Thursday 18 September 2008

ISMIR 2008 Demos

One of the best parts about ISMIR was the demo session.

Paul Lamere and Francois Maillet demonstrated Explaura which enables users to directly interact with tag clouds by resizing individual tags for tag-based recommendations. Increasing the size of a tag puts more emphasis on it, shrinking it reduces the impact to the point where it's ignored. Increasing the "negative size" of a tag filters results by the respective tag. They also allow combining artists with tags in the search query. Paul blogged about it. There's also a short ISMIR abstract. I like the idea of interacting with the individual tags in a tag cloud and found it very intuitive to use.

Another demo which was presented (and I already previously blogged about) was the work of Martin Gasser and his colleagues on how they integrated audio-similarity into FM4 Soundpark (a platform for independent Austrian artists). The numbers they presented show that using audio-similarity helped Soundpark users find older and more obscure items in the catalogue. It would be nice to see more real world applications using audio-similarity.

Òscar Celma and Marcelo Nunes presented GeoMuzik which allows drawing a route on a world map. Their system then generates a playlist according to this route. They implemented genre/tag filters. They can also visualize the artists in my profile on top of a map. There's an ISMIR abstract. I liked the demo very much and would like to play a bit more with it. The picture below shows a screenshot of a playlist generated from the interface.

Luke Barrington and his colleagues demonstrated their new tagging game Herd it which they implemented in the Facebook application framework. If I understood them correctly they still want to do some testing before releasing it publicly, so I'll write more when they are ready. Anyway, I've heard from others how difficult it can be to get something to work seamlessly on Facebook. I'm impressed that Luke and his colleagues are doing this. It would be nice to see researchers use Facebook and similar platforms more frequently for their work.

One demo I unfortunately didn't have enough time to see (but at least I got the handout) was the work Anita Lillie presented. There's also a video. In the video Anita shows different ways to visualize the same music collection from different perspectives using a PCA (principal component analysis, a linear projection of a high-dimensional space onto 2-dimensions). Seems like Anita just finished her MSc thesis on MusicBox: Navigating the space of your music. I've been told the demonstration was implemented in processing. Very nice! One thing I didn't see were playcounts. It would be great if playcounts (or ratings per track) could also be visualized (size of the circles?). The picture below shows a screenshot of her MusicBox.

Another demo I really liked was Claudio Baccigalupo's work on Poolcasting. The idea is to have several people tune into the same radio station at the same time, and to have them rate the songs, and use that rating to optimize the overall listening experience. I could easily see Gwen and myself sharing the same radio stream frequently. What I found particularly interesting is how Claudio tries to maximize happiness for everyone in a situation where compromises are unavoidable and where he does not want the majority to completely ruin the experience for an individual.

Btw, if you like demos, you might also be interested in's playground.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

MIREX 2008

This year's MIREX evaluation task has been one of my personal ISMIR 2008 highlights. Stephen Downie and his team computed more numbers than I could possible keep track of for lots of different algorithms in 12 different MIR tasks. That's a lot more than in any of the previous years, and that's a lot of interesting data to dig into.

I've been particularly interested in the auto-tagging task. It's the first time MIREX ran this form of task, and there have been only few research papers in the MIR community on the subject. As far as I understood there is no agreement yet as to how to exactly evaluate the algorithms, which is also reflected on the result page. Kris West has added information on the statistical significant of the results which show that none of the submissions was consistently and significantly better than others. Nevertheless, there's a lot to learn from the evaluation and I hope we'll see many more participants next year.

Paul has a good summary of the discussion of this year's MIREX panel.

1000 years of music to listen to

Youngmoo Kim had asked everyone on the ISMIR recommendation panel to briefly summarize what they think will happen in the next 5 years of music recommendation. However, it's really hard to do so in less than 4 minutes.

From my perspective the most interesting development in the next 5 years will be the increase in the amount of data we will be working with. We will have a lot more of the same and we will have additional sources. Combining different sources is an interesting challenge, but the main challenge will be to scale things up.

All of this additional information will lead to much better recommendations overall, and in particular in the long tail. We'll be able to detect new trends such as an up-and-coming artists or the emergence of a new subgenre much sooner. We'll be able to localize recommendations a lot more.

