iTunes Genius and Her Cousin Dumbass

15 Oct

Sheepishly, I admit to liking the iTunes Genius feature. I use it regularly while cycling. Click on a song and Genius generates a selection of related music on the fly. All I need do is pop in my iPhone’s earbuds and I’m on the road, pedaling to a well-conceived string of tunes.

Despite my best intentions, I don’t devote the time I once did to creating Playlists from the 10+ gigabytes of music I store in iTunes. Sometimes I’m not in the mood to hear even my old favorite lists, so I use Genius to generate a meaningful and immediate collection of songs. They’re not unlike the compilations you’d find on late-night television, producing musical themes around Beethoven or Coltrane to Woodstock or Tilith, which is why I feel sheepish. While clever, Genius is not creative. But it’s drop-dead simple to use and a surprisingly savvy bit of software. It’s a nice addition to my digital life.

The way it works, as I understand it, is that once I opt in to iTunes Genius, I permit Apple to snag data from the music program’s database on my Mac and combine it with data from thousands, maybe millions of other iTunes users’ music libraries from around the world. People who like similar music tend to like other similar music, so working up lists from such a large sample of users makes it an effective, intelligent service in the cloud. As a result, Genius is able to cobble together a solid list of tunes from a single suggestion.

You would think that Apple would exploit Genius more than as merely a tune selection program similar to Netflix’s movie recommendation engine. But you’d be wrong.

iTunes Genius has a Dumbass e-mail cousin that makes a mockery of Apple’s so-called marketing genius. iTunes Dumbass is a standard html-formatted e-mail that only knows that I bought this or that genre of music and wants me to buy more of the same. Every time some Apple marketing suit thinks it’s time to promote that genre, he sends Dumbass to annoy me. Because I did something in the past, even years ago and never repeated buying in that genre, I get Dumbass in my mail queue on cue.

Genius tells me that Apple has the business intelligence (BI) tools at hand to put Dumbass out to pasture and create something new and useful. For some reason, though, Apple sticks with Dumbass.

I want an iTunes e-mail that groks my recent and trending music purchases. It should know what others with similar tastes in those trending or recent buys have in their music collection but I lack. It should select those tunes for my consideration. This Smarter e-mail should send me 60-second mp3 files of a few such songs, or a link to a one-time full play of music I do not own, but would likely buy. Such a service would increase my spending at the iTunes store and improve my customer experience. That’s real BI like Genius not Dumbass.

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4 Responses to “iTunes Genius and Her Cousin Dumbass”

  1. Shefaly October 15, 2010 at 9:19 am #

    Mark, the other extreme of this genius-dumbass continuum (trust me, it is 3 dimensional) is an Amazon like functionality: where buying one tax or pregnancy book once means Amazon will send you an email every time a tax or pregnancy related book is launched or goes on a deal-type price. :-/

    • Mark Everett Hall October 15, 2010 at 9:27 am #

      Exactly. I once bought a book about dogs for my sister and had it sent directly to her via Amazon. Now I get dog book recommendations. You’d think the software would know it was a gift and not try to sell me the genre regularly. A good program would detect the connection between the recipient and the timeframe, then, maybe, send me a reminder around that time of year with a list of potential books. How hard can that be? (I originally started this blog post by writing up mock marriage vows between Amazon & Apple’s dumb BI software. But it got too long & stupid, so I went with this more straightforward rant.)

  2. dbl October 15, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Couple, three things…

    What you’re describing sounds like of a cousin of RSS, which in this case means Really Sucky Songs. I’d a’thought you’d be a roll-your-own kinda guy.

    Bear in mind, it’s an algorithm, not an algorhythm.

    And, unrelated, how can I leave a comment without having to sign-in each time”

    Yours in curmedgeonism…

    • Mark Everett Hall October 15, 2010 at 4:01 pm #

      Dumbass is, indeed, RSS. But Apple has the opportunity to do much more with the BI available to it through Genius and it doesn’t take a genius (uh, me, for example) to see that. As for your pun, best leave that unremarked upon. Finally, as with so many things here & elsewhere, I am clueless about WordPress login requirements.

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