Honing my Tools

Gray, T. (2011, January 21). Pandora Pulls Back the Curtain on Its Magic Music Machine. Fast Company. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from http://www.fastcompany.com/1718527/pandora-pulls-back-curtain-its-magic-music-machine

Griffith, E. (2014, June 17). Bob Pittman doesn’t believe streaming will kill radio. But he’s built a massive streaming service, just in case. Fortune. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from http://fortune.com/2014/06/17/iheartradio-clear-channel-bob-pittman/

Inside Pandora Web Radio. (2006, December 20). O’Reilly Media. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from http://oreilly.com/digitalmedia/2006/08/17/inside-pandora-web-radio.html

Kay, A., & Goldberg, A. (1977, March 1). Personal Dynamic Media. The New Media Reader. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from http://www.newmediareader.com/book_samples/nmr-26-kay.pdf

Layton, J. (2006, May 23). How Pandora Radio Works. HowStuffWorks. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from http://computer.howstuffworks.com/internet/basics/pandora.htm

Licklider, J. (1960, March). IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics. Man-Computer Symbiosis. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from http://groups.csail.mit.edu/medg/people/psz/Licklider.html

Nelson, T. (1974). Computer Lib/Dream Machines. The New Media Dreamer. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from http://www.newmediareader.com/book_samples/nmr-21-nelson.pdf

Pandora Announces Leadership Team Succession. (2014, March 18). Pandora. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from http://investor.pandora.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=227956&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1909735&highlight=

Nugget Curation #2

I’ve been going back and forth between which aspect of Pandora I really want to focus on for the project, so bear with my sources as they concern opposite things.


“Advertising is the art of arresting the human intelligence just long enough to get money from it.”

“Social media companies are legitimate advertising websites, no different than, say, Google or Yahoo. The same way Google made its money is the same way Twitter and Facebook will make their money.”


I’m sure we’ve all heard that advertising involves ‘sneaky’ tactics that make us subconsciously want to buy their products. It makes sense to say, then, that advertising arrests our intelligence for a short period of time because we no longer have ‘control’ of our thoughts. Pandora, for example, offers a minute of advertising for every, let’s say, 5 songs. There are no options to skip the advertisement or speed through it; the listener is almost forced to listen unless they take their headphones out. These advertisements have an independent dialogue so the audience doesn’t need to view the screen (like typical radio advertisements), but Pandora has an advantage over traditional radio stations in that they can also provide a visual image/video on the listener’s phone or laptop screen. This way, Pandora can charge companies more money to be advertised on their channels because their advertisements are sure to reach people more efficiently.

Therefore, the second nugget is hard to argue with. With commodities like these, Pandora is surely an advertising website. Companies pay Pandora good money to be featured on their stations. It is true that Pandora also makes money from membership fees, but most of its success can be accredited to ads, and Pandora makes most of its money the way Google or Twitter do. The question is finally raised that if advertising arrests human intelligence and these websites are advertising websites, are they making us stupid? Is Pandora hindering our intelligence? With Twitter and Google, it’s pretty easy to ignore the advertisements and focus on the content we are looking for, so maybe these don’t necessarily make us stupid (in that sense at least). Pandora makes it really hard to ignore them though, and I’m sure people decide to buy a product on Pandora more often than these other sites. Pandora, then, might not make its audience any smarter, but the program behind how people listen to their music and why they enjoy Pandora definitely is…

“Pandora has no concept of genre, user connections or ratings. It doesn’t care what other people who like Gomez also like. When you create a radio station on Pandora, it uses a pretty radical approach to delivering your personalized selections: Having analyzed the musical structures present in the songs you like, it plays other songs that possess similar musical traits.“

It doesn’t take a genius to use Pandora, but the company’s music analysts sure are. The way Pandora creates its stations is called the Music Genome Project. Pandora’s employees, referred to as music analysts, listen to each and every song before it’s added to Pandora. They break up each song by its melody, rhythm, tune, algorithms, lyrics, and 395 other things (they look for a total of 400 different things). Then they can find similarities between songs by these factors, and create stations with a bunch of complementary songs that listeners will also enjoy.

