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Filter "bubbles" are charmingly weightless, delightful to pop. Sure, there's a slight soapy residue afterwards, but check your backpack: there are probably still a few old hand-sanitizer packets you shoved in there during the pandemic. Except sometimes you reach out, flirtatiously, to pop the shimmering bubble, and hit an intransigence made of polarized glass. Less bubble, more dome.  

Spotify generates a lot of playlists that are "made for you", which generally means they have been aggressively adjusted to prioritize your previous listening. This is excellent for comfort, but terrible for exploration.  

For example, Spotify is currently giving me a Synthwave Mix playlist on my Made For You page. I like synthwave, but I haven't been paying much focused attention to it lately, so it would be useful to me to hear what's going on there. "My" Synthwave Mix is made for me, though, so what it suggests is going on in synthwave is a) the handful of synthwave-adjacent bands I already specifically follow, and b) a lot of other bands I also already follow who are very definitely not synthwave.  

I have a tool for this, though. If you stick the link to a Spotify made-for-you playlist into this:  

https://everynoise.com/playlistprofile.cgi, e.g. Synthwave Mix  

you can see what that playlist looks like before it gets personalized. In my case, this is almost completely different from what I end up with; only one artist* from the underlying source playlist ends up in my personalized version. That's not a lot of discovery potential. If there were a product feature to turn off the personalization, at least I could have discovered something here. Agency unlocks curiosity.  

But since there are still, for the moment, better tools for genre exploration, I'm content to just ignore almost everything they make for me. In practice there is exactly one personalized Spotify playlist I use: Release Radar. This one is different because you actually do have some control over it, albeit not in a way that is totally apparent from looking at it. Release Radar will do its own inscrutable magic for you if you let it, but first it will find you new releases by artists you Follow. So if you follow enough artists, you can crowd out the "suggestions" and get a very useful release monitor. I follow 5124 artists, but you probably don't have to be that obsessive if you aren't me. Release Radar maxes out at 200 tracks. Even with 5124 artists to monitor, there are usually not more than 200 of them with new releases in any given week, so this is OK-ish. If you aren't me it's probably way more than enough.  

In weeks when there are fewer than 200 new releases by artists I follow, Release Radar will fill out the rest of the 200 tracks with releases from the previous 3 weeks. This is an earnest idea, but counter-productive for me, personally, because I monitor new releases every week and I don't want to have the old tracks shown to me again as if they are new. So I generally stick my Release Radar playlist into the same playlist viewer linked above, where I can see the release dates of the tracks, and extract just the ones from the current week into a new playlist.  

I usually do this first, and only really look at the new tracks once they're in the new playlist. This morning I went for a run before I'd done this, so I just put on Release Radar itself. The older tracks come at the end, and I wasn't going to be out for 12 hours, so it didn't matter. Later when I went to make my new-songs-only copy, though, I noticed that the first few tracks in my no-personalization viewer were not the same ones I had just heard. Weird. Flipping back and forth between the two views, it was clear that they were very different. Every Release Radar is unique, so my Release Radar is already filled with my artists, and thus you might think that this is the one time when "made for you" can't do any harm.  

But oh, wait. Those older songs. Ugh.  

Release Radar actually does assemble the list of new songs by artists I follow, like it's meant to. The pre-personalization view shows that this week 199 of my artists had new releases; only the 200th song in the underlying list is filler from a previous week. But then the made for you filter-dome snaps down, and songs I want to hear from this week are obtusely replaced with older songs by artists Spotify thinks are more familiar to me. Which are exactly the songs I am most likely to already have contemplated in the weeks when they were new. Two algorithms later, I end up with only 79 of the 199 new songs the first algorithm had in mind for me. "Catch all the latest music from artists you follow", Release Radar promises at the top. That's exactly what I want, and exactly what it could give me if it wanted to.  

Algorithms, though, don't want things. We want things, and the algorithms do what they are ordered to do. I want all the latest music I might care about. Somebody who still works for Spotify wants something else. If you aren't me, maybe it still doesn't matter. If you only care about a few artists, you won't have this problem. If a streaming service only cares about people who only care about a few artists, they won't fix it**. If they don't employ enough people who care about everything, they may not even know. Maybe what they really want is to not have to care or know, and they have a comfort metric that allows them not to.  

But all of this, the domes and the not caring and the not knowing, makes the world worse. I don't want to miss joy in favor of somebody else's obliviously generalized idea of my comfort. Neither should any of us.  

* The one artist isn't even actually a synthwave artist. You can't really blame Spotify for that, though, as it's hardly their business to know the internal jargon of zero-cost content makers.  

** One might reasonably ask why, given that I no longer work for Spotify, I haven't switched to some other streaming service, and the answer is that whatever they do or don't fix in the app, they still have the most useful programmatic API. That's how the playlist viewer works, and if you want new releases by all the artists you follow bad enough to write code, you can have that, too. And if you're me, now you do. One playlist minus one is zero. Ultimately the only person in "personalization" is the one doing it, and if you want your personalization to be personal, that person has to be you.  

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