Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Making Sense of the Long Tail -- the Key Role Played by Recommendation Features

In today's Wall Street Journal, Don Clark writes an article titled "Ticketmaster Invests in Music Site", underscoring that "[t]he deal is the latest sign of investor interest in 'music discovery' sites ..." -- this time, Ticketmaster's acqusition of a 25% stake in (run by Hadi Partovi, formerly of MSN's digital music efforts, and his twin brother Ali).

But, digital media companies prominently featuring content "discovery" features -- such as music recommendation engines -- certainly are nothing new. My former company, Musicmatch (the services of which I still use today to power my in-home music experience), helped to pioneer music discovery -- we used music discovery in our messaging as a critical way to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Virtually all of the "big" digital music services today use some variation of collaborative filtering to power their recommendation features -- and some of the newer entrants (such as Pandora and Mercora have their own "spins" on music recommendation). You will find recommendation features (i.e., "discovery") front and center in upcoming digital video services by NetFlix and others as well (expect Netflix's digital distribution efforts to begin Q1 of 2007).

Why are "discovery" and its twin cousin "recommendation" technologies so critical to the media/content consumption experience? Very simple -- if they work correctly, recommendation features can help consumers "make sense" out of the millions of works of media (music, television, movies) now available online -- and they do it very efficiently, effectively, and in a very fun way. Yes, fun. Recommendation engines can help you re-discover not only those artists, songs, TV shows, and movies that you had long forgotten, but also those about which you were never aware (but are thankful that you found as a direct result of these seemingly "new" technologies).

For consumers, the pay-off is immediate -- more enjoyment of their overall online digital media experience. This leads to more consumption ... including, of course, more consumption of the long-heralded "long tail." And, what is good for consumers is also good for the content providers ...