The algorithm is a bad guide

Algorithms are flawed. And yet they seem to be the best technology companies have to offer. How many products claim to “learn from your behavior”? But what happens when I am the weaker part in this information exchange? There is no way I can know what gems are hidden in the database. So once again the products recommended to me are repetitive or shallow.

So it was great to stumble upon Susanna Leijonhufvud’s Liquid Streaming, a thesis on Spotify and the ways in which streaming music, selected by algorithm not only learns from our experiences, but more interestingly, acts to train us into being musical cyborgs (a la Haraway)

Starting from the human, the human subject can indeed start to act on the service by asking for some particular music. But then, as this music, this particular track, may be a part of a compilation such as an album or a playlist, the smart algorithms of the service, e.g. the machine, will start to generate suggestions of music back to the human subject. Naturally, the human subject can be in charge of the music that is presented to her by, for instance, skipping a tune, while listening on a pre-set playlist or a radio function. Still, the option in the first place is presented through a filtering that the machine has made, a filtering that is originally generated from previously streamed music or analysis of big data, e.g. other networked subject’s streamed music. Added to this description; if an input derives from the subject’s autonomous system, then the analogy of an actor-network is present on yet other layers. The actor-network of the musical cyborg work both within the subject itself, as the subject is not consistent with an identity as an entity, as well as between the subject and the smart musical cicerones.

Leijonhufvud (2018) Liquid Streaming p. 274

We often forget this feedback loop. Since we are trained by the algorithms the level of serendipity and growth is relatively low and we tend to be stuck in a seemingly narrow spiral – especially considering we are supposed to have access to an almost infinite amount of music.

As a newish Spotify user who is musically ignorant, I often find the algorithm to be laughably unhelpful since it does little to expand my horizons and as such is less of a cicerone (knowledgable guide) and more of a frustrated and frustrating gatekeeper.

It would be nice not to have the things I already know recommended to me ad infinitum, but rather show me things I have not seen or heard. Sure I may hate them but at least I may have the chance of expanding my repertoire.

Susanna Leijonhufvud (2018) Liquid Streaming: The Spotify Way To Music, Doctoral Thesis, Luleå University of Technology, (Fulltext here

European CC Affiliates Celebrate #cc10 with a Mixtape of Inspiring CC-Licensed Music

This is taken from the Creative Commons blog. It was definitely worth sharing in full so here it is:

Guest blog post by Teresa Nobre, Legal Project Lead at Creative Commons Portugal

One of the opportunities for Creative Commons to continue its rapid evolution is more collaboration between the various affiliates. In September, representatives of CC’s affiliates in 17 different European countries attended a regional meeting and discussed, among other things, Creative Commons’ 10th birthday. Most of the affiliates were already planning activities and events in their own countries; nevertheless, we felt that it was important to find a way to celebrate this important date as a regional network. Since the majority of the affiliates are volunteers, we cannot commit ourselves to carry out as many common actions as we would like. With other priorities in both the national and regional agendas, this activity could not require much planning and execution. The idea of creating a mixtape with Creative Commons–licensed music from around Europe – where each affiliate just had to suggest one or two tracks from her own country – seemed, therefore, a good option and got the general agreement of all those present at the meeting.

Back to our home countries, we relied on the network mailing list to get everyone involved. We did not nominate an official project lead and we did not establish any requirements other than the music being the affiliate’s preferred CC-licensed music. We could have decided to use the mixtape to promote just music licensed with one of CC’s free culture licenses (CC BY and CC BY-SA), but we wanted to get as many affiliates involved as possible and we knew that adding such limitation would only make searching for work more difficult. After all, only a very few of us work in the music industry (the others are lawyers, open content advisors, entrepreneurs, academic researchers, engineers, etc.) and not all of us are familiar with our national CC-licensed music.

Some affiliates went on asking for suggestions to their local communities and some even did contests to find their national CC-licensed music that would make into the compilation. Not all the European affiliates were able to get involved in the project, but those involved were really motivated and even found time to send contributions in respect to other European countries. In total, 16 affiliates worked together, devoting much more time than they initially thought they had available, to make this mixtape happen.

The resulting mixtape showcases the talent of 20 artists from 20 European countries: Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Israel, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK. The tracks are from genres as diverse as electronic, folk, classic, drum & bass, rock, ska and tango, and they sound awesome together (despite the fact that they were compiled by a non-musician lawyer!). Give it a listen! It is available for download under various Creative Commons licenses at Free Music Archive, SoundCloud, and the Internet Archive. The album artwork is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

CC10 Musicians: Celebrating 10 years of Commons

The great people at CC Korea have now launched the “CC10Musicians” iPhone app (It’s available for download on iTunes
The App provides free access to free Creative Commons music. I can only agree with CC Korea
Please download, enjoy, and spread it to as many people around you as possible to let them have a chance to discover the coolest musicians from CC music scene!
The App is launched to coincide with Creative Commons 10 year celebrations – it’s also a very cool way to find and get acquainted with artists who spread their material under Creative Commons licenses.
Congratulations CC Korea! Thanks for this App!

