Pandora – the Internet radio

I don’t know what exactly Pandora was a few years ago (perhaps one of the automated music recommendation portals), but now they are positioning themselves as the Internet radio. From my experience of using it for the last week, it works amazingly well — indeed, I like it better than Spotify. To start with, I choose a base station, which can be some artist or genre of music, for example Norah Jones. From then on it works like a radio/music player playing a cassette or CD but the stream of music is never-ending. The user interface could not be characteristically simpler (not a plus point though) but it has the added feature of voting up or down a song. The votes are the feedback that Pandora uses to generate the next songs to play for me. So far they play Norah Jones, Michael Bubble, Louis Armstrong, Adele, Billie Holiday, and many others for me. Though impressive, this shouldn’t be so surprising if we know that Pandora has this huge database of information about millions of music tracks and artists. This database contains the rhythmic styles, acoustic features, genres, and around 400 other features, most of which are manually annotated by professional artists*.  Given the data, it is not hard to find similar songs and artists like Norah Jones. Nevertheless, my use case is straightforward as I don’t change my station across different moods or times of the day whereas many users do. From the presentation by one of the Pandora engineers that I attended, it seems the capability to switch the theme of a station depending on the situations (context) is still well beyond the current Pandora system. 

*This is a very different approach to the technologies used by other music service providers or its competitor such as the use of machine learning and signal processing to automatically analyze songs and artists. Pandora’s approach is very costly especially in the long-run, but the data they have is invaluable and is perhaps more reliable at least in the current state.


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