is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
I’d just like to know: how many of you out there have been burned — or, I guess, delighted — by recommendation engines? You know, when you buy one product, a mercenarily convenient notice will present itself with a recommendation for another similarly minded product that you might like to buy as well.
Amazon.com, of course, is the most famous online retailer who’s implemented this ‘upsell’ technique for just about anything they sell, but I’m specifically talking about recommendations for music. By and large, I’ve found the recommendations engine at Netflix to be very satisfactory, as there’s something more easily quantifiable about offering up movies than music, tastes for which can be so capriciously subjective.
By contrast, I finally decided to give Last.fm a try, and I’ve been more or less fully dissatisfied with the results so far. I’d heard a lot of good things about the service, which monitors the songs you play in iTunes (and through other computer-centric music playing methods) and presents recommendations based on your listening habits. I’ve been impressed with almost none of the bands that it’s shown me, having already been familiar with most of them or finding the others to be almost universally bland.
I guess I’m feeling particularly burned because, in a fit of optimism when I first started trying the service, I took Last.fm’s word for it and actually purchased one of the albums that was suggested to me: Rilo Kiley’s “Under the Blacklight.” I don’t know what I was thinking; this band is so boring I almost fell asleep typing out their name. From now on, when I go looking for new tunes, it’s only supercilious, human-penned music criticism for me.+