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Summary:

Google knows a lot about what people listen to because its Play Music service knows what’s in users’ MP3 libraries. A new tool lets people investigate which albums, artists and genres are most popular over time.

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Google Play knows a lot about what its users listen to, and on Thursday Google shared some of those insights via a new tool called Music Timeline. It’s an interactive feature that shows the popularity of genres over time, as well as the popularity of subgenres and artists within them. It’s also a great way to show off Google Play as a worthy competitor to more widely used streaming services such as Spotify or Pandora, or more popular MP3 stores such as iTunes.

This type of knowledge is a big deal. As I explained earlier this month, the battle to become the world’s dominant streaming service is heating up as more listening goes digital. Google is a late-comer, but one with some serious potential.

I don’t know how Google Play’s recommendation algorithms work, but it seems like Google could make a pretty good first hack at classifying someone’s taste just by comparing his or her MP3 library against the aggregate data it has gathered as a part of Timeline. If the Metal line on my graph is disproportionately thick, it probably says something about what I like to hear. Add to that information about what I stream, and the picture becomes clearer.

Across all industries, companies are figuring out how to turn the data they’re collecting into better products. In fact, that’s one of the driving themes of our Structure Data conference in March.

Anyhow, here are some screenshots of Music Timeline to highlight the types of things it will let you dig into. Overall, rock and pop music are very popular.

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In thrash metal, one of my favorite genres, Metallica dominates.

metallica

Here’s the career arc of one of my favorite bands, Corrosion of Conformity. I must be the only one who bought its last album.

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Of course, this is what a long, successful career looks like. I only wish Music Timeline featured relative comparisons, so we could compare the Rolling Stone to less-popular artists like, well, Corrosion of Conformity to see how they stack up. I suspect even Voodoo Lounge is much more popular overall than COC’s most-popular album. Guess there’s no accounting for taste.

stones

  1. too bad the data is normalized ,seems a lot less useful this way

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    1. They explain in the FAQ that it’s normalized because the industry has changed so much over time. It would be great to see some rawer data for direct comparisons between artists, though.

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  2. My music is my business, not Google's Friday, January 17, 2014

    I don’t seem to remember asking Google to scan my music library for my music interests.

    Not that I have anything to hide, but to put it simply it’s NOT THEIR BUSINESS. I’m not their product, nor do I want to be.

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  3. Awesome example of simple visualization. The ability to visualize is the way we tame big data and spot the things we would never have seen.

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  4. Derrick – i haven’t bought a COC album since “eye for an eye”. it was their first and (unfortunately for them and us) their apex. i mean technocracy was decent but in the same vein as STs – Join The Army, it was overproduced and they lost all cred in the pit.

    note: the google analysis places “eye for an eye” in the 2000′s… this was the re-release.

    hope you are well…

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    1. Derrick Harris Friday, January 17, 2014

      I’m probably a blasphemer to you, then ;-) I’m a big fan of Deliverance, Wiseblood and In the Arms of God. Actually, the latest album without Pepper is pretty good, too.

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  5. Why does it say Eye For An Eye was COC’s last album (2010)? And just to throw my two cents in, I think Eye For An Eye is amazing, Animosity is pretty good, the rest is meh.

    Oh, and thanks for the article.

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    1. It was re-released in 2010.

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