I watched Aleks Krotowski’s excellent history and analysis of the web – The Virtual Revolution – when it was broadcast in February.
Part 3 of the Series was called ‘The Cost of Free’ and looked at what we, as consumers, feed into the web in order to get the benefits of free access to so much. Not only extensive personal information but also the history of our browsing, buying and other interactions. In the case of the latter we unwittingly provide the information that allows web retailers to offer us goods or services on the basis of “people like you like music/books/films like this”. The insidious truth is that if you respond to that stimulus, like a Pavlovian dog, you’re starting to conform to some stereotype, admittedly part-defined by you, from a brave, new future.
“What about serendipity?” asks Doctor Krotowski. How do you discover stuff that’s so far from what you’ve previously liked that no recommendation engine could ever figure out that you might like it? If you’re like me, you’ll probably use a fairly random mix of music journalism, such as the Guardian’s Music Blog or the BBC’s Introducing, and other rooting around, to see what’s new. To try the music recommended in the blogs (and I’m listening to The Fall’s Your Future, Our Clutter recommended by Dave Simpson now) you probably need to go to YouTube, unless the blog author has thoughtfully embedded a We7 player in the post.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could go to an interesting interface – graphical rather than text – and tell it some random facts about you, your interests, predilictions or even kinks and have it come back with a kind of mind map with a panoply of music of greater or less relevance to the things you seeded it with. Wow! When I asked Rich if he could build it for Psonar, he raised his eyes to heaven, but I’m sure he’s got something in mind.