iTunes Genius: Not So Smart

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“Steve Jobs knew what we wanted before we knew we wanted it.”  How many times have you read that in the months since his passing?  It’s a stock phrase, inserted into any number of glowing eulogies about the man who brought us the iWorld of products.   It’s used to emphasize the unusual insight he had into the mind of the consumer, and it’s right on so many levels.

Except one.

Like everyone else, I have an iPod.  It hooks up to my iMac so I can download songs from iTunes and store them in my iCloud and listen to them on  my iPhone.  So far, so good.  Steve knew exactly how I wanted to listen to my music.  Where Steve went horribly, horribly wrong was in trying to guess what I wanted to listen to.  I speak, of course, about Genius.

Oh, Genius.  Genius, Genius, Genius.  You could not be more wrong.  Yes, I bought “Yesterday” by the Beatles.  No, that does not mean I want to hear the cast of Glee sing “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.  Without even accepting your generous offer of a preview, I can confidently assert that I do not want to hear anything by a band named The Hooters.  I struggle to see how anyone with a brain, let alone a self-proclaimed Genius could equate a masterpiece like “Beat It” with anything by Chicago, let alone “Hard Habit to Break”.

I really doubt you’ve ever heard Mariah Carey sing “All I want for Christmas is You”.  If you had (even the travesty that is the Bieber duet), you would never compare it to John Mellencamp attempting to cover “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”.  Speaking of John, you should know – being a Genius – that he is the same person as John Cougar and John Cougar Mellencamp.  None of them, however, can light up a Christmas tree like Mariah Carey.  Nor do any of them have anything to do with The Hooters.  (Again?  Really?)

Genius, I know you’re trying.  It had to take a lot of work to link Bon Jovi to Chicago.  It couldn’t have been easy finding a connection between Gloria Estefan (I’ll let everyone guess) and Jewel.  I’m sure Joe Diffie would give a king’s ransom to figure out how you put him together with Faith Hill.  But you failed.  You don’t know me at all.  If you did, you’d stop telling me to listen to Chicago.

Maybe if they played something by The Hooters…

What’s your experience with recommendation engines like Genius, Pandora, Netflix, Amazon, or others?

4 Responses to “iTunes Genius: Not So Smart”

  1. Mena says:

    Pandora is the only one that works well for me. I don’t use iTunes so I have no experience with the Genius, but its inadequacy is no surprise. Netflix is terrible at recommending movies as it seems to do so at random. Amazon is the other extreme and only recommends books and products that are only slightly different from items that I’ve purchased. So, I really enjoy Pandora and find it to be a good source for finding new bands. I can’t believe you don’t like The Hooters! They sound pretty awesome. Also, I’m impressed that you own some Gloria Estefan. Her work with the Miami Sound Machine is the soundtrack of my youth. Seriously.

  2. Brad says:

    Mena –

    The Miami Sound Machine is the soundtrack of my adulthood. Seriously.

  3. Red says:

    My brother was a member of a site that would display artists who are similar to existing artists you would enter. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember that every band I typed in recommended I listen to Guster, one of Trev’s favorite bands. I don’t think I’ve listened to Guster yet.

  4. Impostor Josh says:


    1. I couldn’t agree more. Genius provides limited added value to the music listener. Not to mention that it is slow as all get out.

    2. However, in defense of Genius I would argue that it playing with an arm tied behind its back (so to speak). I think the problem with Genius is that it pulls information from what is in your iTunes library and in addition it pulls how often you listen to a specific song/what you have rated in your iTunes. So if you really like a band, but haven’t coughed up the dollars to procure their entire discography Genius doesn’t know how much you like Guster (ya’ll should go listen to some Guster) and thus doesn’t recommend near enough music that is similar in style.

    3. The genius of Jobs is that he made you pay a premium for his technology because it was EASY to use and required minimal EXERTION to get what you wanted. Genius requires way too much exertion to provide useful results. This is why Pandora rocks, you plug in the band you love (Guster) and get awesome tunes for the rest of the afternoon. Pandora isn’t thrown off by your secret love for Kelly Clarkson.

    4. I don’t know why people use iTunes to purchase music. Amazon is cheaper, more portable, and I would argue more user friendly (have you ever tried to license a new machine to play your music when you already have 5 others already licensed?).

    5. Finally, NPR music has one of the best Web players EVER (if you are into elitist indie rock with a dash of subpar “world” music). WARNING: Frequenting NPR Music contractually requires you to mock your friends when you discover their secret Kelly Clarkson collection.

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