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Spotify Bets Algorithms Are Better Than Humans At Music Discovery

The streaming service will create weekly, personalized playlists based on people's individual listening patterns.

Posted on July 20, 2015, at 10:59 a.m. ET


What can you listen to on Spotify that you can't on Rdio? Or, what's a song on Google Play that isn't on Apple Music? The problem with all you can eat streaming music is that everyone has the same buffets. Aside from a few high profile artists who are exclusive to one service or the other, these are basically commodity services with the same libraries. That means services have to compete on features. They have to be able to play, for example, the new Pitbull single for you, before you even think to request it. El Party! It's why Apple has Beats 1, its human-curated radio station as a selling point. And it's why Spotify now has a new automated playlist feature called Discover Weekly.

Discovery Weekly will create brand new custom playlists for everyone on Spotify, based on individual listeners' previous history. New playlists will show up every week. Spotify creates them based not only on what you've listened to and liked in the past, but also what people who tend to like the same things have listened to and liked. The feature will begin rolling out in the coming weeks.

BuzzFeed News had the chance to sample Discovery Weekly this week. Spotify created a 30-track playlist that was new-ish to me, but not exactly unknown. There were few big surprises or true discoveries, but it was very consistent with my taste. I was able to listen from start to finish without running across a track I didn't like, or that I had listened to more than once or twice previously on Spotify.

Spotify says Discovery Weekly will get better the more you use it. That's because it is algorithm-driven, so the more you feed into it, the more it can learn. It's a sharp contrast from Apple Music's emphasis on human curation. As Apple attempts to get more human, Spotify is running hard in the other direction.

In an update in May, Spotify introduced playlists that populate automatically based on the time and the listener's location: Something soothing for waking up, something energetic for commuting, something new at night. (This concierge style music is something Google Play Music does well too, after it acquired streaming service Songza.) Spotify even debuted instrumental playlists that change tempo based on the listener's running speed.

Yet that update indicated a very utilitarian approach to music, looking at songs as optimized pieces of content to be delivered when useful. Weekly Discovery is divorced from the context of the moment. It's a mixtape for the week, ready to go whenever, not in response to a current situation, and designed for repeat listens. It's your robot rock, waiting for you, whenever you want it.


A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.