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 :dreamy, :goofy, :energy, :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.


Archived Comments

  • a smart playlist i use is one where it shows me songs that have been played 3+ times and are unrated. i look at it periodically and then quickly rate those tunes.
  • You should see the elaborate, nested, weighted Active Playlist I built to keep the rotation fresh on my iPod... to summarize, every song gets "rested" after playing, but the rest is shorter if the rating is higher. (There are, of course, special rules for new and/or unrated songs.) Nothing exceptionally clever, but the end result is close to having what amounts to a little radio station which only plays music I want to hear. It's freakin' incredible, and, as you put it, I feel like it's a very real bit of value added.
  • Self-tickling seems to be a reoccurring theme of yours. Isn't the Amazon Wish-of-the-Month club along the same lines?
  • George: Huh, you know, I think you're right. I never thought about the wishlist thing in those terms, but it fits! I'm actually starting to think this might be a good way to handle information overload. Like, establish some rules or set up some learning (ie. bayes or whatnot), toss in a shuffle, and filter a firehose through it. (ie. 611 RSS feeds I've subscribed to) I couldn't possibly process everything from the firehose, so a jug or two from it is better than nothing-- and a swig fuzzily selected from the better parts is better still. The idea is not to even try to get everything, but make the best of what I can actually use in a particular context. (like the current song, or a wishlist item, or a few dozen news items)
  • I agree - pondering this kind of thing is fun : http://michael-mccracken.net/blog/blosxom.pl/computers/mac/music/Shuffle.html I figured that the best way is to have it try to guess based on how you already interact with it instead of making you rate things (I have had iTunes for years and still mostly not rated the songs.)
  • Hmm. although, for info overload that isn't quite tickling yourself (not with RSS feeds anyway) because not all of the input is your own. And, Michael: Yeah, that's something I've started thinking about too. Wondering how hard it would be to come up with a little assistant that asked at each transition between songs, "Was that a good transition?" You give a thumbs up / thumbs down, or maybe some stars, and after awhile the thing can start building playlists. Unfortunately for me, the Party Shuffle mode isn't available for use when playing songs off the iPod in iTunes. Otherwise, I'd say that'd be a perfect mode to tinker with a small window of song order
  • great idea on the comments, i hadn't even thought of that. i mostly use the genre to filter, but i'm inspired. the 30k songs are a bit daunting tho.