Filtering beats Personalization

“We suffer not from information overload but from filtering failure.”

So says Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody

Much is made of a station’s presence or absence on Apple’s iTunes directory, for example. But this directory is extremely clunky and hard to use. It’s a directory in the same way a phone book is (remember those?). Yes, the stations are logically sorted by genre, and then by name (alphabetical!) or bit rate (in case the quality of what you hear is more important than what is actually being played) or “comment”, which provides room for an unglamorous and relatively uninformative slogan. Useful? Not on your life.

The average Internet radio gadget is a nightmare in this regard. Have you tried to play with one? Menu after menu, submenu after submenu, one lengthy list of stations after another. Who knew radio could be so much work?

Satellite radio is no better. As far as I know, while you can select your favorites (and thus shut out everything else), these radios don’t recommend channels to you based on the mix of channels you use most frequently. Nor do they recommend shows to you based on other shows you like or tune in. Wouldn’t these features make sense?

The value in choice – to the degree that there is any – is in how that choice is filtered and tailored to your interests, not in the raw abundance of endless long tail options themselves.

In an unfiltered world, nature favors the familiar. This is why, for example, the CBS radio brands are the most popular choices on AOL Radio. The more stuff you don’t know, the more you appreciate what you do know.

What I’m describing isn’t the kind of personalization that Pandora or Last.fm specialize in. In those worlds you begin with one song or artist or genre and build out from there. I’m talking about the kind of personalization that begins with one you and builds from there.

Each of us has tastes beyond one “lane,” yet all of us want our personal lanes to mingle. The more those lanes mingle, the more we experience “variety,” and the happier we are.

Nobody wants choice. What they want is variety.

Ideally on one “station” (whatever that is).

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