I've had an iPod for a little over a week now, and I've been working pretty diligently to rate every song I hear and trying to make sure all the metadata is correct. I've even started tinkering with tagging songs using things like
:calm in the comments field for use with Smart Playlists. (Yeah, I know about TuneTags, but the psuedo-XML in song comments bugs me, as does the somewhat buggy behavior of the last version of the program I tried.)
By this point, I've managed to cram about 3400 songs from our CD collection into it. (So much for the marketing!) With my efforts so far, a “Good Music” Smart Playlist selecting for 3-stars and above gives me around 415 songs. This doesn't count the songs I've rated with 1-star, which get deleted from the iPod periodically. Also, I've yet to get a significant proportion tagged with special comments, so mood-based and concept-based playlists are far off until I get a better tool for letting me quickly and lazily tag songs.
So, this morning on the way into work I fired up my “Good Music” playlist on random for the first time, and I was amazed at how good the selection was. Yes, I rated these songs, so I should know they're good--but so far, I've had all 3400 songs on shuffle and have been alternating between listening and rating, skipping songs I wasn't in the mood for, and canning songs right off the bat with a 1-star rating. So up until now, my rotation has been an okay experience.
However, hearing that mix of consistently high rated songs was an unexpectedly good experience. What occurred to me as I rounded the last stretch of I-75 into Detroit this morning is that this metadata and these Smart Playlists on shuffle amount to an attempt to tickle myself. Ever try that? For the most part, it doesn't work. Sure, you know where you're ticklish--but if it's your hand trying to do it, you're expecting it and the tickle doesn't happen.
I'm probably stepping too far into breathless pretentiousness with this, but it makes me want to think further about machine learning and intelligence. Yeah, Smart Playlists are a very, very rudimentary form of intelligence, but it's good enough to tickle me with a music mix--which is a very real bit of value added to my life.
I wonder how much further this tickling-myself metaphor can be taken? That is: take a machine endowed with information I produced, apply some simple or slightly complex logic with a bit of random shuffle, and feed it back to me to see if it makes me experience it with some novelty. Someone's got to already be on top of this as a research project. That, or it's an idea obvious or dumb enough only to appeal to me.