Opened Pandora

Via Eric Goldman’s recent recommendation, I decided to give Pandora another shot. The short version: Pandora is an intelligent predictive personalized Internet radio service with an arguably sustainable and protectable business model. And by “intelligent,” I mean there are real human brains at work. As Eric explains:

Pandora’s main competitive differentiator is its “Music Genome Project.” 50 trained musicians with at least a college degree in music (called “music analysts”) listen to songs all day long and rate each song on 400 different musical attributes. See the 2005 WSJ article discussing them. By profiling songs this way, the system can predict that a person who likes an artist’s song might like other songs with similar musical attributes. From listening to Pandora for many, many hours, IMO the system isn’t perfect, but it does a pretty good job, and it has definitely hooked me on music that I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise.

They have apparently cataloged approximately half a million songs and the database continues to grow apace. There is also a collaborative-filtering aspect, similar to Netflix and Amazon. I suspect this hybrid between the “wisdom of crowds” and the “wisdom of experts” will be the future of most large content projects (including wikipedia).

My first few hours have returned excellent results. I created a for-working “station” called, lazily, “The Bad Plus Radio” (described as “Avant garde and angular funk/jazz, but not so dissonant that you can’t do mind-taxing work while listening”). You are welcome to listen as well. (See also my Pandora Profile.) The “artist seeds” for the channel include the following:

  • The Bad Plus (of course)
  • Bill Frisell
  • John McLaughlin
  • Medeski Martin & Wood
  • Thievery Corporation
  • Bred Mehldau
  • Oliver Nelson
  • Ornette Coleman
  • Keith Jarrett

Pandora has played several tracks by these artists, but is increasingly mixing in other artists that match up on some axis of preference. I’ve thumbed-up and thumbed-down several tracks from beyond the “seed” set (and will continue to do so), thus driving the predictive engine. I look forward to creating some entirely different channels and publishing the URLs here.

Although supposedly the “free” version is ad-supported, I haven’t heard any ads yet. Maybe that is still to come. In any case, it is probably worth the $36/year subscription cost.

Beyond the specific content I’m enjoying here, it is nice to see a Web 2.0 (or pick your favorite version) business model that doesn’t require a leap of faith to see how it can work.

Of course, they have a Facebook app as well.


  1. Anonymous Oct 13

    By “ad-supported”, I think they mean “the website has ads”.

    Also, I would love to use Pandora, but sadly it uses Flash, for something easily done in non-Flash.

  2. Jonas Oct 13

    Sadly, they have confined themselves to listeners inside the U.S.

  3. Jamie Oct 13

    As an audio engineer, I envy those like you who can listen to music at work!

  4. Jamie Oct 13

    An interesting business model for them would be to sell packages of your radio station for download. Would you pay $X for a random sampling of Y songs from your playlist? I might…

  5. adam Oct 13

    Jonas: the U.S. limitation is likely due to licensing issues. Broadcast / webcast licensing works differently in each country, and starting with U.S.-only broadcasting was probably the easiest course to start.

  6. Anonymous Oct 14

    Jamie: Interesting suggestion! I think Pandora would do well to integrate with a music store. While I think they should offer the option of buying *exactly* what you want, I also think offering slightly cheaper packages of random songs from a Pandora station would go over well. For instance, bundle a CD’s worth of songs from your station together for the “album” price. Alternatively, pay $X/month to get Y songs per month from designated playlists.

  7. adam Oct 14

    Anonymous: it is at least partially integrated with music stores. Each track played has a link to iTunes and Amazon for purchase. This is a little different from what you’re describing, but it’s a logical first step.

  8. Dave G Oct 14

    Just tried Pandora (again) last month, and found it to be a bit mixed, but further experimentation.

    I seeded a station with Deerhoof, and keep getting the same songs (mostly Deerhoof!) on it.

    I seeded another station with a Kathleen Edwards song that someone passed along to me in a CD mix. The song was great, but the station is a complete bust — all thumbs down.

    Since I’m most interested in discovering new music, only some stations have come through for me.

    What has been the best feature, though, is the ‘mix’ of different stations. That, so far, has allowed me to find new artists.

    I’ve also tried to add some minimalist compositions, but they don’t seem to be in their collection.

    I’ll check out your shared stations and see how it worked out for you.


  9. Tim Oct 14

    I enjoy a large range of music genres but I’m too lazy to create my own stations.

    I started this website to help people like me find and recommend music from Pandora. It uses the Pligg architecture.


    – Tim

  10. Rachel Oct 29

    I could not survive the work day without my Pandora radio. It has introduced to some of my new favorite music. Here is the link to my station, although its pretty eclectic:
    I would also recommend the Pandora iGoogle widget, I really like it.

  11. Chris Dec 29

    Yeah, if they could make a version that doesn’t use flash, which, i would imagine, would not be hard to do, then we could use it on devices such as the iPod touch, that does not support flash aside from youtube

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