Tuesday 2¢: Hey Spotify, It’s Not Sunday

I see a lot of talk about Spotify over the interwebs as they share our 2022 Wrapped playlists and people share the insights they uncover about themselves. My problem is Spotify doesn’t know what bloody day of the week it is.

Spotify has created quite a social media stir, as folks share their 2022 Wrapped playlists and insights, not just what songs they have listened to the most, but how Spotify classifies them as listeners. To the point, it’s become a bit of a meme, as other stats are being given that treatment.

Spotify has been quite rightly lauded for its personalisation capabilities and how it can pluck out a tune you have not heard for years and drop it into a recommended playlist. Like a time travelling DJ that was actually there in my Ford Capri in 1988.  

The problem with my list and personalization features like its “Discover Weekly” is that the Spotify algorithm seemingly has no concept of time. 

Hmmmm… troubling for a time travelling DJ, might need to revisit that analogy. 

Specifically, it does not know when it’s not Sunday. 

Let me explain.

The tradition in our house to listen to ska music on Sundays, partly because of my wife’s Jamaican heritage and partly because it’s what influenced the music I listened to growing up and wanted to explore the genre. Anyway, we’ve been doing this for…. years… maybe two decades (obviously not on Spotify!).

Sunday for us is a full English roast (obviously) and ska music, to the point that after all these years, when I hear “Train to Skaville” by the Ethiopians, I can almost taste roast pork and my oldest daughter, now virtually left home and at university refers to Sunday as Ska-day. 

Then, on Monday morning, when I crank on Spotify and click on the curated-by-the-algorithm “Discover Weekly” playlist, it recommends ska music, and I always skip those tunes. It’s not the time. Or as I mutter to the machine – “It’s not Sunday”.

Why am I sharing this?

It’s another lesson in personalisation and its challenges. It would be incredibly easy technically for Spotify’s algorithm (dare we call it AI?) to recognise the pattern.

But I guess nobody has thought to tell it to look at this facet in the data, that there are people (or maybe I am willing to admit a person) where the day of the week is a data point for context to consider when serving personalised content. 

The challenge is that when you get personalization wrong, it really stands out. 

Based on my broader listening during the week, it’s probably reasonable that up to 1/7th or so of a recommended playlist be ska music. The problem is that out of context, in my car on a Monday, it feels like there is a lot more as I press skip. It’s friction.

And the general feeling that Spotify, this amazing, automated, time travelling DJ/magician that seemingly can be strumming my pain with his fingers (the Fugees version) has arsed this up. 

And, of course, it’s not just Spotify; everyone has a personalization gone bad story. 

We, as consumers, know that organizations have our data, and we are increasingly aware of what organizations can do with it, for our benefit as well as theirs, if they get it right. 

But, getting it right is really hard, especially as you get deeper into it, beyond a fixing hello {firstname}.

The context in which our audience is receiving the message is important. In this example, right now it’s not Sunday and day of the week is important, but what attributes of context do we need to consider in our “personalised” messaging for our audience?

This artwork was created using A.I. through NightCafe Creator I thought it would make a change from pictures of me.

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