Reality based business models

Not sure where I read or heard it but recently I came across this:

it used to be that a band toured to promote an album, but now they release an album to promote a tour

This is really the essence of the way in which new media habits are changing the behaviors and business models of the music industry. You can blame it on the pirates, you can blame it on the technology but in the end placing blame doesn’t get you anywhere. Realizing the reality of the market does get you somewhere.

Take for example the indie band Sick of Sarah who have teamed up with BitTorrent (via Torrentfreak)

Last month the punky girl-rock band Sick of Sarah decided to release their latest album ’2205′ to the public on BitTorrent, at no cost. In order to gain maximum exposure the band partnered with BitTorrent Inc. who helped to promote the free download through an app in the uTorrent BitTorrent client.

The album has now broken records and been downloaded a million times.

Success in any field must come first from an acceptance and understanding of the realities of the world. Expecting or hoping to keep the world mired in outdated realities and dead dogmas is inevitably going to fail.

Regulation by Norms: The no clapping rule

Since Lessig’s book The Code came out in 1999 the discussion of Internet regulation has been increasingly popular. Its not that Lessig started the field but by the popularity of his work he made it a topic worthy of discussion – and it shows not sign of stopping. Breifly stated Lessig’s point was that there are 4 things that regulate/control behavior: Law, markets, norms and architecture. Since the point of The Code was to argue that code is law Lessig focused on architecture. If we simplify the world we could argue that Tech lawyers tend focus on architecture, environmental lawyers look to markets and black letter lawyers focus on the law as a regulatory instrument.

Many of the reasons for focusing on a regulatory instrument are beyond the control of the individual author. For example Christina Olsen-Lund, a colleague of mine doing environmental law will be defending her doctoral thesis on emission trading. A riveting 700+ page analysis of market-based regulation.

But it is a shame that not many lawyers study norms. They are so interesting. However the use of norms are regulatory instruments are both vague and incredibly complex. Take for example the no clapping rule.

In a fascinating lecture Hold Your Applause: Inventing and Reinventing the Classical Concert held in March Alex Ross dissected parts of this rule and explains social regulation in concert halls. Ross expresses concern that the rule of not clapping during concerts is partly responsible for the making classical music less accessible to beginners.

The origins of the no-clapping rule stem from an idea that the music should be received on an intellectual as well as emotional level, for example on the premier of Parsifal in 1882

Wagner requested that there be no curtain calls after Act II, so as not to “impinge on the impression,” as Cosima Wagner wrote in her diary. But the audience misunderstood these remarks to mean that they shouldn’t applaud at all, and total silence greeted the final curtain.

Wagner had no idea if the audience liked his work and attempted to instruct them that applause was appreciated. But…

…Cosima writes: “After the first act there is a reverent silence, which has a pleasant effect. But when, after the second, the applauders are again hissed, it becomes embarrassing.” Two weeks later, he slipped into his box to watch the Flower Maidens scene. When it was over, he called out, “Bravo!”—and was hissed. Alarmingly, Wagnerians were taking Wagner more seriously than he took himself.

Wagner is not the originator of the no clapping rule but he was instrumental in provide the audience with a social standard which they gladly accepted and rigorously enforced. So much so that today attempts to applaud in the wrong place are still frowned upon:

Even worse, in my opinion, is the hushing of attempted applause. People who applaud in the “wrong place”— usually the right place, in terms of the composer’s intentions—are presumably not in the habit of attending concerts regularly. They may well be attending for the first time. Having been hissed at, they may never attend again. And let’s remember that shushing is itself noise.

The rule is not enforced by the divisions within the audience alone but also by the musicians:

At a performance of the Pathétique by the Sydney Symphony, in 2003, the conductor Alexander Lazarev became so irritated by his audience that he mockingly applauded back…Even if Lazarev’s tactic had succeeded, is “embarrassed silence” the right state of mind in which to listen to the final movement of the piece?

Here the regulation is created by etiquette, by an imagined idea of what is, and what is not, done. Too many of us are fearful of being seen as outsiders or frauds and undeserving of the perceived social standing attending these events entails. But my sympathies lie with Arthur Rubinstein: “It’s barbaric to tell people it is uncivilized to applaud something you like.” – wonderful sentiment and brilliant quotation.

The idea that there is a right way in which to listen to music is strange and that there is a duty of the audience to pay up and shut up is decidedly odd:

During the applause debates of the 1920s, Ossip Gabrilowitsch spoke approvingly of “those countries in the south of Europe where they shout when they are pleased; and when they are not, they hiss and throw potatoes.” He then said something that deserves to be underlined: “It is a mistake to think you have done your part when you buy your tickets.”

Another reason for my appreciation of Ross’ lecture is that my own attitude towards applause has shifted gradually over time. My concern about “fitting in” is no longer strong, at least not strong enough to curtail my enthusiasm. I applaud happily when an actor, lecturer or speaker makes a point I appreciate & occasionally when music takes me. But I dislike the ritual of applauding over several curtain calls simply because it is expected. Refusing to applaud is more honest – like refusing to leave an extravagant tip at a bad restaurant. 

