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Google Music Is Awful at Recommending Songs

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If an early test of Google Music's Instant Mix is any indication, Mountain View needs to go more "Thorough" and less "Instant."

Of the new features incorporated into Google's streaming Music service, one of the more anticipated aspects is its Instant Mix -- a quick-and-dirty playlist of similar songs in your music library, just like iTunes' Genius mix. A user selects a song and Google Music assembles tracks purported to be of a like-minded genre.

But given how Google Music only recently rolling out to the public, just how intelligent is this Instant Mix selection? Paul Lamere of the music and technology site Music Machinery decided to give it a test.

Lamere pitted the beta version of Instant Mix against Apple's celebrated iTunes Genius and the music intelligence platform Echo Nest. He graded each compilation on what he referred to as the "WTF" curve. For every track that is wildly off course and bears little, if any, relation to the original chosen track, that playlist earns a point. The playlist with the lowest WTF number wins the round.

So how did the three services do?

After five rounds, Echo Nest earned a perfect score. At no point did the platform suggest a song that was out of the realm of similar style.

iTunes Genius also scored extremely well with only two tracks that skewed recommendations -- and that was only in one round. Choosing the core track "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga, iTunes Genius suggested Iron & Wine's codeine-infused "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" and the remember-how-much-you-hate-Dave-Matthews song "Flake" by Jack Johnson. While the two songs bear little relation to the over-the-top Gaga, Lamere posits, "I suspect this strange connection is due to the Twilight soundtracks that may appeal to the Lady Gaga demographic. Since iTunes relates artists based on sales, those that bought Lady Gaga and the Twilight albums would establish a connection between these two somewhat disparate types of music."

But Google Music couldn't use the Twilight soundtrack as an excuse. In five rounds of 24 suggest tracks each, Instant Mix spat back 62 WTF tracks. According to the beta service, there's no difference between Lady Gaga and Nick Cave, Miles Davis sounds just like Faith Hill, and "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" is indistinguishable from Kraftwerk.

Granted, it's only been a week since the beta rollout of Google Music, and there's going to be the inevitable room for improvement. But it's as if Google just engineered a random song generator rather than have each selection tailored to each track. At least have it work a little before introducing it. Miles Davis to Faith Hill? Jesus.

So unless you don't mind having your party mix switch from Slipknot to "Jingle Bell Rock," you might want to give Google Music's Instant Mix a little more incubation time.

(See also: Apple Picks the Worst Time to Go Subtle and Google Reveals the Future of Android)
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