On iTunes and iPods and the data they don’t capture…


The more I think about it, the weirder I find it that iTunes doesn’t keep track of every time you’ve ever listened to a track from your library. It would seem like such an obvious thing to do – why just throw all that data away? I mean, Audioscrobbler now has more data about what I’ve listened to and when than iTunes does. Surely that’s really bizarre? This lack of data means that I’m forever stuck looking at a list of favourite tracks that is almost dictated by when I installed the software. It’s like preferential attachment in small world network theory – the whole structure is set up so that the songs I’ve listened to the most will get listened to more. And while that might be an appropriate way to handle it, surely being able to time-limit the period you’re interested in would make the whole thing more flexible and powerful?

Think of the possibilities – in iTunes alone – (1) the ability to have playlists like “four star songs that I listened to most a year ago”, “top played songs of 2003” or whatever (2) weekly charts like they have on the radio of what you’ve played (again Audioscrobbler already has this (3) the possibility of seeing fun infographics for every song in your library, or by artist or whatever. The list goes on… And what about the other possibilities – the simple elegance of being able to create a playlist of photos in iPhoto and have it choose the most appropriate songs to play alongside it – songs that you were actually listening to at the time the photos were taken. How evocative would that be?!

And in the spirit of looking slightly startled in the direction of Apple (whose iPod Shuffle already doesn’t keep track of tracks played – an extraordinary oversight), one other piece of data I’d really like them to capture for me is the number of times that you’ve skipped past a track before the song has ended. That would seem to be to be an enormously useful piece of information. I’d love to have a smart playlist on my iPod that added in new songs as I received them and then removed them when they’d been (1) rated, (2) played over ten times and (3) skipped more than fifty percent of the time. That would be awesome. These organic playlists that manifest and evolve are so core to the way that I’ve been consuming music over the last few years since I bought my first iPod (Warning – over-excited guff from four years ago), which I feel I should point out was many many years before the rest of you did.