The world of music continues to be one of the richest sources of examples for the Snowflake Effect, where mass personalization, mass customization, mass contribution are all available to try.
The list of examples continues to grow exponentially. A "Do It Yourself/ Build Your Own" model calls for a radical redesign, and this is what most products and services will need to adopt if they expect to survive in the future.
If you haven't tried using this aspect of mass personalization in the music services area, I'd recommend you check out the "Social Music Overview" page from TechCrunch for a list of options and a brief overview of each. Then, to best understand and evaluate the experience and the potential, you really need to try it yourself.
See if you think that there is no turning back now. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no putting it back! The vector of mass personalization and the Snowflake Effect is inevitable and will become the expectation that we have for most products and services, because we now know it is possible—a great thing from my perspective. But let me know your reactions and experiences as well.
Right now though, I'd like to bring a few of the newer developments and advancements from the world of music to your attention.
My first example is Slacker, and contrary to its name (in many cultures the word "slacker" refers to someone who does not try or work very hard), this site is a real winner. It's currently my top pick for the Snowflake Effect as its applied to music.
You'll find a good overview of Slacker in this PC Mag review. On TechCrunch, you'll see that the founders of Slacker (each of whom is an online music veteran) have very big ambitions indeed. In addition to their Web-based music service, which will compete with others such as Pandora, MOG, and Last.FM, Slacker is about to release (Dec 2007) a new portable player, which is reviewed here and is pictured on the left. This new portable player is WiFi-enabled, so you can have music streamed right to it, and synch it with your desktop and music collection. They have also announced a satellite car kit so you can have this music wherever you are.
One notable addition over most other music personalization services is that the desktop version of Slacker (Windows only for now unfortunately) enables you to incorporate your own music library in the mix. What most impressed me, however, was the well designed interface that enables new degrees of personalization. I'm referring to the overall human computer interface, not just the way it looks.
Slacker is impressive and a significant improvement over other services. You can do as much or as little customization as you like quickly and easily. And no matter where you leave off in this customization, Slacker works to the maximum degree possible.
For example, my former favorite, Pandora, requires that you provide constant feedback by indicating that you like or don't like each song. If you stop providing this feedback, then it stops playing after an hour or two. This is all very understandable since it can't continue to improve without some additional input, so it knows if the music is continuing to be just right for you at just that time or not. However, most of us are unwilling or unable to constantly provide this feedback for every song while it is playing—at least not by the current norm of manually clicking a thumbs up or thumbs down button or a 1-5 star rating. This method is too interruptive on a continuous basis.
Slacker, in contrast to all the others I know, is set up to do the best it can with however much feedback you give it. Obviously the more you give, the more you get. However, that Slacker will continue to work very hard at playing music that is as personalized as possible to the information you've given it is a huge improvement.
I'm very big on the "discovery factor" of this kind of personalization, and this is another big plus of Slacker, which is why I'm using this as my current best example. As you use the Slacker interface to personalize the music, you are constantly exposed to more and more alternatives. Yet this does not overwhelm you with too much choice, because you can take it or leave it. Again, Slacker maximizes as much feedback as you've given it and keeps on playing great personalized music. One particularly valuable new function is the ability for you to set the "discoverability" factor to any degree you like. This is nicely summarized in the PC Mag review:
"To tweak your listening experience further, Slacker provides four ingenious fine-tuning options. Artist Discovery lets you control how much variety you'll get beyond the chosen artists (a lot, a little, or none at all), and Popularity determines whether you get "fringe" song selections, "hits," or something in between. The Favorites tool determines how often the selected station plays those songs you've tagged as favorites. Finally, there's Year, which narrows the selection to Classic, Older, Recent, or Current. (You can leave all these options set to Auto if you'd rather not get so specific.) Neither Last.fm nor Pandora offer anywhere near this kind of fine-tuning; the most you can do is vote yea or nay on the current song selection (which you can do in Slacker as well)."
Want more examples of the richness of the music world? Check out the just released Social.fm, which is (as you might guess) a widget designed for music sharing within social networks, such as FaceBook. Read the Nov. 12th Webware review "Social.fm rolls out fancy looking Facebook app, DIY widgets for everyone else" for a good overview of this new service. In addition to a nicely integrated FaceBook version, Social.fm has also announced that they are working on integrating better with with Google's OpenSocial initiative. This is worth keeping an eye on IF and as OpenSocial creates a standard that enables interoperability for widgets across all applications and OS. This is still a long way off and somewhat of a long shot, but it's very much worth rooting for and following up on.
Social.fm's announcement of Social.fm Mobile is also great example of convergence. This technology turns your smartphone into a music player for everything from your own music collection to digital radio and podcasts,
So, are you Off Course from your usual thinking, and where you are looking? Most likely. But On Target? Even more likely! Enjoy your experiential learning and I'll be back soon with more.