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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Former Employee Says Pandora's Algorithm Is Now Weighted Toward Mainstream Artists

Posted By on Thu, Aug 9, 2012 at 10:39 AM

click to enlarge pandora_logo.jpg

[Updated, 8/9/12, 3:10 p.m.]

Are you a Pandora user who has become disenchanted with the service? Did you use it to discover new, underground music, and now find yourself hearing mainstream schlock? Are you wondering what the fuck happened?

Well, according to one former employee of the Oakland-based Internet radio station, you aren't alone -- or crazy. In a post yesterday for Buzzfeed's tech blog, the ex-"listener support" email jockey shared the dark side of their job at Pandora: the drunken, angry messages from users, the annoying anti-gay ads that the service had to run, and, yes, the post-IPO changes that this person says have caused the site's fabled algorithm to pump out more music most people have heard of, and less music they haven't.

Contacted for a response, Pandora officials say that the algorithm wasn't changed recently as a result of the company's IPO.

Here, though, is the ex-employee's take:

It used to be that you'd put in Modest Mouse and then hear all these crazy college indie bands. That was how it was created. It was great. But people in the Midwest hated it. Now, you put in Modest Mouse and you hear Maroon 5. It's much more like radio. Some people got angry, but the majority like the changes.

We're not sure what's worse here: the idea that Pandora's impressive taste-anticipation technology has (according to this ex-employee) been put to the perverse use of making people listen to Maroon 5, or the sad reality that most people seem to like it.

But Pandora officials say this claim simply isn't accurate.

"It is not true that the algorithm was changed as a response to the IPO," says Mollie Starr, Pandora's director of corporate communications. She sent us a statement from Pandora founder and Chief Strategy Officer Tim Westergren:

Aside from the actual thumbs feedback of listeners, Pandora doesn't actually have a concept of "indie" or "mainstream." It's about finding what's best for each listener. Since we launched the service we have had a large playlist team made up of engineers, musicians, statisticians, music curators, radio DJs, and more working on this problem - finding just the right balance of variety, familiarity and discovery...

The fact that over 95% of our catalogue, which numbers over one million songs, plays every month is a testament to the power of the Music Genome Project and Pandora's personalized radio.

The Pandora employee also says they weren't able to discuss the algorithm changes with complaining users, and basically had to tell them, "That's just the way Pandora works."

We're curious: What do you Pandora users think? Does this jibe with your experience with the site? Are you hearing more mainstream music on your underground channels than you used to? Let us know in the comments.

[Tech Confessional: How Pandora's IPO Changed Everything]

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