baller”
- Bush, “Machinehead”
- Dog’s Eye View, “Everything Falls Apart”
What drives the difference, and makes Turntable a better discovery experience, is that the DJs in Turntable pick songs that appeal to the room, but also challenge its norms. Going from “Sober” to “No Rain” would be a huge leap for a computer algo, but anyone alive in the early 90’s who listened to one probably liked the other, or at least was willing to check it out. In the event Turntable’s serendipity machine gets it wrong, of course, the room can “LAME” the song out of the playlist, so DJs do get strong feedback when they push the envelope too far. Generally, though, experimentation by humans is welcomed in Turntable, and some of the best DJs earn their stripes with awesome non-sequitor choices.
I think we’ll see more adoption of human curation in coming years, especially in this era of social media where humans expect to be connected to other humans, not computers. I’d love to see Turntable’s approach in other media formats that I consume on a regular basis.