Is Apple’s Curation the Key to Beating the Algorithm?

During Apple’s recent WWDC conference, Jimmy Iovine waxed lyrical about how, unlike all of the competitor’s streaming services, what makes Apple Music different is it’s focus on curation rather than just algorithms.

“Picture this: you’re in a special moment and the next song comes on… Bzz. Buzzkill!” the record producer turned entrepreneur opened with. “It probably happened because it was programmed by an algorithm alone. Algorithms can’t do that emotional task. You need a human touch.” This “human touch,” Apple proclaims, will be the difference between Apple Music and Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, and a host of other companies already in the streaming game.

Is Curation Viable?

Apple justified the 2014 $3 billion dollar acquisition of Beats by highlighting the expertise those involved had in the music industry. The curated approach that the company plans will be built on this “trusted team of well respected music experts” to ensure the music you hear is perfect for your specific situation and personalized for your unique taste. Apple has hired several high-profile DJs to head it’s new Beats 1 radio station, including former BBC Radio 1 host Zane Lowe.

Does this mean that the trend has gone full circle then? After all, during the birth of popular music, people tuned into their favorite radio hosts as their primary means of music discovery. Back then, a few trusted individuals had the power to shape an entire generation’s taste. However, in what became known as payola, this quickly became corrupt by industry heavyweights who pushed their records on stations. Since the advent of the internet, though, the computer algorithm was able to offer recommendations to you whenever and wherever you were.

Proponents of the Algorithm

These kinds of algorithms aren’t only a part of streaming services either. The two biggest deliverers of online content are Google and Facebook, who both deal with algorithmic systems to display news. Google uses algorithms to find the best answer to a search query while Facebook creates a unique news feed for each of its users. Because 12 billion search requests on a monthly basis while Facebook currently has 1.44 billion users–it would be impossible for them to employ enough people to curate a user’s results.

Google’s algorithms make it possible to analyze vast quantities of article titles, descriptions, and metadata in an effort to show you the right answer and make certain web pages more visible. There are many reputable companies which help businesses to optimise their websites, to increase the visibility of their web pages in Google’s search results. Meanwhile your Facebook news feed is calculated by how many likes, shares, and comments individual posts have received and how often you have interacted with similar content in the past.

Ultimately, the two systems excel at different things. Perhaps one day an artificial algorithm will be able to outperform a human brain, but not yet. How do you feel about Apple’s approach to streaming? Will it be the key to differentiating over its competitors or are you just hoping they don’t try to push the next U2 album on to us again. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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