At the same time there'll obviously be a lot more music to choose from. I'd roughly estimate about 200 million tracks in's recommendation engine in the next 5 years. That's more than 1000 years of continuous listening. Subcultures and genres will emerge faster.

In 5 years recommendation engines will have a much better understanding of listeners. While, Pandora, and others already do a lot to understand what listeners are interested in, I'm sure there is room for a lot more improvements.

Another interesting development I'm looking forward to is data portability and openness. In particular, I'm looking forward to users being able to move freely with their personal data from one site to another. Similar to how users can already today allow other sites to access their data.

I'm also expecting to see a lot more artists and labels embrace recommendation engines. Similar to SEO (search engine optimization) more artist and labels will try to do a lot more REO (recommendation engine optimization).

Obviously mobile applications will be very important, and so will mobile music recommendations. And I have no doubts that human-to-human recommendations (which are strongly supported by will continue to be very important, maybe even more than they are today.

Anthony Volodkin made a great point that we'll see a lot happen in terms of user interfaces, how recommendations are represented, how recommendations are explained. I believe Paul Lamere would call that steerable and transparent recommendations. I like how explains recommendations by explaining a recommendation in terms of a bunch of similar artists I'm familiar with. However, there's obviously room for a lot more. On the other side, I wouldn't mind no explanation at all, as long as every recommendation is spot on. Anthony also made a great point by pointing to playful discovery systems.

I believe it was Brian Whitman who said that recommendations will be a commodity. Every music site will have recommendations. Just like almost every web 2.0 site out there supports tagging. I believe Etienne Handman made a similar point when he previously explained to me why he expects the word "personalization" to fade away. Everything will be personalized, it will be the default option.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

ISMIR Thoughts

Inspired by Paul's constant flow of ISMIR blog posts I thought I should give it a try and post some thoughts as well.

First of all, the organizers did a wonderful job organizing ISMIR. I already wrote about what I think about the electronic proceedings. I was also very happy to see that they did not waste unnecessary resources and skipped the silly conference bag thing.

I very much enjoyed giving the social tags tutorial with Paul. It worked out really well, and although I knew Paul's slides since weeks, I found it fascinating to listen to Paul talk about them.

So far ISMIR has by far exceeded my expectations. I've had the pleasure to meet many in person that I previously hadn't had the opportunity to meet. I've also had the pleasure to see many very interesting posters. Unfortunately I've also managed to miss many that I wanted to see. I guess there's never enough time to see everything.

Last night's banquet was great too. In particular I enjoyed the conversations with Etienne from Pandora.

The recommendation panel today was fun, too.

Thursday 11 September 2008

ISMIR 2008 Tutorial: Social Tags and Music Information Retrieval

When Paul originally asked me if I'd be interested in helping him put together a tutorial proposal for ISMIR I was a bit reluctant. I did an ISMIR tutorial a long time ago, and I didn't forget how much work it was (although it was only a one hour mini tutorial). In fact, only last year Paul and Oscar told me how much work it was to put together their recommendation tutorial (which I liked a lot).

Anyway, somehow I couldn't say no and looking back I don't regret it at all. I'm totally fascinated by social tags. There's no tutorial topic I'd rather talk about. Working together with Paul has been a great pleasure, and I've learned a lot. However, I'm very much looking forward to have a free weekend or even just a free evening again. (Free as in not-MIR-related.)

Paul and I have put together about 200 slides for our tutorial. I think we still need to figure out our time budget. Hopefully we'll have plenty of time for interesting discussions.

Btw, as part of the tutorial we started compiling a list of relevant papers. That list started to grow. Then we thought it would be a good idea to group papers into topics (e.g. autotagging). Then we realized that several papers were in several categories... which is when we moved everything to delicious. In particular, we started using the tag "SocialMusicResearch" to mark interesting things we found in the Internet. Here's a list of some of the items we have tagged. We hope that others will start using that tag as well.

Btw, if you are going to ISMIR, please say hi! If you don't know what I look like: try to spot the guy wearing a t-shirt.