A look at iTunes' "Genius" music recommendation engine


Eliot Van Buskirk has a thorough look at the new "Genius" music recommendation feature in iTunes 8:

For now, the Genius sidebar is essentially a slicker version of what we've had for years within iTunes and other programs. But we have to hand it to Apple for at least having made the recommendations more powerful and easier to access.

Once you opt in to the service, which sends your music library and usage data to Apple anonymously according to the company, iTunes can generate a list of music in your library that sounds similar to any song in it, from which you can make a playlist. The Genius sidebar (screenshots below) performs essentially the same function, except that it draws recommendations from the iTunes music store. Those recommendations include similar songs, top albums by the artist, songs by the artist missing from your collection and iTunes Essentials collections that include the song.

While Genius is no big deal, its smooth, easily accessible nature will likely cause at least a minor uptick in music sales through the service.

ITunes' Genius Feature Is Hardly Rocket Science [Listening Post]

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  1. One problem with this is the fact that I’m not the only person who uses iTunes on our PC. My wife and daughter do as well. And even I use it in ways that are not aligned to my personal interests (IE making a CD for my mom).

    So, until such a system can take into account these types of variations, it will produce unreliable results.

    But, since you can opt out, no harm, no foul… and I’m sure some people will dig it.

    Other than being part of vanilla iTunes, how is this different than pandora?

  2. @Shane Pandora drives nearly all of my iTunes purchases… and Muxtape when it was still functioning. I’ll definitely check this out though.

    I would love if the Genius Bar recommended really great podcasts I’d like based on what I listen to now.

  3. @XAKH can you be more specific about the feature in Amarok you’re comparing it to? I’m unfamiliar with the player.

  4. Is anyone else a little annoyed with Apple’s use of the term “genius” to mean “mildly clever”? I mean, are the folks at the genius bar really coming up with original theories in astrophysics, or do they just have very basic customer service and computer skills?

  5. I turned it on (which took almost an hour), played with it for a while, and then turned it off again.

    I’m less than impressed with Genius so far. Maybe it will improve as people start using it. I selected a Tom Waits tune… and it recommended 25 more Tom Waits tunes. Thanks.

    I’ve got 25,000 songs – but a good number are local artists. I’m getting a lot of “couldn’t find matches”. It’s mostly misses.

    So, I wonder if they’re only taking stats for songs that are in the music store.

    I would rather have them use the Genius system to improve the party shuffle feature so that songs flow better from one to the next.

    And then there’s the genius sidebar, which is completely worthless to me. I don’t buy from iTMS. But if you want to use Genius, you have to live with the ads. Fine.

    So goodbye Genius. I’ll check in the next time there’s a big update. Maybe it’ll be worth using then.

  6. I, too, thought “Oh, so it is Pandora, only not being forced out of business?”

    Since I’m already saying ‘me too’ on this, I also think Genius was too strong a word to use for such a system. Also, too simplistic. While I would have preferred the name of a psychic, I somehow doubt the marketing department would have let this feature be called Carnac. Maybe if it recommended music that you won’t admit to liking, they could call it Cassandra.

  7. Certron, awesome naming idea. I vote for Zoltan. Today is not the day for the sowing of wild oats.

    Dr Spork, now that you mention it, yes, they do annoy me with the liberal application of genius. Especially given some of their people-geniuses public foibles.

  8. Sam:

    You don’t need the sidebar to use the genius playlist. Just click the button in the bottom right corner to turn it off.

  9. This is nothing more than a still PALE imitation of the fantastic work Pandora.com have done. No music engine matches it.

    Unhelpfully, in the UK now it’s blocked, because of rights issues. Funnily enough – o music moguls – my cd purchase rate has plummeted since I have been unable to access Pandora. I have not moved to downloads – I’ve simply – stopped buying stuff.

    So go iTunes, but know that you go in the shadow of the greats.

  10. Acme Rocket Quartet got no recommendations.

    Alice Cooper got only other Alice Cooper songs recommended.

    Radiohead’s The Bends got NO RECOMMENDATIONS.

    This is crap. I hear the playlist function is good, though. But I am worried that with my eclectic music — everything from banjo to kids music to classical to punk to alternative to college radio to sountracks to broadway — that I am gonna have a problem really finding a cohesive song list.

  11. Yeah, although the matching in Pandora is better than last.fm’s, I like the community idea of the latter. It adds events, wiki-style artist descriptions, loads of music playable, at least in 30s clips but usually entire songs, decent software so I don’t have to use their player and it tracks my mp3s I listen to outside of the player/website, fun stats.

    I tried installing Genius, then found out I needed an itms account for which I need to jump through several hoops (on fire, I might add) because I don’t have a ccd (and not in the USA, so no paypal) and then thought: “Hey, isn’t this just a big ad I’m willingly installing on my computer?”

    Please correct me if I’m wrong!

  12. Sounds like a real bomb to me. But I’d much prefer to make my own playlists. “Genuis” can only guess that I might like something, I KNOW what I like.

  13. I used it for about five hours last night and thought it worked well. Me and my roommate use the same computer for playing music and we have pretty different musical tastes. When I started playing Balkan Beatbox I didn’t once hear Lil Wayne or E-40. (Oh happy day!) And my roomie was pretty excited when he started playing his Mac Dre, no Kahimi Kari or any of my audio books came up. Granted it’s no “Genius” but it’s a LOT better than the old shuffle feature.

    The side bar is a bit useless and mostly only finds songs by the same artist that’s playing.

  14. dculberson: Thanks! Sorry, I was being ambiguous. I have and successfully use a paypal account, but it’s not possible to use paypal as the itms payment provider where I live (in the Netherlands.)

  15. We have a similar functionality in our (free) media player since a few months; it’s also based on usage statistics with a few mathematical models, Last.fm data and a few other data sources.

    It works remarkably well, and people like it. Too bad data like “people who bought X also bought Y” isn’t freely available, alas I didn’t check what Amazon’s AWS offers exactly.

  16. I think the playlist feature works pretty well, but I’d rely on last.fm’s recommendations for purchases. I tend to stick with DRM-free music, so if iTunes Plus has it, great! Otherwise I’ll just get it from Amazon.

    I’m interested to see how user participation improves its recommendations in the future, though.

  17. I have been using genius a little each day since iTunes 8 was released. Initially it’s recommendations were a little poor but now it is work g a lot better. I still get pretty poor recommendations for my Spanish music but other than that fine.

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