What exactly is the Streemfire online video platform?

This post was written for my client Streemfire GmbH and appeared initially on their blog:

When we tell people about Streemfire we are used to hearing this question. Often it is supplemented with a “There´s YouTube and many other well-known video platforms, so how are you different?”

First of all, I agree that there are a couple of things Streemfire shares with other online video platforms. It is capable of encoding, storing and delivering video content uploaded by users. It enables you to stream multimedia to the screens of PCs or mobile phones. And between upload and playout it offers convenient tools to administer and manage your audiovisual content.

Well, but what are the differences? Does Streemfire offer any advantages against mainstream online video sites?

Let me highlight the main distinctions:

The TV channel concept:

Streemfire lets you create, manage and maintain a form of video playout which resembles the linear content programming structure of a traditional TV station. As a Streemfire user you are managing your own online TV channel. You are responsible for producing or putting toghether the content of your channel. You “program” it by bringing the media into a meaningful order. You publish it with the help of the Streemfire infrastructure which makes your TV channel available to your target audience (and to no one else).

The media shaping concept:

The second distinctive factor is closely related to the TV channel concept. With Streemfire you can easily shape and customize your TV channel. Media shaping with Streemfire involves the use of high-quaility video design templates and editable text overlays for still images and videos. You can customize when these overlays appear on your multimedia. The editorial work of choosing a shaping theme, entering the screen text and timing its appearance is integral part of Streemfires content management facility. You can add an other dimension to your content by shaping your multimedia and enrich your viewers experience with additional information. In addition, you can refine this textual information with a few clicks whenever necessary and without impacting the playout of your channel.

The cloud concept:

Streemfire has been built intentionally as a full-fledged, standards-based cloud service. Which is the reason why your audience can receive your Streemfire-based content globally. And it is the reason, why you can conviniently manage your channel and shape your content from anywhere. All you need is a browser.

I will dive deeper into the “TV channel” paradigm in one of the next blogposts. So stay tuned and try some content shaping in between ….

Shortfalls of Content Discovery in Online Music Stores

This post was written for my client Spectralmind and appeared initially on their blog:

Music distributors confront their customers with an overwhelming choice of music. Online music stores pride themselves with catalog sizes of 15 to 20 million tracks. It appears, as if the magnitude and completeness of music on stock is taken as a guarantee of the ability, to satisfy everybody’s listening desires, based on the idea, that potential customer should never turn their back on a particular music service, because of the unavailability of a particular piece of content. And record labels, once signed to make their content available, forcibly push their entire (back-) catalog into any distribution platform.

For customers, such masses of content are a like a huge, impenetrable jungle, which they hardly enter, or, if they dare, causes them a lot of effort to get around. Consumers restrict themselves to take note only of the freshest plants growing at the very edge of this jungle and, probably a few of the old but bigger-than-the-rest landmark trees. Distributors know for long, that the increment of tracks made available not automatically translates into an increment of tracks sold.

Personally, I´m not much interested to see duplicates of the same recording released through endless numbers of compilations, re-issues or samplers. I find it a pain, to scroll through more of the same while discovering music. As a serious music listener (and buyer), a main driver of my personal music discovery and purchasing behavior is musical context: the stories behind a recording, the circumstances that influenced an artist to create or perform a piece. The particular era, which shaped an artist or which was shaped by an artist, whether it was italian Renaissance or 1970s hip-hop from the Bronx. Unfortunately, contextual information in online music distribution seems to be largely neglected.
At least, a few basics are in place:

Album art:

Most stores display album art. Probably used rather as colorful elements to break-up boring listings of tracks than intended to convey context. Album art are the photographs or graphical designs originally applied to the packaging of a physical sound recording. Why is this contextual information? The imagery on vinyl discs or CDs quite often relates directly to the conceptual idea behind the music. Album title, album art and the music in its particular sequence are a holistic synthesis of artistic expression. Much of this synthesis gets lost in online stores: e.g. customers see only the front cover, but never the back cover or the inside artwork. As well, the purchase of entire albums is on the wane, replaced by the cherry-picking of individual tracks.

