Wednesday, September 17, 2008

iTunes Genius = 1984

Remember when the Mac first made its debut in 1984? It was that commercial that opened with an Orwellian "overlord" on the screen with all the enslaved subjects being brain-washed into accepting what was said at face value.

Then, from the back, comes a pretty white woman in a running uniform carrying a sledge hammer and being chased by guards - and throws it through the screen and "frees" the captives. The tag line is "On January 24th Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984."

That is, of course until September 14, 2008 - when Apple brought out iTunes 8.0 and introduced the new "Genius" bar on the right hand side. It's billed as an "assistant."

The idea is to suggest music choices you don't have - based on what you do have. It's a good idea - like a suggestion engine that you see all the time in other sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. The problem is - in order for it to work - you need to agree to upload ALL the information about your music catalog, play lists and downloads to Apple.

Hmmmm. That's a pretty big "opt-in" if you ask me. Right before you decide to take the plunge - here's how Apple describes what you're about to do:
"Genius is able to make play lists and give you great recommendations by periodically sending information about your iTunes library to Apple. This information will only be sent to Apple if you choose to turn on Genius."

"The information sent to Apple includes details about the media in your iTunes library such as track names, play counts, and ratings. This information will be stored with an anonymous Genius ID and not linked to your iTunes Account. When using the iTunes Store or Genius sidebar, Apple will also use your purchase history to give you better recommendations."
Ummm.... yeah. So Apple is now the world's biggest distributor of music, and it will now also have data on millions of people's catalogs - including music that was bought elsewhere and "ripped" from CD's etc.

But it will also get all the other nuggets that are stored along with just what songs you have. It'll also get the ratings, how many times you've played them, what pluralists you've put them in, etc. 

In other words - Apple will have some of the most up-to-date and complete information in the world to predict music trends and to (potentially) capitalize on that knowledge.

Now I haven't turned on the feature myself, yet - but I know people who have. They liken the Genius sidebar to an overzealous used car salesman. There are "buy" buttons all down the thing.

Whatever happened to that cool aesthetic, the subtle sell, providing the user with rankings and gently nudging them toward a sale? Now it says "Top Songs You're Missing" and "Recommendations".

Top songs I'm "missing?" Really? Maybe I think those songs totally blow - and aren't worth the $0.89 or $0.99 asking price. Maybe I ripped those songs from a CD I'd made 5 years ago. Who died and made YOU boss?

Sorry, I digress.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: nice try, Apple. You make some good products (I really do like my iPhone), have some snazzy advertising, and have been terrifically successful in selling music and iPhone applications.

Just get your hand out of my data pocket - and keep your distance, less you start to become like all of the other "greedy" non-Mac companies out there. The only reason people like you is because you're different, not the same as everyone else.

Try to stay that way.

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