Deezer champions "human touch" music programming over algorithms at TheNextWeb conference

Friday, May 3, 2013 - 11:50am

Deezer executive Fabrizio Gentile spoke at The Next Web conference in Amsterdam of the importance of human curation for programming music streams.

He revealed that about 50 of Deezer's 200 employees are "editorial managers" who carefully craft the listening experiences the service offers.

Gentile, managing director for the French-based online music service (which is not available to U.S. users), said, "Whenever you go on Deezer... everything that you see has been chosen by someone. In most countries where we are, or where we have offices at least, there’s someone listening to 40-45 hours of music a week and suggesting that to users."

It's this "human touch" which Gentile claims sets Deezer apart from other services' algorithm-based music programming and recommendations.

Read more (and watch video) from here.

Deezer VP/ad sales David Deslandes will give a special presentation at the May 23 RAIN Summit Europe (reported here), in Brussels. Full details of the day's events and registration links for RAIN Summit Europe are here.

Algorithmic intelligence still needs the "human touch," says NYT

Monday, March 11, 2013 - 12:10pm

As powerful and important as computer algorithms have become for any number of problems, The New York Times reports today that human judgement is still integral for nearly any service using them. Since "computers themselves are literal-minded, and context and nuance often elude them," it's still very necessary to have "people evaluate, edit or correct an algorithm’s work... assemble online databases of knowledge and check and verify them... (and) interpret and tweak information in ways that are understandable to both computers and other humans."

Even at Google, "where algorithms and engineers reign supreme," humans are contributing more to search results, writes The Times (Just one example: Type a celebrity's name in the Google search bar, and you'll probably see a summary about that person on the right-hand side of the results page... those are drawn from human-edited databases.).

Read more in The New York Times here.

Firms like The Echo Nest use algorithms to assemble databases of "music intelligence." Leading webcaster Pandora uses its own combination of music analyzed by humans but assembled in playlists by algorithm (though likely with significant influence of the "thumbs up/thumbs down" listener ratings it collects). As a marketing strategy, several other webcasters recently have positioned themselves as "curated by music experts, not algorithms" (more in RAIN here).

Taking a side in "man vs. machine": Slacker employs radio programmers to craft stations

Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 12:05pm

In the company blog, Jacobs Media president Fred Jacobs suggests "the human element" -- something that's been a part of broadcast radio since the beginning -- might be key for pureplay webcasters like Slacker to compete against the 600lb. gorilla that is Pandora.

As Jacobs mentions, Slacker’s senior radio program manager Mat Bates, a veteran of broadcast radio, spoke at our RAIN Summit Midwest event at The Conclave last month. Bates spoke of lessons learned in broadcast, and how they could benefit a pureplay webcaster like Slacker: namely, music presentations crafted by knowledgeable and passionate human beings, and not computer algorithms.

The first wave or two of online music services seemed to us to be a reaction to everything bad that broadcast radio had become: lowest-common-denominator playlists with no surprises, an overload of commercials, and air talent relegated to reading promos. The (largely) non-radio people (quite often from the tech world) were the entrepreneurs of the first generation of online music and radio services, and they developed products that that renounced the "evils" of commercial broadcasting. Some would argue that in doing so, their services were prone to veer in the opposite direction: they often had unfocused playlists, no clear plan for monetization, and lacked any sense of "humanness."

And it really brought to the fore the question: Does the human insight bring something to music programming that we can't (yet) replicate with algorithms and machines? And, what we think is more interesting: does the consumer truly benefit? Is the listening experience so improved as generate increased (and monetizable) listening so as to justify the costs of employing human music experts? And, is this a worthwhile branding advantage (in other words, does the listener realize and care whether her music is "curated" by a passionate musicologist, or cranked out by an algorithm and a database?)? 

Naturally, radio programmers will cling to the notion that what they do with a 300-song playlist simply can't be replicated electronically; likewise, technophiles will smugly chuckle at them. Slacker's strategy seems to acknowledge the value of broadcasting's human element. The service employs experienced broadcast radio programmers (some still working in radio), and they even insert occasional brief "jock" breaks between songs on some channels. What we find interesting is that Slacker doesn't explicitly promote this to the consumer. We can't find anything on the site, nothing in the programming itself, that makes it plain to the listener that "Hey, you're hearing this song or artist because we like it, and we think you'll like it too."

Has Slacker concluded that human curated music programming is so superior to algorithms as to be self-evident -- simply, the proof is in the listening? And that promoting the fact that "hey, we have humans crafting your listening" is just more promotional noise? 

Read Fred Jacobs blog post here.

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