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 was pretty excited to try out Spotify’s Year in Music feature, the company’s personalized, year-end analysis of each user’s listening habits over the previous twelve months. Once you login with your Spotify account, the service returns what’s basically a beautifully designed, moderately interactive PowerPoint deck that highlights the songs and albums that figured most prominently in your listening history. Unfortunately, mine produced some unexpected results: some of my most accessed content over the past year wasn’t for me, but for my kids (really!). For example:
This is a typical drawback of being a parent in a digital world that’s engineered almost exclusively around the whims of those who are single and technologically privileged: most services make a unilateral assumption that there’s a one-to-one relationship between accounts and users. In actuality, for many people like myself a Spotify account represents an entire family’s listening habits. (Another, more egregious example of this overly simplistic thinking is Apple’s unwillingness to allow multiple user accounts for iPad.) In this case such a fundamental misunderstanding is even more disappointing because Spotify already knows if a user is a parent of young kids or not, so theoretically they should be able to segment my listening habits from my kids’ listening habits.
That said, I’m not really here to complain. I mean, it was somewhat interesting to realize that I had played this album for my kids far more than all the others I played for myself.
But more to the point, I’m happy that the company is becoming more and more serious about delivering meaningful and creative insights to its users based on the copious meta data that they’re constantly collecting. This is what I wrote two years ago in a post on this very subject called “What Streaming Music Can Be”:
There is a world of possibility in telling me more about my own listening habits. If I could choose only one feature to add to Spotify, it would be play histories—when was the the first time I played a song? When was the last? When did I first add an album to my collection? How many times have I played it? Given my listening history, how likely am I to like a new album? How often do people with similar histories play a given album? How long did it take me to play one album twenty-five times in comparison to the last album I played that often?
Year in Music isn’t everything that I outlined above but it’s pretty darn close. Except for one thing: like Spotify’s similar Found Them First feature, which mines your streaming music play history to show you the artists that you “discovered” before they hit it big, it’s browser based. I’m all for launching these as experiments in the browser, but eventually I would like to see this kind of insight embedded directly into the main Spotify application itself. That’s when the experience of listening to streaming music will truly start to evolve into its next stage.+