The Filter started out as a music recommendation and playlist generation plug-in backed by Rock star Peter Gabriel and Eden Ventures. When it launched there was no auto-playlist generation in iTunes. But things changed with the release of iTunes 8 (which incorporated Apple’s playlist generation technology called Genius). As a result The Filter also had to change and evolve. Earlier this year they unveiled their new and revamped service which now supported iTunes (both on Windows and Mac), Windows Media Player, Winamp and even many Symbian powered Nokia handsets. So how does the brand new The Filter perform? Does it have what it takes to stand out from the crowd?
Immediately after registration The Filter displays a list songs belonging to a wide range of genres and asks you to rate (thumbs up or down) at least six songs. Based on the choices that you make a preliminary Recommended Songs list is built. I found the initial list to be quite a bit off the mark. But this was because the initial selection of songs I was asked to rate didn’t have many of the favourite artists/bands. After this I was given the option to import my Flixster and Last.fm profile. Once I imported my Last.fm profile (I don’t have a Flixster account) the recommended music changed sharply. After listening to some of the suggestions I must say I am impressed. I discovered many new artists songs and artists that I liked. Unlike last.fm which relies heavily on tags and collaborative filtering to recommend similar artists, The Filter uses Bayesian mathematics and Evidence-based transaction engine. As a result the recommended songs are often not exactly similar to what you are listening to. And this is one of the things I love about The Filter. The problem with last.fm is that if you listen to Gothic rocks for a week it will fill your recommendations with more and more gothic rock till you get fed up. There are some additional settings that allow you to set the parameters such as the newness of recommended items and their popularity. The Filter allows you to preview the recommended items and get a taste of the song right from their website.
The Desktop Client
While The Filter has drastically improved the web-based portion of its service, the software is still the core of the service. It’s a small plug-in that can be downloaded from here. I tested the Windows version with Windows Media Player. Before The Filter plug-in can get started it needs to index content on your computer. Unfortunately this is a dreadfully slow process and it took nearly half a day to index my modest music collection (bit more than 5k songs). The Filter uses the index to automatically generate playlist based on the current song you are playing as well as its genre. It also uploads the index to its webserver so that any music that you already have in your collection is not recommended to you. Once again I found the recommendations to be quite accurate and using The Filter is an enjoyable experience. The only downer is that The Filter plug-in seems to be a bit unstable to be and froze up on a couple of occasions. Another annoyance is that it resets the currently playing song (it starts playing from the beginning).
More Than Just Music Recommendation
Although I have so far focussed on the Music Recommendation aspect of The Filter, it’s a lot more than that. The Filter wants to be filter any and all forms of entertainment for you. As of now it supports Movie and Web Video Recommendation. The Movie Recommendation is powered by Taste Profiler. Here also you are presented with a list of movies covering a wide range of genres and asked to rate them. Based on your ratings the Recommended Movies list is built.
WebVideos section also works in a similar manner. The Filter displays a list of videos from categories of your choice that it thinks you would like as well as a list of most popular videos. As you watch and rate videos the recommendation automatically gets tuned to your taste.
In The End
On the whole using The Filter is fun and enjoyable. Its strength is that unlike most other services it supports music, movie and webvideos (with support for Television shows coming up soon). Its recommendations are quite good and is a worthy alternative to Genius; that doesn’t require a credit car to get started and supports multiple media players. The Filter is definitely worth a look.