02/17

The Limits of Personalization

Okay, so I have weird tastes.  I’m the guy whose favorite dishes in restaurants are discontinued for lack of interest.  And my music tastes are just as irregular.

But thanks to the Internet you can find anything nowadays, and thanks to personalized radio services you can create what you want out of nothing if you so desire.

It so happens that there’s a channel on SiriusXM that gets close enough to one thread of my weird tastes.  Also,  I created my own version on one of the personalized radio services.  And here’s what I discovered:

The SiriusXM version is better.  The one that is programmed, “curated,” if you will.  The one that offers you no choices and no skips.

On my personalized service I’m plugging away, adding all the artists which form the core of the SiriusXM channel into my own custom-created channel, and the mix doesn’t even come close. And it’s a lot of work, tweaking your own channel.  I like this, I don’t like that.  What makes you think I’d like that just because I like this?  On and on the tweaking goes, and what I’m left with is still a psychotic version of my SiriusXM channel that seems to be continuously off its meds.

Granted, at least I can skip songs I don’t want on the personalized radio services.  How I wish I could do that on SiriusXM (especially the streaming version, for which such magic is only a license fee and a user surcharge away; C’mon, SiriusXM).

But here’s the thing:  Personalization is very valuable but it comes at a cost.  Because personalization is fundamentally an exercise in hacking.

Hacking is familiar to anyone who grew up with video games or anyone who writes code (or works with a code-writer).  The widget is released into the wild “vaguely right” with tons of “bugs” that need to be swatted away.  In personalized radio those “bugs” are every song that’s off-center or otherwise not to your liking. And a “skip” or a “thumb down” is our way of swatting away the bugs.  This takes time and effort, something you may not be looking for when, say, you just want to hear some good music.

So it seems impossible for me to create a better version of the SiriusXM channel I like unless I embrace the challenge with all the fervor of a second job.

Of course, as I have said before, personalization on these services is an option, not a requirement.  You can do as much or as little as you want.

And the less you do, the more the channel resembles the thing that booms out from every home, work, and car…

…the radio.

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