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Karaoke: A Hotbed for Micro-IR?

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I’m a karaoke junkie and proud to admit it. But one of the challenges I regularly face, especially when I go to an unfamiliar karaoke joint, is finding a song I know well enough to sing. I’m sure I’m not the only person who encounters this micro-IR problem, and it occurred to me that there might be better technical solutions to it.

Most karaoke venues provide printed song books, typically sorted by title and by artist. This approach is certainly adequate for very limited selections, but it doesn’t scale gracefully. Indeed, one of my favorite karaoke bars, the Courtside in Cambridge, MA, has a fantastic song selection that is only accessible through printed books. Kinda frustrating for a search guy, even though the staff is very helpful!

My regular karaoke venue in New York, Second on Second, is a bit more technologically advanced: it provides computers with dedicated software that allows patrons to search through their song catalog. Aside from being faster than thumbing through books, the software makes it possible to find songs when you only remember words that are in the middle of song or artist names.

But even such a system only addresses known-item search–in this case, looking for a song or artist by name when you know precisely what you are looking for. There’s room for incremental improvement here, e.g., searching for songs based on the lyrics you remember. For example, many people remember a famous David Bowie song based on its protagonist “Major Tom” rather than its title “Space Oddity“; fortunately, tools like Google’s music search are happy to make such connections.

But none of the karaoke search technology I’ve see to date supports exploration. Specifically, I’d love to go into a karaoke bar and have a procedure for finding songs I know that is better than trial and error. For example, I’d like to be able to see my options for hard rock 80s songs with male vocals. Or to find out which downtempo bands, if any, are on the menu. A little faceted search would go a long way towards making the song-finding experience more pleasant and efficient.

But why stop there? I’d really like a system that suggests songs based on what it knows about me. For example, knowing that I like to sing Scorpions songs is a reasonable basis to suggest similar artists like Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses. Or perhaps to suggest 80s songs in general–after all, karaoke roulette notwithstanding, most people sing songs they know (or at least think they know), and their song knowledge tends to have some temporal locality. I’m sure you can imagine far more sophisticated personalization–and such personalization could be accomplished with complete transparency to the user.

Even if you aren’t into karaoke (and yet have managed to read this far!), I hope you can appreciate the universality of the information needs I’m describing. Exploratory search is everywhere. But I think it’s easiest to demonstrate its practical importance by working through concrete use cases. As an HCIR advocate, I’ve repeatedly learned the lesson that such demonstrations are critical in order to successfully evangelize this worldview.

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