Pandora listener: becoming dumber but enjoying great music

Pandora listener: becoming dumber but enjoying great stations

“Pandora […] grew out of the Music Genome Project, which company founder Tim Westergren began six years ago. […] He became fascinated with the way directors described the music they were looking for, which led to his wondering what made people enjoy certain types of music. He asked himself, “If people haven’t found any music that they love since college, and artists are struggling to find an audience, is there a role for technology to help bridge the gap?”“

What we’ve concluded so far: listening to Pandora will arrest your intelligence for about a minute between every 5 songs. Those sequences of 5 songs, however, will be awesome because they have similar musical traits to the primary song or artist you put in. Now we need to address the technology factor of Pandora. Pandora can only be used through a smart phone or computer (whether that is a desktop, laptop, or tablet doesn’t matter). Pandora was invented because Tim Westergren wanted to use technology to help artists and listeners connect more efficiently. But has he reached his goal? The following nugget should tell us:

““It’s true that the algorithms mathematically match songs, but the math, all it’s doing is translating what a human being is actually measuring,” says Tim Westergren, who founded Pandora in 2000 and now serves as its Chief Strategy Officer. “You need a human ear to discern.” Pandora’s secret sauce is people. Music lovers.“

So technology is definitely a factor in Pandora’s journey, by all means, but the most powerful component is the music analysts. Pandora’s employees, the ones who listen and take apart thousands of songs, are really the ones accountable for bridging the gap. Technology can not (yet) discern between these multiple factors like human beings can. People who study music are able to do so and are the reason that Pandora has become so successful. This applies to music itself. Technology doesn’t (yet) create music, people do. Musicians certainly use technology to create beats, sounds, and other things, but this is still controlled by humans. The same is true with creating radio stations, traditional or on the Internet. Technology is the means used, but people are behind the magic.

I can not guess what the future of this entire industry would be, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility for humans to have no part in it. Pandora’s music analysts could get tired of listening to more and more songs as artists come out with new music, and they may create technology to do it instead.


Nugget Curation #1

“Assume a linear ratio of 100 for future use. Consider film of the same thickness as paper, although thinner film will certainly be usable. Even under these conditions there would be a total factor of 10,000 between the bulk of the ordinary record on books, and its microfilm replica. The Encyclopoedia Britannica could be reduced to the volume of a matchbox. A library of a million volumes could be compressed into one end of a desk. If the human race has produced since the invention of movable type a total record, in the form of magazines, newspapers, books, tracts, advertising blurbs, correspondence, having a volume corresponding to a billion books, the whole affair, assembled and compressed, could be lugged off in a moving van. Mere compression, of course, is not enough; one needs not only to make and store a record but also be able to consult it, and this aspect of the matter comes later. Even the modern great library is not generally consulted; it is nibbled at by a few.” -Vannevar Bush

The way that Bush describes how books are compressed by technology is the same way that music has been compressed. In the past, the only way to store books were in great libraries on levels and levels of shelves and tables. Music, stored in records, CDs, or cassettes, were also housed in large music libraries, music stores, record label companies, etc. The progression of technology has allowed us to have a “movable type” of storage that is the size of “one end of a desk” (or even smaller now). Pandora is one of these technologies that assembles and compresses music into different categories or stations for convenient, portable use. Like thousands of books can be stored on a Kindle or Nook, thousands of songs and various artists are now available for listening trough Pandora. Bush says, “[O]ne needs not only to make and store a record but also be able to consult it.” Well, every song on Pandora is first consulted with a musical analyst that works for the company. Of the sources I’ve bookmarked on Diigo, one explains that actual humans have analyzed music from close to 10,000 artists dating back to the past 100 years. Songs do not end up on Pandora by random – they are all consulted individually. Pandora’s listeners, however, may very well “nibble at” these songs, and not fully consult every song it offers. Nonetheless, Bush’s assertion is very relatable to Pandora.


“In one sense of course, any man-made system is intended to help man, to help a man or men outside the system. If we focus upon the human operator within the system, however, we see that, in some areas of technology, a fantastic change has taken place during the last few years. “Mechanical extension” has given way to replacement of men, to automation, and the men who remain are there more to help than to be helped. In some instances, particularly in large computer-centered information and control systems, the human operators are responsible mainly for functions that it proved infeasible to automate. Such systems (“humanly extended machines,” North might call them) are not symbiotic systems. They are “semi-automatic” systems, systems that started out to be fully automatic but fell short of the goal.” -J.C.R. Licklider

Of course any man-made system, as Licklider explains, is intended to help man. Society would not create technology that would be detrimental or deprive us somehow. The compression of records explained by Bush, I believe, is a man-made technology that certainly has been to our advantage. But Pandora, being one of these compression technologies, is largely reliable on human operators, and is therefore not fully automatic. One of my own sources explains that Pandora’s human element is their “secret sauce” and they need human ears. The Music Genome Project, or the way the company creates its stations, has proved “infeasible to automate.” Throughout my research this is what I’ve been trying to understand – the level of man-computer symbiosis between Pandora, its employees, and its listeners. Taking into consideration Licklider’s allegation, Pandora is not a symbiotic system (at least in present times; Pandora could certainly ‘reach the goal’ eventually, although I’m not sure that they want to).

