Hyper-opinionated

18Jan09

I’ve always been opinionated. But recently I’ve been noticing that technology is giving me more ways than ever to express my opinionated self, and maybe even encouraging me to be more opinionated than I would be otherwise.

Case in point: Pandora. I love Pandora. One of the things I like the most is that I can give it feedback. I can tell my digital DJ when it’s doing a good job and when it’s on the verge of being fired. (Well, I may not be able to express quite that strong of an opinion, but the thumbs-down lets me at least get at my general sentiment.) Ever since I started using Pandora last summer it has provided the soundtrack of my life, taking over the role that KCRW Music had filled for the past couple years. Recently, though, I decided to check back in with KCRW, and found that my experience of it was different. I missed my thumbs. My voting thumbs, that is. When one of the (excellent) KCRW DJs played something I didn’t like, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it (other than turn it off completely, of course). It is somewhat ironic that one of the reasons I wanted to listen to KCRW for a while again was that I wanted to be exposed to music I wouldn’t be exposed to through my self-selected Pandora channels; and yet when some of this music played I grew immediately impatient.

Netflix is another service I’ve started to use in the last few months which has also encouraged me to be happily opinionated. The more movies I rate the better my recommendations will get, they tell me. As in the case of Pandora, the Netflix system figures out the types of things I like and recommends other options that are quite similar.

While Pandora and Netflix solicit ratings very explicitly and for the purpose of refining personal recommendations, the general idea of user feedback and interactivity is one of the themes of Web 2.0.* In the world of journalism, for instance, we are generally no longer toleratant of  a one-way flow of information from corporate producers to consumers, insisting rather that we be able to at least give feedback. One interesting example of this type of thing is the CNN/Facebook partnership for inauguration day coverage.

I’ve also found that just having the ability to broadcast my current thoughts to the people I’m connected to on Facebook and Twitter has allowed me to express my opinions on things I would probably not talk to them about otherwise. For example, my Facebook and Twitter friends have heard a decent amount on my opinions of the Indiana winter weather recently. (In case you’re wondering, they’ve been overwhelmingly negative.)

While I do like to be able to express my opinions, particularly in ways that enable more personalized service (as with Pandora and Netflix), at the same time I wonder if these systems might prevent me from being exposed to things that could expand my horizons or challenge me in positive ways. If a track plays on Pandora that is not readily accessible or that does not conform to my current tastes, I will likely give it a thumbs-down and go on to the next track. On the other hand, if the same track plays on the radio, I will probably sit it out, and perhaps even grow to like or at least appreciate it.

As with a lot of things, this is probably a case where everything has its place. And this is why I’ve started to bring KCRW back into my playlist once in a while.

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*I know there are about as many definitions of Web 2.0 as there are geeks, but I’m pretty sure that the idea of feedback and interactivity is a commonality. At least that’s my opinion.

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