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How Shazam predicts pop hits

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Cait O'Riordan on Shazam's predictive analytics, and Francine Bennett on using data for evil.

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record_player_from_1920s_Marcin_Wichary_FlickrIn this week’s Radar Podcast, I chat with Cait O’Riordan, VP of product, music and platforms at Shazam. She talks about the current state of predictive analytics and how Shazam is able to predict the success of a song, often in the first few hours after its release. We also talk about the Internet of Things and how products like the Apple Watch affect Shazam’s product life cycles as well as the behaviors of their users.

Predicting the next pop hit

Shazam has more than 100 million monthly active users, and its users Shazam more than 20 million times per day. This, of course, generates a ton of data that Shazam uses in myriad ways, not the least of which is to predict the success of a song. O’Riordan explained how they approach their user data and how they’re able to accurately predict pop hits (and misses):

What’s interesting from a data perspective is when someone takes their phone out of their pocket, unlocks it, finds the Shazam app, and hits the big blue button, they’re not just saying, “I want to know the name of this song.” They’re saying, “I like this song sufficiently to do that.” There’s an amount of effort there that implies some level of liking. That’s really interesting, because you combine that really interesting intention on the part of the user plus the massive data set, you can cut that in lots and lots of different ways. We use it for lots of different things.

At the most basic level, we’re looking at what songs are going to be popular. We can predict, with a relative amount of accuracy, what will hit the Top 100 Billboard Chart 33 days out, roughly. We can look at that in lots of different territories as well. We can also look and see, in the first few hours of a track, whether a big track is going to go on to be successful. We can look at which particular part of the track is encouraging people to Shazam and what makes a popular hit. We know that, for example, for a big pop hit, you’ve got about 10 seconds to convince somebody to find the Shazam app and press that button. There are lots of different ways that we can look at that data, going right into the details of a particular song, zooming out worldwide, or looking in different territories just due to that big worldwide and very engaged audience.

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Cultivating change

Cultivate is O'Reilly's conference committed to training the people who will lead successful teams, now and in the future.

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Attend Cultivate July 20 and 21, in Portland, Oregon. Cultivate is our conference looking at the challenges facing modern management and aiming to train a new generation of business leaders who understand the relationship between corporate culture and corporate prosperity.

Leadership has changed — and in a big way — since the Web started upending the status quo two decades ago. That’s why we’re launching our new Cultivate event; we realized that businesses need new types of leaders, and that O’Reilly is uniquely positioned to help engineers step up to the job.

At the start of the 21st century, Google was in its infancy; Facebook didn’t exist; and Barnes & Noble, not Amazon, was the dominant force in the book industry. As we’ve watched these companies grow, we’ve realized that every business is a software business, and that the factors that made Google, Facebook, and Amazon successful can be applied outside the Web. Every business, from your dentist’s office to Walmart, is critically dependent on software. As Marc Andreessen put it, software is eating the world.

As companies evolve into software businesses, they become more dependent on engineers for leadership. But an engineer’s training rarely includes leadership and management skills. How do you make the transition from technical problems to management problems, which are rarely technical? How do you become an agent for growth and change within your company? And what sorts of growth and change are necessary?

The slogan “every business is a software business” doesn’t explain much, until we think about how software businesses are different. Software can be updated easily. It took software developers the better part of 50 years to realize that, but they have. That kind of rapid iteration is now moving into other products. Read more…

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Mind if I interrupt you?

Notification centers and Apple Watches beg the question: what’s the best way to interrupt us properly?

We’ve been claiming information overload for decades, if not centuries. As a species, we’re pretty good at inventing new tools to deal with the problems of increasing information: language, libraries, broadcast, search, news feeds. A digital, always-on lifestyle certainly presents new challenges, but we’re quickly creating prosthetic filters to help us cope.

Now there’s a new generation of information management tools, in the form of wearables and watches. But notification centers and Apple Watches beg the question: what’s the best way to interrupt us properly? Already, tables of friends take periodic “phone breaks” to check in on their virtual worlds, something that might have been considered unthinkably gauche a few years ago.

Alistair_Croll_post_interruptionsSince the first phone let us ring a bell, uninvited, in a far-off house, we’ve been dealing with interruption. Smart interruption is useful: Stewart Brand said that the right information at the right time just changes your life; it follows, then, that the perfect interface is one that’s invisible until it’s needed, the way Google inserts hotel dates on a map, or flight times in your calendar, or reminders when you have to leave for your next meeting.

