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Music service MOG strips down

MOG

If its new interface is any guide, online music service MOG is evolving again.

The service, launched in 2006 as a blogging platform for music lovers, gradually expanded to become a portal to scores of music-related blogs. It later added a subscription music service -- first from Rhapsody, then its own design -- enabling people to play the songs and artists that MOGgers were blogging about.

The new interface, like MOG's app for the Chrome browser, radically simplifies the service. Gone are the videos and the blog posts, the featured playlists and the feeds from other MOG users you've chosen to follow -- gone, at least from the Beta version of the new interface. What's left is a very clean, responsive guide to the millions of songs in MOG's online jukebox.

Users can search for tracks or artists through a dialog box at the top of the page, or they can browse through lists of new releases, company picks and hot titles and artists. Prominently placed near the top are two new features that take advantage of Facebook Connect: "Just For You" and "Inspired By Your Friends." The former recommends tracks based on the artists you've "liked" on Facebook; the latter recommends albums based on the artists your Facebook friends have "liked."

The simpler, speedier MOG is a better fit for cars -- the company showed off a MOG-enabled Mini at SXSW in March -- but it's not a very rich experience on the desktop. When asked whether MOG planned to jettison all those other features, spokeswoman Marni Greenberg said in an e-mail: "MOG still believes that editorial reviews and blogs are great ways to discover new music along with playlists, etc. As we evolve the beta player, we will strive to offer services and features that delight users by ensuring quality, personalization, and discovery. Our feature-set will continue to adjust to the needs and wants of our subscribers."

Translation:

Maybe, maybe not.

Personally, I miss the featured playlists, reviews and blog posts. I also was unimpressed by the two new features. That's true in part because I've "liked" only one artist on Facebook, which means the "Just For You" recommendations come solely from that one artist's catalog. It's a great body of work, but hey, it's just one artist.

My problem with "Inspired by Your Friends," however, is more fundamental. First, let me confess that I am a music snob. Sorry about that. I try not to judge people when they queue up the Black Eyed Peas, I really do. I just can't help myself. So maybe my reaction to "Inspired by Your Friends" isn't typical. But it didn't appeal to me, not at all.

No offense to my friends, but I don't believe I added any of them to my social graph based on their taste in music. Even the professional musicians among my friends are there because I'm fans of them as people (although, admittedly, I wouldn't have met them had I not liked their bands).

On Friday, MOG's four top "Inspired by Your Friends" recommendations for me were albums from 3 Doors Down, 50 Cent, 30 Seconds to Mars and A Flock of Seagulls. Each artist in that, umm, eclectic sampling  is appealing to many, many other people. They're just not interesting to me.

Alas, MOG isn't the only service being led down the primrose path by Facebook friends. Spotify's new U.S. service also builds its social functions around one's Facebook friends, albeit in a more straightforward way than MOG. While Spotify lets you see the playlists your Facebook friends create and the songs they recommend, MOG tries to match the artists your friends have "liked" on Facebook with your preferences. "We’ve created an algorithm to find great albums based on that which you like and we work to ensure the recommendations are current and refreshed daily," MOG spokeswoman Marni Greenberg explained in an email.

I can't argue with that approach in theory. Good music-recommendation technology will use something it learns about a listener to create playlists or suggestions that have elements of both familiarity and surprise. But the quality of MOG's recommendations depends on the data provided by one's Facebook friends. If you're the musical outlier within your social graph, MOG's recommendations aren't likely to hit the mark.

A much better approach, I think, is to let people choose their influencers. That's what Twitter does with news, and it's Rdio's approach to music.

On the whole, MOG still strikes me as worth every penny it costs -- $5 for computer-only use, $10 for mobile. The stripped-down interface retains some of MOG's top features, including its best-in-class artist-based radio. But I hope MOG finds a way to integrate more of the user-generated content that it originally built its service around, and that it comes up with a better source for recommendations than one's Facebook friends.

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-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.

 
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