Pandora needs a “like it a LOT” button (although it’s doing pretty well without one)

Here’s a conundrum…

Pandora, the “internet radio” site that attempts to use your feedback to shape “stations” that play stuff you like, has a pretty simple system for your input: After you enter a song or artist (or multiple songs or artists) that you’d like to hear, it guesses what else you might like based on that, and you click on either a thumbs-down button meaning “I don’t like this song,” or a thumbs-up meaning “I like this song.”

That’s it. No gradations of feedback. It’s way binary; ones and zeros. I try to click on one or the other on most songs. I don’t sit there poised with the mouse, but every few songs I ALT-TAB back to Pandora to catch up with my decisions (except when I’ve gotten lost in my work and lost track of what I was “hearing,” and even then if I’m familiar with the song, I render a judgment).

But I find this frustrating everyone once in a while. Most of my “likes” mean, “I don’t mind if you keep this in my mix.” But every once in a while, they play me something I really, REALLY dig.

Examples… I have a lot of stations for different kinds of music, but recently I’ve spent a lot of time defining one called “Brad’s All-Purpose Station.” In the “I don’t mind if you keep this in my mix” on that station, I’d include “After Midnight,” “Angie,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “It’s Money That Matters,” “Long May You Run,” “Oh! Darling,” “Smoke on the Water,” and so forth.

But there are other songs that I want to make sure Pandora knows I really like a LOT more than those songs. It may be an all-time favorite, or a really good song I seldom here and don’t own a copy of, or something I’ve occasionally heard and loved but didn’t know the name of… all sorts of reasons. Into that category I’d put: “Sexy and 17,” Another Girl,” “Baby, It’s You,” “Badge,” “Adagio for Strings,” “Bring it on home to Me,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Gymnopedies (3),” “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (the Al Green version!),” “I’ll Cry Instead,” “In Germany Before the War,” “I’ve Got A Woman,” “Naked Man,” “New Amsterdam,” “Simple Man,” “Werewolves of London,” and others. Oh, and on that last one: I’d much rather hear “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” or “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” but neither has yet been offered.

When I hear one of those, I want to say, Whoa, I’m sorry I clicked “like” on those last 10, because this is what I REALLY like! Don’t just lump this in with those… But all I can do is click again on the “like” button.

OK, so I’m frustrated that I can’t give more nuanced feedback, but here’s the perplexing thing: In spite of that, Pandora does an increasingly excellent job of guessing what I’ll like. As time goes by, I hit that “don’t like” button quite seldom.

Contrast that to Netflix, which gives me five levels of feedback, from one to five stars — and yet remains pretty much clueless as to what I’d like.

Not that I haven’t put the time in… I’m sort of embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve rated 2,144 movies on that site. I keep thinking, Give ’em more data, and they’ll figure me out. But they don’t. You give “Casablanca” five stars, and Netflix assumes, “He likes any movie that’s more than 50 years old.” Yeah, it’s probably a little more sophisticated than that — but not much.

Frustrating. But kudos to Pandora.

9 thoughts on “Pandora needs a “like it a LOT” button (although it’s doing pretty well without one)

  1. scout

    My strategy is to assume it’s doing a pretty good job of picking songs for whatever the category is and only use the buttons to let it know when it’s done a really good job or really bad job. I don’t feel I have to tell it if the song is just ok to stay in the mix because I assume it will anyway until I give it more data. I think they just have a really good algorhythym – they have quantized a ton of musical attributes for each song so they progressively narrow it down. At least that is my best guess of how it works.

  2. Mark Stewart

    That’s a really big number. That’s, like, professional grade movie reviewing territory.

  3. Mark Stewart

    My comment was meant in jest – not as sarcasm. Michael P.’s comment took all the fun out of the topic for me. Interests and hobbies are good. They keep our minds sharp and bitterness at bay.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    @ Mark– My comment was a reference to another Spinal Tap scene–might be in an out-take, where it is explained to David St. Hubbins that having a naked, bound man on the cover harassed by women of an album is fine, but having a naked woman “smell the glove” is offensive. He responds thusly.


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