Friday, April 27, 2007

Pandora - delightful music discovery

Online radio has burst on to the scene in such a big way over the last couple of years with the advent of high speed broadband connection all over the world. Broadband internet was an exclusive nicety that was available only to North Americans and Europeans for over a decade. With polarities shifting and non western economies becoming stronger, countries like China, India and Middle East are jumping on the bandwagon and making broadband available to the masses.

The immediate impact of this is the widespread use of Web 2.0 services in the third world. Online radio is not exactly Web 2.0, it precedes that era but the last couple of years have seen the advent of some intelligent online radio services; Pandora and Last.FM to name a few.

I especially love Pandora and listen to it at work almost every day. Pandora is written in Open Laszo , an open source AJAX technology framework for building rich internet applications. It is conceptually like Flash and even looks a bit like Flash, but is based on AJAX. It is open source and there are quite a few OpenLaszo implementations out there already.

Pandora is an intelligent, intuitive and delightful music discovery service (funky name for online radio??). It is based on the Music Genome project which attempts to analyze music and its facets like tone, melody, harmony, instrumentation, arrangement, lyric and richness of singing and vocal harmony. The interesting thing about Music Genome project is that they don't classify artists or albums as belonging to a genre; instead they analyze each and every song individually and classify it into a genre based on various parameters.

What this means is a band like Metallica which makes heavy metal music almost always won't get classified into hard metal category ad-hoc in Pandora. Instead each song of theirs is analyzed by human(s) and classified based on various parameters.

Imagine you love soft music and chose that genre in an online radio service. Even if Metallica did a soft lilting number, you will never get to hear it because most services would have classified Metallica as a heavy metal artist; but not Pandora !

Pandora allows you to create upto 100 customized stations based on various factors like genre, artist, album or even a song. If you love songs that have a heady bass guitar like Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water", you can put in the song name in Pandora and allow it to play you song after that song that matches the tonal quality and is largely similar to "Smoke ...".

I know Last.FM is also a hugely popular service that is based on user recommendations and some heavy duty algorithms but I didn't find the service as good as Pandora (tats my 0.02). Pandora also allows you to flag a song with a "Thumbs up" or "Thumbs down" sign that helps it learn from the user experience and helps them fine tune their classification system.

All in all, Pandora is a wonderful online radio service that helps turn mundane days into not so bad ones, keeps me awake at work especially during the aftermath of a heavy lunch and keeps me going by playing song after song uninterrupted and allows me to discover exciting new music every day.

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