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Why being a contrary browser could fuel new discoveries

In the ever-growing and expansive world of apps, I love the ambition of a new entrant in particular. Forgotify promises to rescue the music that sits in Spotify’s extensive and vast library having never – yes, never – been listened to. Because it has been deprived of its opportunity to impress, this poor, undiscovered music is all too easy to dismiss as unworthy for human consumption. In fact, one prospective listener callously suggested that there is a good reason why no-one has listened and that these unheard compositions are underserving of an audience with ‘your earhole’ (as he put it). It’s an easy argument to make, of course, but it can’t always be right.

Forgotify successfully acknowledges a fundamental problem in what is generally considered to be one of the principle and brilliant benefits of digitising content: the ability to categorise stuff in a way that allows for the analysis of personal behaviour and ensures that the recommendations made will be appreciated and well received. The problem with this apparent benefit – and sometimes with the internet as a whole – is that it also buries some fantastic things. It removes the thrill of the ‘wildcard’.

The truth is that by funnelling and filtering content, music, or otherwise, internet technologies can narrow exposure and knowledge. Users now frequently receive recommendations based on what they have consumed before (or at the very least based on the prior behaviour of an individual fitting their profile who is deemed to be just like them). Think about someone using the ‘Discover’ function on Spotify or the ‘Amazon recommends’ listings. While both these tools open up new content, they still limit the scope and expanse of content that is out there based on an understanding of existing behaviour. Essentially, a lot of what that particular individual could access becomes invisible to them.

By contrast, let’s take a step back in time and imagine the experience of walking into a music shop (ask your grandparents about it – they thought it perfectly normal).  As you enter the store, you are given a recommendation for something generally expected to be popular in the window and you then go to look for the particular item that caused you to head to the store in the first place and find it. Finally, before you reach the checkout, you have the chance to browse the shelves randomly with the anticipation of stumbling upon something new and unexpected. Everything is laid out in front of you and you still take a high degree of responsibility for your own musical discoveries.

When shopping online, the unexpected, less popular and potentially less relevant stuff is often hidden because the search functionality that the site uses is designed to maximise the success of the recommendations it makes. It doesn’t care if you discover something that you consider surprisingly brilliant, but purely how likely you are to appreciate – and consume – the recommendation it gives you. Of course, even the most intrepid and open-minded browser will sometimes want a quick recommendation that they are more likely to appreciate. However, we should challenge ourselves to be contrary browsers once in a while, rejecting the obvious and seeking out the unexpected. This will open up a broader, braver world of interesting new content which otherwise would have lain undiscovered and invisible to us.

Perhaps now is the time for all of us to give those underappreciated and unheard songs a chance on Forgotify. Turn off the personal filters on your search engines. Create a fresh new profile when shopping online. Go under the radar and discover something new and unexpectedly brilliant that definitely isn’t tailor-made for you.

Scott Magee, Strategy Director, Vizeum UK

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