On June 30, Apple launched its music streaming service, Apple Music. It is a curious mix of the music streaming service, a worldwide 24-hour radio called Beats 1 and a sort of social network called Connect through which fans can keep in touch with artists.
Apple Music has a small tab called ‘For You’. As you keep using Apple Music and touching the love button on the songs that come on the radio, the tab keeps changing and a very curious thing happens. Within a few days you will find that ‘For You’ does exactly what it says on the tin and offers us music that we would love to hear. It knows what music we will love and offers us just that. Apple Music borrows the feature from the short-lived Beats Music app. Where other music services use algorithms to surface the music we are supposed to love, Apple Music uses human editors to curate the music.
At a time when the tech industry is relying more and more on algorithms, Apple is bringing human curation back with services like the Apple Music and Apple News by hiring DJs, musicians and news editors. Even more curiously, companies like Twitter and Snapchat seem ready to follow Apple and bring human curation back.
Putting curation in the hands of humans is a very old concept that survived unrivalled until the advent of the computers and algorithms. Tech companies that live and die by the computer algorithms are usually appalled by the notion that one single person makes a decision. A classic example is Google, that famously tests different shades of blue for its clickable links and lets the algorithm decide which is the most favoured blue among the users. Facebook is another famous example that uses secret algorithms to surface news stories for its users.
Apple has always been the antithesis of that philosophy. It has always run on the tastes of one person. Be it Steve Jobs or the present design chief Jony Ive, all Apple Products are ultimately dependent on the taste of one person. Unlike a Samsung that puts out a hundred variants of one single model of its phone, Apple always releases one iPhone model a year, which is decided by Jony Ive and users are asked to just trust his judgment.
By bringing the same philosophy to services like music and news which could be highly emotional and which require the careful hand of expert humans, Apple is bucking the trend that ‘algorithm is the king’. Taking a leaf out of Apple’s playbook, Snapchat has announced that it is hiring journalists to cover the US Presidential election later this year and Twitter is hiring editors to aggregate and surface tweets related to trending topics. If it works out, we can expect more tech companies to follow suit relegating the algorithm to simpler tasks.
Matham is a tech geek. Follow him on Twitter @AdarshMatham