Artist info and song lyrics:

What´s often lost as well is the gist of information related to the who, when, how etc. of a recording. This makes it very difficult to figure out the real recording date and place or the line-up of musicians in a particular performance. Some online stores present more or less accurate articles about artists or albums. These articles are helpful, but quite often I perceive them as isolated fragments of information, and, much worse, entirely unaffected by the principle blessing of the online age: the hyperlink. Extensive hyperlinking of artist- or album-related articles in online stores would represent a powerful driver of music discovery. Information of that kind is available online, but it resides in distinct, unrelated online silos. Same is the case with song lyrics.

Artist videos:

At least since the days of MTV we know about the importance of video for music. Music videos make YouTube probably the most frequented music destination site of the planet. Yet, the combined, well integrated display of artist videos next to the audio offering in online music stores is rarely to be found.

I guess, online stores still mimic to a large extent their physical predecessors. Only that online stores have a confusingly sized inventory on offer, but no helpful shopkeepers, capable to support shoppers with knowledgeable and supportive information. Online stores have not fully grasped the fact, that they could be more than marketplaces. Like physical malls, they could provide convenient and pleasurable, probably playful discovery experiences, which would turn out as stickiness attributes, purchase drivers, differentiators and reasons to come back. Deeper integration of contextual information, provided through carefully curated linkage and referencing of text, lyrics, videos, images and album art, should be the way to go.

The era of “integrated music api´s”

This post was written for my client Spectralmind and appeared initially on their blog:

In a recent blog-post, music analyst Mark Mulligan muses about a “Music start-up strategy 2.0“.

In the essence, he asks the question, whether or not a music startup necessarily needs to obtain music licenses from record labels. This is a question, which we discussed quite seriously at Spectralmind as well. Why would a music tech startup need music licenses?

Of course, we need large music catalogs to analyze them. The larger the better. Currently we work with sample libraries in the range of 100k items.  What we need is temporal access to music inventories for the sake of running the tracks in high-speed through our analysis software, without altering them in any way. But sole analysis does not necessarily presume to acquire music distribution licenses. This seems to be in line with what Mulligan says:

“…. in the more immediate term start-ups should look at ways to deliver their experiences without licenses.  No I’m not advocating the Groove Shark approach, but instead leveraging the content licenses of digital music services that are pursuing ambitious API strategies.  Music start-ups should think hard about whether they really need to own music licenses themselves to deliver a great user experience, or at least whether they need to right away ……. In the era of integrated music API’s it is no longer crucial for a music service to have its own licenses.  An investor wouldn’t expect a mobile app developer to own Android, iOS or Windows Mobile so they need not expect a music service to own music licenses.”

Mulligan addresses the era of “integrated music API´s”. In fact, there is a range of companies out there, some of them startups itself, which are striving to fuel a new wave of music applications by granting access to music, music metadata or other music related information.

In other words: the scope of upcoming music apps goes far beyond the creation of just another download storefront or just another streaming portal. Playback of music is certainly a central use-case, but there´s much more possible with music. The interaction of music consumers with their content is manifold, and with the broadening of digital listening experiences (e.g. through smartphones, cars, connected homes), new needs for contextual services to improve discovery, search or social interaction about music, emerge. This new breed of music apps does not only accommodate to consumer needs, they help to create differentiators for the established digital music distributors, each of them struggling to extend their footprint, if nothing else, than to generate the returns needed to cover the upfront payments for music licenses.

Personal information management in the age of the cloud – a problem statement

This post was written for my client gnowsis and appeared initially on their blog:

Yes, I remember the cloudless days, when I started to work digitally. Digital work at that time was centered around a quintessential tool, the personal computer.

„Working with the PC“ created soon significant numbers of byproducts: files. I stored these files on my personal computer and considered them as my personal information – easy as that. With the growing number of files appeared the need, to keep all that non-physical stuff more organized. For this purpose, smart brains had invented „folders“, that helped me since then, to stow away digital documents like in virtual drawers. Over time, a kind of organizational structure of folders grew, more or less tightly reflecting my professional and privat life. Although, at some point in time, folders started to become annoying, simply because of their habit, to multiply and to stick into each other. Personal information management started to give me headaches. A little headache when I needed to save a file somewhere, and a bigger headaches, when I needed to find a previously saved file again. Nothing too dramatic, but with a growing touch of uneasiness. Manageable at the end of the day, at least with some clean-up sessions across the entire directory from time to time.

