Too much information, not enough time seems to be the shape of things already arrived.
The Net has proven to be a treasure trove of knowledge, where you can find almost anything you want, but the sheer amount of facts, figures, news and entertainment is often overwhelming in scope and breadth. You could spend a lifetime looking up everything that interests you and still miss that news story, that tidbit of data that could make a difference.
Or you could use The Filter.
That’s the name of Peter Gabriel’s new social Web site that launched June 3rd. At The Filter, you pick what you like in music, movies, TV and other media, and the Web site’s intelligence agents use that information to serve up content tailored for you.
"The Internet, which I think is an amazing creation, provides access to an ocean of limitless information, but without filtering it’s easy to drown," Gabriel said. "But if you have this little friend on your shoulder, that can pick out music to listen to and films to look at, it’s something I would use provided I could steer it a little."
And Gabriel gives users plenty to steer with.
The Filter experience starts with you setting up your own account, in which you’re polled as to what kinds of entertainment you like. Picking three music genres leads you to specific examples within those genres, where you indicate whether you like those individual selections. The more interaction, the more The Filter learns about what you like, and dislike.
What’s more, there are also add-ins designed to look at your digital library and see what tunes are already among your faves. Not only music, but other entertainment mediums as well.
"The Filter integrates the best of both approaches, man and machine, and takes data learned in one area to help guide in another," Gabriel said. "For example, data about musical taste can help produce better selections in film, or someone else’s tastes – friend, celebrity, whatever – can be mashed up with your own to provide new and interesting discoveries. As well as being fantastically useful, this thing is real fun too."
Users receive a daily homepage of music, film and Web video recommendations designed for the individual. The site also employs "dynamic" filters designed to enable users to discover more music and movies they may like based on their profile selections. Additionally, users can import online profiles from other sites they may use, such as Last.fm or Flixster, to help define their entertainment tastes.
The social aspects of The Filter are based on entertainment preferences as well. Want to know about another music genre? Filter users already well-versed in that area can help you. Just as you can help them when they venture into your knowledge zone.
The core of The Filter’s cyber brain hails from a branch of artificial intelligence called Bayesian mathematics. Simply put, when you select what interests you, The Filter’s programming then delivers statistically relevant items.
But The Filter is more than just a pick list, more than just matching Iron Maiden to Metallica or "Star Wars" to "Star Trek." The list of possible recommendations is fed through several filters designed to further tailor the content to your personal profile. Plus, users can add filters to recognize mood, outside influences, third-party experts or reviewers.
And if that isn’t enough to entice you to try Gabriel’s Filter, there’s also the possibility you might make some money as well.
As The Filter grows in user population, there may even be opportunities to sell your profile. That is, if other users want the same recommendations you’re receiving based upon your own profile, according to The Times Online U.K.
The Filter was founded by Gabriel and Martin Hopkins, a huge jazz fan. It was Hopkins who came up with the idea of using filters to sift through content and discover music based on one’s preferences.
And what did Peter Gabriel tell The Filter? The artist recently had soul music on his personal page, and indicated that he’s a fan of Radiohead and Sigur Rós.
"It’s the attraction of being still in touch with interesting and new things without having to make the effort to research them all the time," Gabriel said. "I’m a tired thumb person, I’m a channel clicker. Maybe it’s a male thing. I know there’s good stuff I’d love to watch out there but I don’t want to search all the time."
Sony’s Speaker Tube of Glass
Working in Sony’s research and development department must be a job like no other. One day you’re working on an egg-shaped MP3 player that moves to the music it plays. Then maybe the next day you’re on robot dog detail, fiddling with the mechanical canine that answers to the name, "Aibo." Or you could be working on the transparent speaker project.
That’s the latest Sony high-end product making the media rounds. Called "Soutina" – a name formed from combining the words "sound" and "fountain," the acrylic speaker measures one meter in length, 95 millimeters in diameter and is currently available only in Japan for a cool 1 million yen (US$9,600).
Sony showed off its latest Jetsons-like creation at its Tokyo headquarters during the first week of June. Along with the unusual shape and design, the Soutina comes with LEDs placed at the bottom of the tube, ranging in colors like pink, purple, blue and amber. The LEDs reflect in the stainless steel at the tube’s top, and if the room light is low enough, can also be seen reflecting off of a metallic string hung inside the tube.
Sony describes the Soutina as a speaker that can be used in spacious areas like hotel lobbies and wedding halls, and says it produces high-quality, natural-sounding audio in a 360-degree spread.
But this might not be the rock aficionado’s choice for audio. Sony says the Soutina delivers a soothing sound, and that some people might prefer more bass than the glass speaker pumps out.
"Maybe it doesn’t work in the way some American consumers are expecting their speakers to work," said the company’s senior manager Noriyasu Kawaguchi.
EMI Dances With SpiralFrog
SpiralFrog recently welcomed record label EMI to its fold, thus bringing the number of major labels licensing their wares to the ad-driven, free music service to two.
SpiralFrog users exchange their free time for free music, with advertisers footing the bill. Every page visited at SpiralFrog generates an ad. As with the music subscription services like Napster, downloads are protected by digital rights management technology.
However, with subscription services, once you stop paying, the music stops playing. At SpiralFrog, users need to keep watching ads in order to keep their music hummin’. This is accomplished by checking in with the site at least once in a 30-day period.
EMI is the second major to sign on with SpiralFrog. The service launched last year offering tracks from Universal Music Group. Currently the service is available only in the U.S. and Canada.
"We are ecstatic about adding EMI’s content to SpiralFrog," said company founder and chairman Joe Mohen. "Not only does this significantly expand our catalog of music and videos, it also demonstrates our continued content deal momentum. In just six months since our launch, SpiralFrog has grown to be the third largest legal download site in terms of registered users. We anticipate that the addition of the EMI catalog will fuel our growth even more."
Music Industry Groups Say Baidu Bad
Music industry organizations around the world recently denounced Chinese search engine Baidu, which one Chinese copyright official described as "the largest and most incorrigible purveyor of pirated music in China," reports the New York Times.
Global music organizations dissing the search engine company included the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, Music Copyright Society of China and the China Audio-Video Copyright Association.
And Baidu’s crime in the eyes of these music groups? Providing links to illicit downloads.
But the groups aren’t filing lawsuits or demanding China’s government to rectify the situation. Instead, they’re calling on advertisers to boycott the search engine.
However, if legal action is needed, the labels may find a friend in China’s court system. Last December a Beijing final appeals court ruled that Yahoo! China was guilty of facilitating infringing activity by providing links to pirated material.