“The computer is as inhuman as we make it. The computer is no more “cold” and “inhuman” than a toaster, bathtub or automobile (all associated with warm human activities).” -Ted Nelson

So computers are inhuman, and Pandora is so reliant on humans, that I’m wondering if it is really right to call Pandora technology? Hear me out: so far with the interpretations made on Bush’s and Licklider’s nuggets, it seems logical to say that Pandora is largely a human progression, and it merely interacts with its clients through technology.


Pandora’s employee’s are the ones that are responsible for listening to music and creating connections between artists and songs. The only component of Pandora that is independent of human control is the sequence of songs and advertisements. In fact, if smart phones or computer didn’t exist, Pandora wouldn’t either. Pandora is not its own invention, like the television or the tablet. Pandora, as I stated before, is just a composition of human work that is accessed through technology.

“Every process of thought or action is made up of sub-processes. Let us consider such examples as making a pencil stroke, writing a letter of the alphabet, or making a plan. Quite a few discrete muscle movements are organized into the making of a pencil stroke; similarly, making particular pencil strokes and making a plan for a letter are complex processes in themselves that become sub-processes to the over-all writing of an alphabetic character. Although every sub-process is a process in its own right, in that it consists of further sub-processes, there seems to be no point here in looking for the ultimate bottom of the process-hierarchical structure. There seems to be no way of telling whether or not the apparent bottoms (processes that cannot be further subdivided) exist in the physical world or in the limitations of human understanding.” -Doug Engelbart

My independent research has led me to a source that says, “When you create a radio station on Pandora, it uses a pretty radical approach to delivering your personalized selections: Having analyzed the musical structures present in the songs you like, it plays other songs that possess similar musical traits. Pandora relies on a Music Genome that consists of 400 musical attributes covering the qualities of melody, harmony, rhythm, form, composition and lyrics.”

Pandora takes a song, a complex measure, and simplifies it by its algorithms, melodies, tunes, and lyrics. We do not usually regard music as having 400 different musical attributes (unless maybe you are in the music industry), but these songs are made up of sub-processes, simpler components, that Pandora’s music analysts identify and group together in similar categories. It is hard to say, as Engelbart points out in complex structures, what exactly is the very bottom component of the hierarchy. Is the rhythm the simplest part of a song? Perhaps the tempo? Maybe, after all, each component is fairly equal and they are just simply different elements that can be taken apart. Either way, it is true that every process is surely made up of sub-processes, including Pandora.


Connections with Diigo

As I was scanning through the Thought Vectors Diigo, I realized that the students who had participated so far (including myself) had really topic-specific sources. My inquiry topic, for example, is Pandora, and I think about 4 out of my 5 sources had Pandora in its title. As with other students in my section, I could tell who had posted certain links without looking at their name because their sources were also mostly about their topics. This made it hard to bookmark other students’ sources for my personal library, because although I am partnering up with some of them, their sources were too specific to what they are researching. As we continue through this research process, I want to broaden my research so that my ‘party’ and I can make better connections between our topics, as I hope other students will too.


I do think Diigo is perfect for this sort of class, though. As we attempt to collaborate and research on different digital phenomenons, Diigo provides a place to store everyone’s research. This helps other students to get new insights and new ideas on where to look. The tags definitely help to scale down the massive amount of sources that are already there, but it’s difficult to choose a tag or know which tags would be relevant to my project. For some of my sources I tagged ‘technology,’ but as I think about it, each student’s source should have something to do with technology. It becomes an issue of should I be very topic-specific here or broader? It’s probably our best bet to put many many tags, some specific and some not.

Some students’  tags that currently seem to connect with my research: #media, #music, #prosandcons. You’re probably as surprised as I am by this short list, but these are really the only tags that could connect to my research. As I stated before, I think we need to broaden our horizons. So, I found 2 more sources that were not topic-specific and tried to list as many relevant tags as possible to draw many students in.