July 31, 2012

Finding Your Roger Ebert: Human Filters Required for the Infinite Internet

20 years ago, Siskel and Ebert were the most practical movie filter we had. Two thumbs up, and you'd probably enjoy your trip to the movies that weekend. Two thumbs down was a warning to stay away.

It was a very helpful system.

Of course, over time, you started learning that when Siskel and Ebert disagreed, you tended to regularly side with one or the other.

Perhaps Ebert's single thumbs up was a better recommendation to your personal preference than the aggregate of the two?

Therein lies the problem with digital recommendation engines like Pandora. Because an aggregate of Bon Iver fans are not going to be nearly as similar to me in their musical tastes as an individual I can find among them.

It's why a news site's "Top 10 Most Read Posts of the Day" are rarely your top 10. As an individual, you just don't have enough overlap with the aggregate. And until Pandora robots REALLY get you, human filters are going to be better at picking out great things.

Until recently, my primary music filter had been Paste mPlayer, a wonderful weekly exposure to new music that I pay $2.99 a month for. Absolutely worth it. But, then my friend Carl Ryan sent me his May 2012 Spotify playlist.

Carl lives in L.A. and has worked in the music business since college, first at Warner Bros. and now at Interscope Records. He eats, sleeps, breathes music. He's at a different concert every night. And we have a lot of overlap in our musical preferences.

His monthly Spotify playlists are simply better than my Paste mPlayer subscription. And he's doing it for free on his own, just to organize his favorite new music for himself.

There's something big here. And it seems kind of old school. Heck, Roger Ebert was doing this in 1980.

We just need to start finding our own Roger Ebert for movies, music, technology, food and everything else.