But all of this technology is interfering with reflection, introspection, and contemplation. In Alone Together, Sheri Turkle observes that it’s far easier to engage with tools like Facebook than it is to connect with actual humans because interactive technology’s availability makes it a junk-food substitute for actual interaction. My friend Hugh McGuire recently waxed rather poetically on the risks of constant interruption, and how he’d forgotten how to read because of it.

At work, modern productivity tools like Slack might do away with email conventions, encouraging better collaboration, but they do so at a cost because they work in a way that demands immediate attention, and that interrupts the natural rhythm we all need to write, to read, and to immerse ourselves in our surroundings. It’s hard to marinate when you’re being interrupted. Read more…

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Navigating the health data ecosystem

The "six C's": understanding the health data terrain in the era of precision medicine.

Ian Eslick, Tuhin Sinha, and Rob Rustad contributed to this post.

Download a free copy of “Navigating the Health Data Ecosystem,” the first in a series of reports covering our recent investigation into the health data ecosystem, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

A few years ago, O’Reilly became interested in health topics, running the Strata RX conference, writing a report on How Data Science is Transforming Health Care: Solving the Wanamaker Dilemma, and publishing Hacking Healthcare. Our social network grew to include people in the health care space, informing our nascent thoughts about data in the age of the Affordable Care Act and the problems and opportunities facing the health care industry. We had the notion that aggregating data from traditional and new device-based sources could change much of what we understand about medicine — thoughts now captured by the concept of “precision medicine.”

From that early thinking, we developed the framework for a grant with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to explore the technical, organizational, legal, privacy, and other issues around aggregating health-related data for research — to provide empirical lessons for organizations also interested in pushing for data in health care initiatives. Our new free report, Navigating the Health Data Ecosystem, begins the process of sharing what we’ve learned.

After decades of maturing in more aggressive industries, data-driven technologies are being adopted, developed, funded, and deployed throughout the health care market at an unprecedented scale. February 2015 marked the inaugural working group meeting of the newly announced NIH Precision Medicine Initiative designed to aggregate a million-person cohort of genotype/phenotype dense longitudinal health data, where donors provide researchers with the raw epidemiological evidence to develop better decision-making, treatment, and potential cures for diseases like cancer. In the past several years, many established companies and new startups have also started to apply collective intelligence and “big data” platforms to health and health care problems. All these efforts encounter a set of unique challenges that experts coming from other disciplines do not always fully appreciate. Read more…

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CSS Grid Layout: The modern way of doing layout on the Web

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Rachel Andrew on modern Web layout, and Kyle Simpson defends JavaScript Coercion.

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Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast to track the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come.

In this week’s episode of the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum chats with Rachel Andrew, founder of edgeofmyseat.com, about CSS Grid Layout and the role responsive design is playing in emerging Web technologies.

In 2004, Andrew published The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks. Through the years of revisions, she noted in the interview, not that much has changed; sure, we’ve moved on from Netscape 4, she said, but “the [layout] methods we’re using haven’t moved on much since I wrote that book, which is kind of terrifying.” This is why Andrew is so excited about CSS Grid Layout, which she sees as bringing Web layout into the modern day:

CSS Grid Layout is a new spec, an emerging spec. It originally came from Microsoft. In fact, there’s an early implementation of it in IE 10 and 11. It’s kind of moved on now. It’s really a specification for laying out Web pages and/or applications. It’s something that we haven’t really had up to now. The specs and the sort of things that we’re using for layout, things like float and so on, really are quite like hacks to get them to work. Developers have been working around this stuff for years. Grid, I’m quite excited about because it’s sort of the first time it feels like a really modern way of doing layout on the Web.

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Apple Watch and the skin as interface

The success of Apple’s watch, and of wearables in general, may depend on brain plasticity.

Recently, to much fanfare, Apple launched a watch. Reviews were mixed. And the watch may thrive — after all, once upon a time, nobody knew they needed a tablet or an iPod. But at the same time, today’s tech consumer is markedly different from those at the dawn of the Web, and the watch faces a different market all together.

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Apple Watches. Source: Apple.

One of the more positive reviews came from tech columnist Farhad Manjoo. In it, he argued that we’ll eventually give in to wearables for a variety of reasons.

“It was only on Day 4 that I began appreciating the ways in which the elegant $650 computer on my wrist was more than just another screen,” he wrote. “By notifying me of digital events as soon as they happened, and letting me act on them instantly, without having to fumble for my phone, the Watch became something like a natural extension of my body — a direct link, in a way that I’ve never felt before, from the digital world to my brain.”

On-body messaging and brain plasticity

Manjoo uses the term “on-body messaging” to describe the variety of specific vibrations the watch emits, and how quickly he came to accept them as second nature. The success of Apple’s watch, and of wearables in general, may be due to this brain plasticity. Read more…

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