Since then, my once singular and comprehensible personal information space has splintered into branches. It started with the permission to use the company network. I expatriated a lot of files to a network drive. Not enough of owning a couple of personal network folders, I soon got used to let some files reside in community with other peoples files in shared folders. My PC no longer was the unique and privileged keeper of my files. IT-departments took charge. Still, I kept the majority of my docs local. Sharing was still the exception. But the term „personal“ in computing and in information management got scratches.

Over time, shared folders have migrated into the cloud. Place of storage increasingly ceased to indicate the attribute „personal“.

As of today, my information space is multi-homed. My documents are spread across private and shared Dropboxes, as requested by one customer, they live on a Google Drive for some editorial tasks with other clients. I would not be astonished, to see them populate SkyDrives, some amazonian folders or the iCloud with the next projects to come. In most cases, that´s perfectly fine: sharing is essential for collaboration, sharing avoids requests, to check out a single file and send it via mail. Shared folders create a home for the outcomes of jointly executed work. But when I need a file, I need to ask myself first, in which cloud it lives. When I save a file, I´m frightened to confuse a destination folder and save sensitive stuff unintentionally in a place, where it does not belong. I find myself preserving important documents in unshared folders, to avoid, that they are modified by others. I experience version conflicts with files edited, or replicated by others. Searching across various clouds is painful, with each cloud service provider handling search differently. Uneasy, still and again.

My notion of „personal information“ has started to blur as shared access is on the rise to become the default. My personal information space progressively overlaps with the personal information space of others. At the same time, this information space was never more fragmented then now. The benefits of sharing are offset by the risks of losing control:

  • Who „owns“ a document in a shared repository?
  • Does ownership migrate from me to others, who collaborate to some extent on „my“ file?
  • Do I have (or lose) the right to name a file and to keep it at a certain spot in the shared area?
  • When does a change of name, place or content of a document turn intended collaboration into misappropriation?
  • Who does the clean-up in a shared folder?
  • How can it be done without impacting other collaborators?
  • Is it probably arrogant to request it?

The bottom line: in hindsight, personal information management was never free from contradictions and problems in file handling and file organization. Granted the less-than-perfect ways to manage larger numbers of documents, but at least I had full and exclusive control and responsibility over all files.

The new hegemony of the cloud(s) relieves me from some pains. Think multi-device access, forget worries about storage space and back-ups, enjoy convenience in collaboration. What got lost while moving into the clouds, is a setting to easily obtain a central view and functionality to manage all aspects of file-level control in shared environments. I want to know for sure, who can view, edit, rename, duplicate, relocate or delete my files. In terms of search, I want to stay on top of my assets spread across multiple clouds and I want to be assured, that any file related policy is not violated or circumvented through search processes or contextual content discovery.

If it is control, that significantly constitutes the notion of „personal“ in „personal information management“, then it needs to be addressed in the domain of „shared information management“. With no IT department in charge between me and my files anymore, I´m ready to take my part of responsibilities. So, please: give me the tools.

The Creative Solitude of Online Collaboration

This post was written for my client gnowsis and appeared initially on their blog:

In her best-selling book „Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can´t Stop Talking„, the author, Susan Cain, challenges the suitability of collaboration as a means to produce great creativity outcomes or good decision making.

Opposing mainstream believes about the collaborative powers and benefits of groups, she refers to a number of research, which comes to the conclusion, that work in solitude frequently originates much better results, let alone the fact, that many people simply prefer to work in an uninterrupted and unobserved environment. Specifically, she warns, that working in teams, sharing of open-plan office spaces or other forms of unsheltered social exposure at work can be prone to a phenomenon called „groupthink“.

Groupthink, a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment”.  Groupthink happens, when the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking fall prey to the groups efforts to minimize conflict and reach consensus.

I´m sure, most of us have made unwelcome experiences with groups at work. Thinking of tired brainstorming sessions. Or phone conferences dominated only by the most vocal participants. Or the desire to flee from a noisy office.

How do these experiences relate to online collaboration? Is online collaboration equally susceptible to the socially negative cost of group work? Is online collaboration better qualified to emphasize creativity and to produce more appropriate business outcomes?

