i’ve been using Pandora for a long time, and i’ve always been a big fan. when Tim Westergren came to Salt Lake City on his speaking tour, i went to see him at the SLC Main Library and i have the raglan-style Pandora tshirt to prove it. the unique recommendation engine — powered by humans who actually analyze characteristics of each track individually for the Music Genome Project, rather than by computers and a centralized database of similar or related artists, or users who purchased other albums at the same time — makes Pandora’s recommendations unlike any other music streaming service on the ‘net. the Muse Radio channel i made transformed from being a lot of Muse and early Radiohead-sounding stuff, into a more generalized brit-rock when it threw in some Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles into the mix based on my likes/dislikes and the station doesn’t miss a beat. With other systems — even WinAmp‘s Advanced Playlist Generator and iTunes’ Genius (both powered by Gracenote) are limited in their artist database, and always throw in at least one left-field unrelated track that throws the whole mix off.
being a DJ, i’m all about the flow of a mix. throwing in something unexpected or different is fine, but you have to prep your audience for it a little bit, otherwise the set is disrupted. i’m equally (albeit unfairly) discriminating in randomly-generated playlists, and no system has fully been able to satisfy me. that is, except for Pandora. it’s also the single most accurate system for recommending new music that i’m likely to really like. it’s rare (or an underdeveloped station) that Pandora gives me a track that i outright hate, although it has happened. however, it nothing like getting Gloria Gaynor in an Amanda Palmer playlist like what iTunes Genius did to me. wtf?
but the biggest reason i don’t just listen to Pandora 24/7 is because it’s a web-app. it’s powered by a flash application that sucks up resources in already resource-sucking browsers. and as a designer, i can’t have my computer compromised by limited resources while i’m building a website. that’s solved with OpenPandora. (note: OpenPandora is just for windows. mac users…uh…come back later when i’m not talking about software.)
for a long time, i’ve used PandoraFM; it’s a mashup of Pandora and last.fm that streams Pandora (although it can also stream last.fm playlists) and scrobbles the tracks to last.fm. and last.fm is cool because of their analysis of the stuff you’re listening to compared with your friends and provides charts and graphs of your most listened-to artists and recently listened-to tracks. plus, thanks to a last.fm/twitter mashup, whenever i “love” a track on last.fm, it automatically tweets that with a link to the track (if it exists) on last.fm (or the artist if the track doesn’t exist). it doesn’t solve the problem with CPU and memory resources, but there are other benefits by adding in the last.fm stuff. but it’s a solution i can’t use all the time.
there are a few different standalone Pandora clients out there, but my favorite part of OpenPandora is that it has built-in last.fm integration. i can’t “love” tracks like i can with PandoraFM, but it scrobbles everything i play (which you’ll see on my frontpage and lifestream if i’m listening to something). and it’s a standalone app — from what i can tell, little more than a Flash player with a few extra options for additional settings — so it doesn’t consume all the resources of a new browser window, or suck more memory into a separate browser tab in an already bloated browser.
sometimes, i just want to listen to the music that i have on my external hard drive, and for that, i’m still shopping for a good playlist generator (WinAmp’s Advanced Playlist Generator is the current favorite, but the database often gets corrupted for me, forcing me to rebuild the database from scratch, which, with my collection, can take a full day and lots of memory; the other option is Genius, but that requires, um, iTunes, and their Library management leaves much to be desired, it’s an even bigger resource hog than all of the other solutions in this post combined, and they don’t offer full support for all filetypes). i’d love to see a Pandora plugin for WinAmp (something i suggested to them on twitter a while back), but until that happens, OpenPandora is an awesome way to experience Pandora outside of a browser (sidenote: they also have an iPhone app, a mobile app for non-iPhones, and a standalone receiver, so you’re not just limited to experiencing the Music Genome Project in a browser).
go check it out and leave a comment if you think it’s as cool as i do (or if you hate it and need to vent, i’m here for that, too).