In order to better understand regulation through norms we require more studies and better cases. The largest part of social regulation has little or nothing to do with the law and everything to do with social norms – it is surprising then that so little study is carried out on the topic.

File Sharing and Cannibalization

Fred Benenson comments the Nine Inch Nails Ghosts I-IV album over at the Creative Commons blog. The album is a great example that tears apart the arguments put forward by many “content” industry know-it-alls.

The argument, often repeated, is that putting material online will destroy all sales and therefore profits. There are several examples of books making great sales even after the content has been made available for free online. But thick academic books have been seen as a strange exception to the rule. In a recent discussion with a Swedish publisher they included the condition that making material available online only could work in English books – the Swedish market was too small to cope.

But books are not the only successful free content. The Nine Inch Nails Ghosts I-IV album is available online via file sharing networks – the entire content was licensed via Creative Commons license (BY-NC-SA) which allowed users to download it legally and many, many did so. But the fascinating thing is that Ghosts I-IV is ranked the best selling MP3 album of 2008 on Amazon’s MP3 store.

NIN Best Selling MP3 AlbumNIN’s Creative Commons licensed Ghosts I-IV has been making lots of headlines these days.

First, there’s the critical acclaim and two Grammy nominations, which testify to the work’s strength as a musical piece. But what has got us really excited is how well the album has done with music fans. Aside from generating over $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week, and hitting #1 on Billboard’s Electronic charts, has the album ranked as the 4th-most-listened to album of the year, with over 5,222,525 scrobbles.

The natural question is why fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? According to Fred explanations vary from the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores to the desire of fans to support the music and career of musicians they like.

The point is that “the next time someone tries to convince you that releasing music under CC will cannibalize digital sales, remember that Ghosts I-IV broke that rule, and point them here.”

Slightly Mad

Queen unsurprisingly have a song that explains the way I feel right now: I’m going slightly Mad:

Im one card short of a full deck
Im not quite the shilling
One wave short of a shipwreck
Im not my usual top billing
Im coming down with a fever
Im really out to sea
This kettle is boiling over
I think Im a banana tree
Oh dear

Im going slightly mad
Im going slightly mad
It finally happened – happened
It finally happened – uh huh
It finally happened
Im slightly mad
Oh dear

I want to formally launch the scietific significant desease called “keyboard madness” which I am suffering from. The affliction occurrs after too much type in front of a keyboard and leads to headaches, frustration, desire to shout profanity out loud and irrational anger. Most sufferers are pale and have a dazed expression. As a bonus some may have a repetitive strain injury known sometimes as mouse arm.

By removing them slowly, gently but firmly from their keyboards and forcing them out into the outside world, and making sure they have no digital devices with them – recovery is rapid and often complete. However patients relapse often and rapidly once they are again in the proximity of a keyboard.

My personal balkanization

In 1995 the term daily me began to be bandied about by some writers and thinkers, Nicholas Negroponte for example discussed the concept in his book Being Digital. The term’s democratic and social implications was developed in Cass Sunstein‘s book (2001). In this book (and followed up with Republic 2.0 in 2007) he argued that …the Internet may weaken democracy because it allows citizens to isolate themselves within groups that share their own views and experiences, and thus cut themselves off from any information that might challenge their beliefs… (Wikipedia). This process is sometimes known as cyberbalkanization but I feel the latter is a badly chosen term since it implies the need for cyber, which is not necessary.

No matter what term you prefer it is obvious that the daily-me phenomenon can be easily achieved with digital technology. Yesterday I took another step in my personal balkanization.

Already in my work the main part of my reading and writing is based on mainly non-Swedish sources and publications. The blogs I track track across the Internet are mainly non-local, defined by subject rather than geography. For lesuire I mainly read foreign magazines and books. I rarely read newspapers (not even online), seldom watch television (but plenty of DVDs) and since I travel around Sweden a great deal I tend to miss local events.

Together this leads to a negative (or positive – depends on your perspective) spiral and increased disinterest in local affairs.

Yesterday I took another step in my own personal balkanization by buying an Argon Internet radio. I was actually very skeptical to this but after I quick and easy install I now can listen to live radio from anywhere in the world (within the confines of language). My presets include English, American, Spanish, Maltese and Australian stations.

The little radio is perfect in my kitchen and connects easily to my wifi. In addition to this it actually does work as a “normal, old-fashioned” radio, which was a large factor in convincing me to chose this model but I have not felt the need to use it.

The argon even connects nicely to the music on my computer and to my personal selection of radio stations I chose on the radio website. My only gripe so far is that I have not managed to get the podcasts working but I guess I will have to read the manual.

So now it is even easier for me to ignore what is going on around me and focus on the stuff I like. This is becoming more than a daily me or a balkanization but it is definitaly a step in the fragmentization of a society. But at this stage I would like to quote Margaret Thatcher (I never thought that would happen) “Society does not exist“. Thatcher used this provocative statement to promote extreme individualism. But I would like to use this to remind us that “society” is a social construct which has no meaning outside that which we consciously and unconsciously agree to fill it with. But the short sharp Thatcherite version sounds better.