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25th September 2017 |
Do we even discover anymore?

Do we even discover anymore?
Written by Glug Editor Adam Libonatti-Roche, find out more about him here.

It’s Monday morning. As you stretch and re-realise that 6.30am is a devilish time, you reach for your phone to see what you may have missed during your optimal 8 hour sleep. Google Now greets you with a range of information including the all important “how long it’s going to take to get to work” stat. It’s going to take 30 minutes but first the gym, as those arms don’t produce gun show tickets automatically. Spotify pings you to to let you know that your new Discover Weekly is ready; a fresh lick of new music just for you. You press play and get lost until evening.

Your evening follows a similar path although you don't really know it. Yummly tells you what you should eat for dinner whilst ASOS thought you loomed good in that last pair of jeans so suggest another. This is all before the Netflix cycle begins. Does this sound like your day? If so then good and then also bad at the same time.

A meal in a cup you say

As a race, technology is making us lazy. We no longer have to actively remember our parents birthdays because if they are on Facebook (god forbid) then the Zuck engine will remind you. We're more susceptible to suggestion from brands due to this era of personalisation. “Hey, it’s 100% for me because I trust this brand”. If we trust a brand enough, who’s to say that we would slurp down on ‘whatever is in a cup’ because we’re told what it is and that it’s good for us.

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Spotify Discover is a success and a hack day activity that has revolutionised how I, and 40 million other users discover music. Every Monday morning, a fresh playlist is delivered to your Spotify account containing 30 or so tracks that the Spotify personalisation algorithmic believe you will enjoy. This can be songs similar in tempo to your most played from the week before (possibly from your last Discover Weekly) or even new songs that Spotify believes you will enjoy. It’s an absolute tour de force of deciphering user behaviour that Edward Newett (it’s creator) talks about in greater detail in a Wired interview. Now, this is where I’m going to through the negative spanner in the works but first a disclaimer. I love Spotify Discover; at a low point in the past few years it actually gave me something to look forward to on a Monday morning and it even hand delivered me some of my favourite new tracks. Hand delivery is where the problem is here.

We’ve gone from a civilisation of actively sourcing out entertainment to having it suggested to us, which in turn has damaged our ability to research new content. When was the last time you walked into a record store or read an album review to make your own recommendations? Exactly, probably a while ago and yes, the art of discovery changes but it’s the fact the whole process is becoming more of a subconscious effort than a conscious one. The same goes for Netflix and the vicious circle that you end up finding yourself in when trying to decide. You can’t decide because in theory, you didn’t decide on the selection that you are greeted with in the first place, your subconscious choices of the past did. You probably didn’t even realise that the movie thumbnails were A/B tested.

This all leads into a great point from ASOS’s Celina Burnett on how the fashion retailer are approaching consumer behaviour technologies.

“If all we offer a consumer is based on their past behaviour then how do we make them aware of what the next big trend is?”.

Walking into a Blockbuster video of the past, you would go in expecting to find something that you would like but every now and then, you would stumble into an aisle and find a film that floats your boat but you wouldn’t have thought it to begin with. ASOS want to help their users find their new next; something Spotify attempts to do more than Netflix (the latter feels you should watch what they want you to watch. If you don’t believe me, check your home screen when you need sign into the service).

Same shirt, different day

It’s been said that taking the most pointless decisions out of your life can help you focus on the more important. A brief Google (or Bing, I’m not bothered) shows that:

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Personalisation based on your behaviour can take a lot of heavy lifting out of your everyday life. Applications like Yummly can help guide you through a change of lifestyle at home as finding healthy yet affordable meals overcomes the a hurdle when trying to eat healthier, whilst Amazon’s Alexa can ping you a notification if there is traffic on the way to work. Software understanding your behaviour can save you time, remind you of bills that you need to pay and for some, it’s what consumers want. There’s no denying the benefit of personalisation via behavioural data and it’s any going to become more prominent as programmatic advertising starts to stretch its legs and with Spotify’s recent purchase, their song suggestions are only going to get more precise to what you currently like.

To some, Spotify dictating your music preferences and Netflix choosing what to watch can take a lot of pointless hassle out of your day. To others reading this, you may be now be aware that your discoveries are being supplied to you on a silver platter and wonder what you can do to start the hunt yourselves. Well, here’s a few ideas:

  • Check out a music blog. These discoveries are done by humans who descend to the darkest realms of the music ecosystem (used to by MySpace) and find tracks from the future trend setters.

  • Go see a film at the cinema that you know nothing about. Sure, you may not like it and if you don’t you will rue the day you read this piece of advice. I’ll give you the money back if you don’t enjoy it.

  • Do as Link does in the new Legend of Zelda game. Throw ingredients into a frying pan and see what happens. Obviously, use a bit of common sense but find your sense of discovery in cooking. It’s like looking at The Diner menu and questioning if Fried Chicken, Maple Syrup and Waffles go together.

What do you think of the personalisation phenomenon? Let me know in the comments below.

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