The Noisy Channel


Tuning in to Google Music Search

October 29th, 2009 · 6 Comments · General

With all of the activity around e-books last week, you might think that the online world wasn’t paying attention to the media category most transformed by the Internet music. But a week is a lifetime in the ADD-addled technology press, and today’s top story is that Google is “making search more musical“. From the official blog post:

Now, when you enter a music-related query — like the name of a song, artist or album — your search results will include links to an audio preview of those songs provided by our music search partners MySpace (which just acquired iLike) or Lala. When you click the result you’ll be able to listen to an audio preview of the song directly from one of those partners.

As with most Google features, this one is being rolled out gradually. If you’re impatient (like me), you can try it directly from this page. Or you can watch the video above.

My first impression: this is great feature to improve known-item search, and it’s nice that they’ve partnered with folks that often let you hear whole songs, rather than 30-second snippets. The selection seems limited, but it could be that my tastes are a bit obscure. I’m curious if others share my sense that the catalog is much smaller than the ones on iTunes or Amazon.

But, as music IR specialist and fellow HCIR advocate Jeremy Pickens points out, Google is “doing to music what they did to the web“. I’m not as concerned as Jeremy is about the prospect of musical tastes being homogenized through the “rich get richer” effect of ranking–perhaps because we’re already there. Not only is pop music self-perpetuating (see this great study by my friend (and Princeton sociologist) Matt Salganik and his former advisor Duncan Watts), but even recommendation engines quash diversity. Google really can’t make things that much worse.

Besides, much as Google’s default search leads many searchers to Wikipedia, a great starting point for exploratory search, the new music search leads users to Pandora, which is probably the leading engine for exploratory music search offers users a more exploratory user experience (though it would be great if they also linked to (thanks Jeremy!). OK, maybe “leads” is a strong word for a “listen on” link below the search result, but it’s there for people in the know.

I’d love to see Google embrace HCIR. But I appreciate the improvements to known-item search too, especially if they can delegate the HCIR functionality to others that focus on it.

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 jeremy // Oct 29, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Besides, much as Google’s default search leads many searchers to Wikipedia, a great starting point for exploratory search, the new music search leads users to Pandora, which is probably the leading engine for exploratory music search.

    Really? You would call Pandora more exploratory than Pandora does allow you, the user, to give relevance feedback on the ranked lists of songs that they present to you, so that by itself is already more interactive than Google currently allows. But unless you switch stations completely (i.e. issue a new query) you will continue to get song in the order that Pandora wants to feed them to you. No matter how diverse Pandora might make these lists, diversity != exploratory. Non? is much more exploratory, and much heavier on the HCIR. is still plagued by collaborative filtering, and I wish there were a way to get away from that more. But at least it lets you choose your own path and pivot points through that filter, and you can wind up with an overall pathway very different than what any single collaborative filtering algorithm might have recommended.

  • 2 Daniel Tunkelang // Oct 29, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    I stand corrected– certainly offers more exploratory functionality than Pandora.

  • 3 Michael B // Oct 29, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Though this is not the point of this article, Yahoo! had (and still have) the exact same feature for quite a while now. More to the point, the same feature on Yahoo! provides a more exploratory experience, actually allowing browsing the artist albums, lyrics, etc.

  • 4 Daniel Tunkelang // Oct 29, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Michael, you’re right–I clearly need to rotate my search engine use more. You can read a comparison of Google and Yahoo’s music search here:

  • 5 jeremy // Oct 30, 2009 at 1:06 am

    Daniel, from the link you sent:

    However, when I searched using song lyrics, Google often came up short. Searching for “I walk alone,” for example, brought up a song called “I Walk Alone,” from a WWE Raw wrestling album produced in 2007. It did not, however, bring up a song that famously repeats those words over and over again– “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” from Green Day’s 2004 album American Idiot.

    I couldn’t help but have the following thought when I read this: Of course the result didn’t come up. The words repeated over and over again. Google’s spam filters probably thought the song was a case of keyword stuffing! 😉

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