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Tuning in to Google Music Search

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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 last.fm) (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.


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