City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Do recommendations scale?

Written in

by

"The Music Recommendation System is an automated system that provides music recommendations specifically tailored to each user to find new music that they might like. This system, designed by students at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), operates by taking ratings from your own iTunes playlists and comparing them against other users who have used the recommendation system."

Sounds good, eh? So I went there, downloaded, and then submitted the few hundred tracks I’ve rated in my iTunes database. Then I get this:

"Your estimated time remaining for results is 2.23 day(s)."

And that was with only 7% of my "catalogue" hand-rated. Ouch. Waiting 2.23 days for results points to a question of scale, methinks.

I don’t mean to knock a bit of work which is clearly in prototype stages, but perhaps this is an exhibit B backing up Clay Shirky’s intriguing argument about situated software. This looks like a case of ‘Web School’ software design; something built for mass use, trying to scale and failing. As I write, there are 2727 users in their database, 527494 songs, approx 322 songs per user, and by actually proudly displaying these kind of stats the project team seem to be broadcasting the notion that more recommendations here would necessarily be better (due to collaborative filtering’s requirement for ‘scale’). More is more. Their software isn’t scaling though, and I wonder whether their recommendations are really going to deliver too. Even when something scales extremely well – say Amazon – I don’t get particularly interesting recommendations.

Better to create a situated recommendations service built around my friends and colleagues perhaps? No need to scale there. Amongst those I know, there are some I’d turn to for music recommendations – and indeed I do, all the time, always doing a near-subconscious, complex level of filtering, reputation modelling, and drawing on history, context, intent, and all the richness of pattern in close, often physical, human interaction. In the complex cultural field of music recommendation, less may be more. I guess a Shirkian model would be a ‘local’ application enabling and nurturing that level of recommending amongst these <150-strong social groups. Basically, amongst me and my mates. Even then, reputation within a knowledge domain would be handled in more sophisticated fashion than simply "my default online social group", as I have good friends, online a lot, whose music I wouldn’t go near with a barge-pole. So something a lot closer to the (culturally, physically) localised applications described in Clay’s piece make a lot more sense.

"Situated software isn’t a technological strategy so much as an attitude about closeness of fit between software and its group of users, and a refusal to embrace scale, generality or completeness as unqualified virtues." [Clay Shirky]

Compared with the alternative of staring one of the biggest ‘hourglasses’ I’ve ever encountered, it might be worth pursuing. Moreover, I’m not convinced that the eventual recommendations will be necessarily superior to the ones I get from my social set anyway. So there could well be a better ‘closeness of fit’ to explore here. But I remain open-minded, and will let you know.

University of Illinois: Music Recommendation System
Clay Shirky: Situated Software

Tags

7 responses to “Do recommendations scale?”

  1. hans Avatar

    Although my >8k rated track count appears to be too large to even upload, I look forward to being able to use this service, specifically because it is webwide rather than situated. While an automated means to learn recommendations from my friends might be interesting, this is something different. The 713,654 tracks currently in their database dwarf those known to my circle, so I’m likely to be turned on to music I enjoy but might never have encountered otherwise. I’ll gladly wait several days for results.
    Of course, it’s all moot until it scales well enough for me to even use it.