Even Susan Cain thinks this is the case: „Groups brainstorming electronically, when properly managed, not only do better than individuals, research shows; the larger the group, the better it performs. The same is true of academic research. Professors, who work together electronically, from different physical locations, tend to produce research, that is more influential than those either working alone or collaborating face-to-face.“

The online collaboration environment is both, a protective and stimulating place to work for all participants. Its separation from the immediacy of the direct conversation allows to unfold contributing behavior in an asynchronous way. This leaves more time to think and decelerates controversial discussions into a comprehensible, slow-motion pace.

As Susan Cain expressed it in her book: „Participating in an online working group is a form of solitude all its own.“

More about her balanced views on teamwork versus work in solitude in this New York Times article.

Music Visualization as the Content Interface

This post was written for my client Spectralmind and appeared initially on their blog:

In the history of mobile music, content discovery has always been a challenge. Music stores represent a special kind of information overload. Exploring the depth of a super-sized content catalog, given the limited screen size of a mobile device, is a bit like doing the weekly shopping while looking through a matchbox cover.

Already in the days of the ringtone craze, music distributors thought of methods to improve the content exploration experience on small screens, hoping to create a discovery convenience that ultimately adds to the stickiness of the mobile storefront and that stimulates higher consumption. Since then, a flurry of content discovery approaches have been put in place.

music discovery on a mobile phone

Here’s a quick overview of some of the main discovery methods:

In the beginning was the browsing portal. Drop-off rates of more than 50% per menu level, even in popularity-based menu structures invalidated this model. The battle for main page presence was decided shortly after in favor of access categories like “new” (aka “novelties” or “latest additions”), ”most wanted” (aka “charts”) combined with the display of lists of noteworthy, editorially selected albums or tracks.

  • Personalized storefronts. The idea is to rearrange a mobile storefront according to a user’s previous browsing history, assuming that the historic session would be indicative of the user’s preferences. Users appreciate personalization, but want popular content at other times.
  • Discovery through search. Valid idea, but only if the user knows exactly what to search for.
  • Recommendation engines. An attempt to infer a user’s music preference algorithmically from his/her past purchases, followed by suggestions of music bought by other users with similar preferences. Alternatively, recommendations are derived from human classification of content as the basis for the suggestion of matching titles. Such recommender systems have a permanent place in today’s music storefronts.
  • Social sharing and communities. This idea picks up the concept of “following” (another user and his/her purchases or music plays) or the sharing of playlists and their proliferation through social networks.

What we find in today’s music stores is a best-of-breed combination of all of the above. These are tried and tested methods. Still, we believe music discovery needs an innovative push. Music services are increasingly similar. They offer more or less the same content at the same price. They even look similar in terms of their user interfaces and they provide comparable user experiences. In short: music distribution needs differentiators to avoid commoditization.

Here at Spectralmind, we believe in data visualization as the new frontier of music discovery. Data visualization is an art, which attempts to turn even very big data sets into visual patterns, structures and elements, in order to make the data readable and understandable. There is no doubt that music represents an enormous body of data. The leading digital music distributors pride themselves on managing catalog sizes in the range of 15-20 million tracks. Visualization methods can repackage such volumes into easily accessible formats.

Our approach goes beyond the static visualization of data. In sonarflow, our visual music browser, graphical catalog visualization is the interface to navigate, operate and explore vast arrays of musical content and to expose music recommendations in a spacial and gestural environment.

This interface is capable of embracing core user needs for content discovery:

  • browsing through large stocks of content in an intuitive and seamless way
  • discovery through serendipitous expedition, ready to encounter music of unexpected relevance
  • personalization through playlist creation
  • social sharing

So hey, if you are in music distribution, don’t fall into the commodity trap. Get in touch, we would love to show you our approach.

Search Ain’t Misbehavin’

This post was written for my client Spectralmind and appeared initially on their blog:

Searching music offside of the mainstream can be tedious. Recently i fell for a particular jazz piano genre, called “Harlem Stride Piano” while listening to a radio broadcast. Stride piano developed in the 1920s and 1930s in New York as an advancement from Ragtime. It is characterized by a rhythmic left hand play, where the pianist alternates a bass note or octave on the first and third beat with chords on the second and fourth beat, while the right hand plays the melody line. This causes the left hand to leap great distances on the keyboard, often at neck-break speed. Back then, pianists like Fats Waller, James P. Johnson or Eubie Blake were famous stride virtuosos.

Louis Mazetier introduces harlem stride piano

Today, only a few pianists are capable to play stride, and I was curious to find out about contemporary ”Harlem Stride Piano” interpreters and recordings.

The textual search for “Harlem Stride Piano” in iTunes led to zero results. Even in the advanced search of iTunes, you can only search for artists and interpreters, title- or track names, but not for genres. A search just for “stride piano” brought up one album, fortunately carrying both terms in its title. Similar, Spotify´s search for “Harlem Stride Piano” did not match anything, whereas a search for “stride piano” returned a few albums because of the use of the terms “piano” and “stride” in their titles or tracks.

Still unsatisfied, i continued the search for contemporary stride players in Google, YouTube and Wikipedia to find out about artists like Louis Mazetier, Günther Straub or Bernd Lhotzky. Knowing their names finally helped me to find the desired tunes in iTunes and Spotify.

This little research clearly depicts the limits of text based music search. It´s results depend largely on the coincidental presence of the chosen search terms in the title or artist name. If you have nothing but a tune, search is often impossible. What´s missing is search for music based on the sounds of a sample track.

While chasing contemporary “Harlem Stride Piano” records through Spectralmind´s audio intelligence platform, I certainly would have used Fats Wallers “Ain´t Misbehavin“. For sure, a sound-similarity search would have brought up more and better results in far less time.

Working Center Stage

This post was written for my client gnowsis and appeared initially on their blog:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts ….

(William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 1623)

Working in a collaborative online-environment has some resemblance with a stage play. Here´s the observation:

As we work online, we perform. We create work artifacts, that appear in an activity stream, which is a stage. What we post, is immediately perceptible by a larger audience. Before their eyes, work unfolds, taking the form of a drama, comedy, problem play, impromptu, show or whodunit. The perfomance might captivate the audience´s attention or bore them to death, trigger frenetic jubilation or harsh criticism.

Online collaboration can take on the form of a modern play, where the line between performers and audience is blurred and anyone can enter the stage at any time, or, vice-versa, retire from acting out. Performance through individual and collective contribution and improvisation.

Or, to the contrary, online collaboration can follow a stricter dramaturgy, probably called business process, with well-defined roles, timed entrances from the left and from the right and a text rendered closely to the default.

For some it is easy to conquer such a stage. They seek the ramp, claim lead roles, they can play themselves in the foreground, sometimes undeserved.
For others it is much more difficult to step into the limelight. It requires confidence and trust. It may cause stage fright and come along with a shaky voice and feelings of exposure and vulnerability.

And there´s always the third group, that feels satisfied with the role of the passive viewer. Consuming the play out of the darkness of the auditorium. But probably applauding after the final curtain and taking home a little bit of wisdom, understanding or joy. Yes, that´s important too.

Musing About Music Similarity

This post was written for my client Spectralmind and appeared initially on their blog:

When we demo Spectralmind’s SEARCH by Sound, a similarity search engine for music, we often realize how different the focus is on certain aspects of “similarity” among listeners. The similarity results calculated by the Spectralmind platform appear “similar” to one listener, but are judged as “not similar” by another or “somewhat similar” by a third.

Musical similarity is a very complex area and the reason for the deviations in judgement stems from the fact that similarity has so many dimensions. This raises the question, to which dimension do people relate when asked about the similarity of music?

Personally I observe that people try to exemplify similarity first of all from melody. The particular succession of higher and lower tones that form a melody is clearly a distinctive feature, which allows the listener to determine the degree of likeness or even closeness between two musical works.

Trombone Shorty at the Jazzfest Wien, 2011
Trombone Shorty at the Jazzfest Wien, 2011

But there are other dimensions of similarity as well:

  • Timbral similarity: timbre refers to the the tone color of a sound, which varies significantly among the characteristics of the sound-creating device, such as voice, string or wind instruments. As a listener we are able to identify the kinds of instruments playing, even in an ensemble like a band or an orchestra. The same melody played by a piano or a saxophone or a guitar makes a big difference in terms of timbral similarity.
  • Rhythmic similarity: rhythm is made up of a repeating pattern of sounds and silences. We perceive rhythm as fast or slow. Through rhythmic beats alone, we can set apart musical genres from each other, like rock from reggae. Music, dance and even spoken language rely on rhythm as a main and defining element. Different rhythms can be put underneath the same melody (which can be highly entertaining or massively disturbing). This practical example of melodic similarity combined with rhythmic dissimilarity highlights the difficulty to assess an overall measure of similarity between two pieces of music.
  • Structural similarity: this refers to the occurrence of specific sections within a piece of music. Common sections are intro, verse, chorus (also known as refrain), interlude and outro among many more. These are formal criteria, which can be applied to describe constructive or sequential similarities of e.g. pop music songs or symphonic compositions.

There are many more dimensions of similarity beyond the ones mentioned. Some of them are even inaccessible to human perception, but very perceptible to musical data-mining programs such as the Spectralmind Audio Intelligence Platform.
Similarity decisions need to be judged by the rationale of the similarity search. Sometimes, melodic resemblance is the searched-for attribute. In other cases it might be rhythmic conformity or timbral affinity. Or a mix of multiple qualities. The crucial factor is the intended use of the similar-sounding music. Having this intention in mind helps to escape a possible bias.

We are striving to improve our software in a way that makes its similarity opinion more comprehensible and transparent. Users have a desire to understand which dimensions of similarity the software uses to suggest something as similar.

The body language of online communication

This post was written for my client gnowsis and appeared initially on their blog:

When we participate in a meeting, our brain registers much more than just the spoken conversation. Next to verbal expressions, a good, often significant part of the communication happens in nonverbal manner. We have learnt to draw conclusions from the body language of our counterparts, their facial expression, posture, gestures or the signals sent through mere eye-contact. We decode a smile and flushing cheeks, the tone and volume of voice and plenty of other signals, through which we „read“ others. In a meeting, everybody communicates, even without saying a single word.

Psychologist claim, that nonverbal communication makes up about two-thirds of all communication between two people or between one speaker and a group of listeners.

The nonverbal parts of the communication are essential contributors of our understanding. At a conscious or unconscious level, they help us to make judgements on other peoples attention, involvement, interest, engagement, sympathy, tension, uncertainty, ambivalence or frustration. And sometimes even on truth or lie.

When it comes to online communication, we seem to lose most of the subtext transmitted trough this variety of nonverbal channels. Instead of our five senses, we are thrown back onto the perception of what´s visible on a screen: the text of an email, the status updates and notifications in a social network, the counts of a like button. Compared to the richness of a personal encounter, this looks like a rather poor form of communication. Nonetheless, in todays work environments, online communication represents a big portion, sometimes even the predominant mode of our interactions with others. But as human communication is infinitely multifaceted, I´m wondering about equivalents to nonverbal expression in our remote forms of communication.

What is the body language of online communication? 

Technology provided us undreamed-off possibilities of communication in terms of reach and speed. At the same time, technology has not given much to maintain richness of expression beyond the levels of handwritten letters: next to the interpretation of written information, we might be able to draw conclusions from certain, more or less implicit online behavior, like

  • choice of communications channel
  • switching between communications channels
  • preference or avoidance of „real-time“ communications channels
  • immediacy or delay of response
  • extensiveness of online expression
  • inclusion or exclusion of others to participate in the communicative exchange
  • amplification of expression through typography
  • symbolic content, like emoticons or „likes“
  • receptiveness for requests to connect or to „follow“
  • choice of online communications in avoidance of physical liaison
  • affirmation of content through forwarding, reposting or retweeting

The relative contribution of these indicators to the overall value of our online communications often remains in the dark.

Nonverbal messages interact with verbal messages in six ways: repeating, conflicting, complementing, substituting, regulating and accenting/moderating. As online communication proliferates further, more unambiguous nonverbal signals, ingrained in software functionality, might emerge as a welcome alternation or even as necessity.

Would this be a way to overcome technology-induced intermediation of human communication?
What´s your take?

Music – and How Computers Hear It

This post was written for my client Spectralmind and appeared initially on their blog:

Spectralmind works with music. But what is “music”? A look into Wikipedia  gives some helpful clues about music, and unwittingly, even about Spectralmind:

”Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts tempo, meter, and articulation), dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture.”

In fact, these described elements of music are the ingredients Spectralmind uses for the creation of music tech products. Music is the base material from which we explore, analyze and extract information:

Algorithms, packaged into software, “listen” to music. What the algorithm “hears”, are music properties, including rhythm, timbre and many more.

Of course, a computer does not perceive music like humans do. Computers just calculate, they cannot take into consideration the cultural heritage, emotions and interpretations human listeners feel or are aware of.

”The border between music and noise is always culturally defined—which implies that, even within a single society, this border does not always pass through the same place; in short, there is rarely a consensus … By all accounts there is no single and intercultural universal concept defining what music might be.” (musicologist Jean-Jacques Nattiez, quoted in Wikipedia).
Applying a uniform algorithmic evaluation across a large number of music titles creates an objective mathematical description of each piece of analyzed music and, derived from here, an approach of comparability. We call it “music intelligence”. Such intelligence can be exploited in various ways like identifying music, determining similarities between music titles or organizing music. Still, there will always remain a gap between ”human understanding” and ”machine understanding” of music, as there will always be a gap in the understanding of music between human listeners.

“The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of music vary according to culture and social context.”

Ever increasing sophistication of algorithms and availability of computational power lets us apply the music intelligence approach on large catalogs of music, thus eliminating great portions of cost and manual labor for large inventory music classification.

Sensory Search

This post was written for my client Spectralmind and appeared initially on their blog:

When we search for things, we use all of our senses. We look around for orientation, we feel for the keys in our pocket, we smell the scent of food in a restaurant, we listen for our kids playing in the garden. Our senses help us to discover what we are looking for and they provide us with rich impressions, which we can match against our preferences, desires and needs.

In comparison to such sensual searching in real life, searching for something on a computer is a poor experience. Search as we know it is limited to entering textual terms into a form, hoping for a result that is straightforward enough to get what we need. This works reasonably well with all things written. Computerized search is mainly search for written stuff.

But how do you search for something unwritten, like an image, a color, or a song? Search engines would require us to describe these things through words, using a language, forcing us into conventions of search terms and search operators. But how do you describe a piece of music within the narrow confines of a search engine’s syntax? How do you express these deeply subjective impressions a song leaves behind in your mind? What is not described in words, is hard to find. What can’t be described in words, remains hidden.

This problem is the baseline of what Spectralmind does: searching, finding and discovering music in addition to and beyond what can be expressed in words. As a result, Spectralmind brings seeing and hearing, the visual and acoustic senses, back into the digital search and discovery of music.

You’ve made it to this blog and we are happy to have you here with us. We would love to see you come back from time to time to learn more about Spectralmind, the way we approach music over and above bare tunes. Music is a carrier of rich and universal information, which we believe we can unleash through our technology, creativity and passion to give it the attention, it deserves.

About the „open outcomes“ approach in social business software

This post was written for my client gnowsis and appeared initially on their blog:

Last week, at the INiTs Investors Day, one of the participants approached me. He told me, that he had liked the Refinder presentation, however, he had missed a slide featuring the particular use-case, that Refinder addresses.  In the flurry of the networking chit-chat we were not able to discuss the question in depth, therefore I pick up the question here and hand in my point-of-view.

As highlighted in our presentation and our recent whitepaper, we believe, that Refinder is a context service merged into enterprise social networking functionality, aiming at a comprehensive experience of information and information access for the sake of improved business communication and collaboration, specifically for information-intense industry verticals.
A broad range of corporate use-cases fit under the umbrella of this definition. But let´s stick with this abstract view for a moment:
The specific peculiarity of enterprise 2.0 collaborative environments is their open and use-indifferent character. This has been recognized, expressed and discussed previously by researchers and enterprise 2.0 experts:
  • In the essence, they describe the notion of „open outcomes“ („nutzungsoffen“ in german language), meaning, that the concrete benefits of collaborative tools in a concrete enterprise by trend appear over time as results of joint adoption and emerging usage patterns.
  • Such inherent unpredictability is of course a strong opponent to the traditional understanding of business software, which is marketed and procured as a bundle of functionality, which is highly prescriptive and standardizing work processes rather than opening up spaces, that not only allow, but even more afford from users „to come up with their own interpretations and usage practices on these platforms“.
  • In this regard, social business software resembles much more to be infrastructure and enabler and less to be a specific tool.
  • Of course this does not mean to introduce collaborative software in the enterprise without outspoken business objectives and considerations of its applicability for particular organizational structures and business processes.
  • Rather, it underlines the need for well crafted introduction programs, ideally backed by management and accompanied by experienced advisors, helping the company through probable transformational journeys.
Interestingly, googling the term „nutzungsoffen“ bubbles up a couple of sites dealing with architecture, where „nutzungsoffen“ is typically meant as a positive property of an architected private or public space. The similarity with internal and external networked enterprises is striking to me, however, the advantageousness and desirability of „open outcome“ spaces in business collaboration either chimes well or potentially clashes with core values and believes of enterprises and the resulting preconceptions and management styles, how work has to happen. This is a quite challenging condition for the marketing of enterprise social business applications.
Back to the use-case question
Refinder is built to support a broad range of use-cases in enterprise collaboration throug its own set of features and via integration into existing business applications. Those use-cases, that stick out already from customer conversations and beta-user feedback are located in areas like customer communication & support,  presales and sales activities,marketing and research – as evidenced through Refinder´s integration with the Elsevier Sciverse platform. A first evaluation of who is downloading the Refinder Whitepaper, confirms interest predominantly from consulting, pharmaceutical, medical and financial businesses.
We will add a slide to our pitchdeck, describing use-cases in a more tangible manner, but without concealment of the „open outcomes“ characteristics, which is so typical  – and equally so magical – for this type of software. I´m planning to give this topic a broader coverage in upcoming posts. Stay tuned.

Email to go? Not really.

This post was written for my client gnowsis and appeared initially on their blog:

No question about it: email is on trial. 40 years after the first email was sent, the role of email as a main bearer of business communications is disputed, resulting in striking headlines by companies announcing zero-email policies, or being scrutinized in the highly regarded self-experiments of IBM researcher  Luis Suarez, who tries to live his professional life sans email. A good moment to reflect email in the light of emerging social business platforms.

Personally, I acknowledge email as a tool for collaboration (after all, that is what I used it for over the last two decades), and I do not share an approach of complete email substitution by social business platforms in particular or social media in general. Business communication without email is a reasonable use-case for Enterprise 2.0 applications, but it is not their main use case.  Compared to email, social platforms offer a couple of valid, but differentiated capabilities and benefits. Here are a couple of reasons, how social business tools deal with communication in a different way than email systems do:
  • Public nature of communication:
    Sharing and commenting of information in a social business platform almost always happens in a public (at least a semi-public) space, including the possibility, that the range of recipients or participants of such business conversations extends or completely changes over time. Companies, which use social platforms, give room for and appreciate that kind of publicity. Still, email remains as a resort for private or confidential one-on-one or closed group communications.
  • Type of communication:
    Communication in social business environments highly resembles the blueprint of spoken conversations, whereas email tends to the message/reply-message form of far less colloquial nature. This leads to a couple of consequences: because of its conversational characteristics, communication in social business platforms covers other topics (and covers topics in a quite different manner) than in email communication. This is anecdotal, but I experience plenty of valuable conversations in social business platforms, which i never expect (and never expected) to happen via email. For me a main reason to advocate the side-by-side coexistence of mail messaging next to conversational communications in the social interface of a collaboration platform. At least for the time being.
  • Sustainability of content:
    It is a known and well documented fact, that email systems are communication silos, which retain information rather isolated and detached from their underlying reason-to-be. It is therefore hard, to re-establish the context of a historic mail exchange.  This is fundamentally different in the messaging systems of social business platforms, which preserve conversations more tightly integrated with the context of their origination. In Refinder, the provision of a past context by means of explicitly related information and the expansion of past information to new contexts by implicitly derived recommendations is a core feature and differentiator.
  • Preservation of communication:
    Business communication always embodies know-how. Such know-how tends to disappear in personal email folders or to rot away in corporate mail repositories. Retention and retrieval of know-how from past business conversations is much easier in social business platforms, where conversations serve as narrations of work and encapsulate corporate intelligence. As such, know-how remains available, accessible and reusable for the entire workforce, despite of their creators leaving the company.
Email and social business communications have both their own right to exist in the business. There is overlap, but increasingly there is differentiation. The digital workplace affords its inhabitants to develop skills and sensitivity to chose the most appropriate communications channel. And I´m pretty sure, that social business platforms will host and integrate further forms of communication (think voice or video) soon.