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by Jay Fienberg

Pandora's beast, or, one step forward / back

posted: Aug 30, 2005 3:01:40 AM

This was written last week, on the day my site went down. So, it didn't get posted at the time it was written.

(I'm packing up my house this week, preparing to move across town in a few days, so please excuse if this makes no sense.)

I heard that there was a lot of excitement at Bar Camp about Pandora (see PandoraMusic on the Bar Camp wiki). This is great—I've been a fan of Pandora since I first played with their technology in 2001, when I worked on a project with them (they and it were both still known as Savage Beast at the time).

I haven't seen the new Pandora application, but I just saw the app—they've done a nice job creating a simple and fun interface to new music, and it deserves the excited initial response it seems to have gotten. I'm glad folks who are seeing this are thinking that this is a good new thing.

But, I'm also a little bummed that the project I worked on in 2001 never made it past the bust. The project (being driven by a dot-com boom era company) was to develop a p2p music file sharing network with the p2p client hooked into a music recommendations engine, powered by Savage Beast.

This was all tied in with a central website as well, which was used for ecommerce (CD/DVD sales) and streaming music video and audio (previews and promotions), but also supported user microcontent (aggregated from the p2p clients and the website itself) in the form of shared collections / playlists, music ratings, recommendations, and reviews. The website also made use of the Savage Beast engine.

Anyway, maybe things could have gone forward past the bust, but it seems certain now, in hindsight, that the big record companies would have litigated the whole project out of existence anyway. :-(

I assume I'm still be bound by the old NDAs, so I can't go into all the fun details. But, the thing I was working on utilized "web 2.0"-style APIs and XML formats—back then, it was still just called the web. (I guess the presence of the NDAs is a good indicator that it was web 1.0 and not 2.0—this suggest a good tagline for web 2.0: all the flavor of web 1.0, plus now with half the NDAs! ;-)

Pandora is a step forward in many ways. But, it also feels like not- a step forward in the sense that, back in 2001, we had a functional decentralized p2p network, p2p client, centralized "web 1.0"-style site and "web 2.0"-style service, and user microcontent aggregator.

But, the dot-com company leading this project (that hired both Simmedia, the firm I was working for, and Savage Beast) was shut down literally the day before the public launch...

The main reason it all disappeared was that bust at the end of the dot-com boom. For every 8-9 crazy bogus companies that were destroyed at that time, there were another 1-2 crazy brilliant companies that went down as well. Money ran out, and lots of good design work just got shelved or thrown out with the trash...

But, of course, the whole business model of the dot-com leading this project was dependent on the big record companies signing on to not litigate the project out of existence. Believe it or not, the signs were good that a partnership would be forged (though it was certainly a volatile process affecting major changes in the business model every week—very dot-com).

Anyway, I know I sometimes grumble a bit about what's happening out there now—for me, it's often a lot like this story: what's happening now is neat and new things are interesting. But, let's not forget the revolutionary possibilities that came out of the pandora's box that we opened in the web revolution.


Wow, this somewhat related news is awesome: the UK ISP, PlayLouder MSP, has made a compulsory license agreement with Sony-BMG to support unlimited music file sharing among individuals using its network (via BoingBoing and pho).


Disclosure: Based on what I've said above, obviously, I worked with folks at Pandora in 2001 (though the main individual I worked with is no longer there). A couple years later, in early 2003 or so, I also was in discussion with this individual about a job opening at Savage Beast, which turned out to not be the right fit (though I was definitely interested in working there at the time).

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