    Like

  2. Dan Avatar

    OK, so finally, over a week later(!), here they are. And while they’re not as bad as I thought they’d be, they’re still not that useful. Certainly not as useful as the recommendations I get from the trusted set around me. There are the usual predictable choices (Jan Garbarek, Elvis Costello, Neil Young), the tracks I already have (er, the same as the predictable choices), the ‘good guesses that I’m not actually that interested in but could’ve been’ (Balanescu Quartet. Bill Withers), the anomalies (Tindersticks? Not really), and then the just plain wrong (Jackson Browne? Mike Oldfield?! Jesus …) The choice of particular tracks from these artists is a bit odd too – Southern Man and Like A Hurricane by Neil Young. But why not, say, For The Turnstiles or Cinnamon Girl by the same artist? Even if there is a system there, those choices seem so random as to be effectively misleading rather than useful.
    Interestingly though, there’s a huge batch of music for films (or cinematic sounding stuff), Scandinavian in origin. I haven’t heard of most of these artists, and I’ll check a couple out. I like a lot of Scandinavian stuff and I like soundtracks, so I can see the logic here. It seems rather too prevalent though, so I suspect the results are being skewed by the dataset that the system happens to have at this point. Generously assuming that isn’t the case though, these are more interesting suggestions than most by Amazon.
    However, it’s still not so good that I’d use it again. It’s not as good as my weekly Boomkat newsletter. It’s not as good as the tips from the few music-orientated blogs I read. It’s certainly not as good as the tips from those friends I really turn to for this stuff.
    But anyway, here’s the whole list, if you’re interested.
    Lives in the Balance
    Jackson Browne
    The Next Voice You Hear – The Best of Jackson Browne
    Incantations – Part Four (Excerpt)
    Mike Oldfield
    Elements
    From Hank To Hendrix
    Neil Young
    Unplugged 1993
    Mr. Soul
    Neil Young
    Unplugged 1993
    Tiny Tears
    Tindersticks
    Tindersticks [II]
    Mistakes
    Tindersticks
    Tindersticks [II]
    You Don’t Have To Say
    Anders Widmark
    Anders Widmark Featuring Sara Isaksson
    Ronja Rövardotter (Rid Över Skog)
    Björn Isfält
    Filmmusik
    Mitt Liv Som Hund (Mot Småland)
    Björn Isfält
    Filmmusik
    Hang Hang
    Joshua Bell and Edgar Meyer
    Short Trip Home
    Moonlight Sonata
    Fläskkvartetten
    Pärlor Från Svin 2
    9. Wen you dance i can really
    Neil Young
    After the Goldrush
    4. Southern man
    Neil Young
    After the Goldrush
    7. Don’t let it bring You down
    Neil Young
    After the Goldrush
    Vitabergspredikan
    Stefan Sundström
    Latlåtar 91-00
    Tubular Bells (Opening Theme)
    Mike Oldfield (opening theme)
    Elements
    She’s Gone
    Tindersticks
    Tindersticks [II]
    For Other Us
    Brodsky Quartet & Elvis Costello
    The Juliet Letters
    Expert Rites
    Brodsky Quartet & Elvis Costello
    The Juliet Letters
    I Almost Had A Weakness
    Brodsky Quartet & Elvis Costello
    The Juliet Letters
    Who Do You Thing You Are?
    Brodsky Quartet & Elvis Costello
    The Juliet Letters
    Etude
    Mike Oldfield
    Elements
    Like A Hurricane
    Neil Young
    Unplugged 1993
    Sleepy Song
    Tindersticks
    Tindersticks [II]
    The fan
    Erik Borelius
    What is success
    Manhandle
    Erik Borelius
    What is success
    Resan Till Melonia (Ariel In Över Melonia)
    Björn Isfält
    Filmmusik
    Gilbert Grape (Piano Tema)
    Björn Isfält
    Filmmusik
    Synd
    Fläskkvartetten
    Pärlor Från Svin 2
    Lamento
    Fläskkvartetten
    Pärlor Från Svin 2
    Detta Blir Min Död
    Peter LeMarc
    Det Som Håller Oss Vid Liv
    Teo
    Fläskkvartetten
    Pärlor Från Svin 2
    Storm
    Fläskkvartetten
    Pärlor Från Svin 2
    MacVolta
    Fläskkvartetten
    Pärlor Från Svin 2
    Så Långt Mina Armar Räcker
    Peter LeMarc
    Det Som Håller Oss Vid Liv
    Sanctus
    Jan Garbarek
    Jan Garbarek – Hilliard Ensemble – Officium
    Du Är Bra
    Peter LeMarc
    Det Som Håller Oss Vid Liv
    Matty drawing
    Balanescu Quartet
    Angels & Insects
    His logic was bizarre
    Erik Borelius
    What is success
    To love and be loved
    Erik Borelius
    What is success
    Där Blått Möter Blått
    Peter LeMarc
    Det Som Håller Oss Vid Liv
    Giliap (Lilla DJävulen)
    Björn Isfält
    Filmmusik
    Alla frågar efter Alice
    Eldkvarn
    Brott lönar sig alltid
    Änglagård, Andra Sommaren (Råttor)
    Björn Isfält
    Filmmusik
    Giliap (Sommarens Sista Dans)
    Björn Isfält
    Filmmusik
    Mil efter mil
    Eldkvarn
    Brott lönar sig alltid
    Deliver Us
    Brodsky Quartet & Elvis Costello
    The Juliet Letters
    Trubbel
    Eldkvarn
    Brott lönar sig alltid
    01 Good to see You
    Neil Young
    Silver and Gold
    World Keeps Going Around
    Bill Withers
    Live at Carnegie Hall

    Like

  3. plasticbag.org Avatar

    On iTunes and music recommendations and ratings…

    At the moment there’s a lot of discussion about music-related recommendations and ratings functionality roaming around webloggia. I wrote about MediaUnbound the other day (On MediaUnbound and Recommendations Engines), and I’ve linked to the (currently …

    Like

  4. plasticbag.org Avatar

    The New Musical Functionality…

    Over the last few months webloggia has been full of discussions about the new musical functionality that’s starting to emerge around the web. I wasn’t immune from this trend – I wrote about MediaUnbound (On MediaUnbound and Recommendations Engines) and…

    Like

  5. plasticbag.org Avatar

    The New Musical Functionality…

    Over the last few months webloggia has been full of discussions about the new musical functionality that’s starting to emerge around the web. I wasn’t immune from this trend – I wrote about MediaUnbound (On MediaUnbound and Recommendations Engines) and…

    Like

  6. Carl-Martin Schönning Avatar

    Do you know where I can buy or download something with Björn Isfält? The only thing I have found so far here in Sweden is the wonderful soundtrack to En kärlekshistoria (A swedish lovestory). I love his music but it seems impossible to find!

    Like

  7. Dan Avatar

    Trackbacks sent to this post at the time (before I turned trackbacks off due to spam):


    » On iTunes and music recommendations and ratings… from plasticbag.org
    At the moment there’s a lot of discussion about music-related recommendations and ratings functionality roaming around webloggia. I wrote about MediaUnbound the other day (On MediaUnbound and Recommendations Engines), and I’ve linked to the (currently … [Read More]


    » The New Musical Functionality… from plasticbag.org
    Over the last few months webloggia has been full of discussions about the new musical functionality that’s starting to emerge around the web. I wasn’t immune from this trend – I wrote about MediaUnbound (On MediaUnbound and Recommendations Engines) and… [Read More]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: