Spotify is rolling out a new feature today: Discover Weekly, a personalised playlist for each of the streaming service’s 75 million users, updated every Monday with two hours of “new discoveries and deep cuts” based on their listening habits, and those of people like them.
The playlist is starting to appear at the top of people’s Playlists folder across Spotify’s desktop, web and mobile apps, and can be stored offline and shared with friends just like any other playlist on the service.
For example, here’s mine:
Discover Weekly is the brainchild of Matthew Ogle, once of Last.fm then co-founder of This Is My Jam, who joined Spotify in January 2015 in a product role focused on discovery and personalisation.
“The original vision for Discover Weekly was that we wanted to make something that felt like your best friend making you a mixtape, labelled ‘music you should check out’, every single week,” Ogle told Music Ally ahead of the feature’s launch.
Spotify, of course, already had more than 2bn playlists created by its users, as well as its in-house team of music editors.
“Each one, especially when combined with other activity on Spotify, captures someone’s deliberate curatorial intent, and teaches us a ton about the relationships between songs,” said Ogle. “So we take that universe of music, then look at what you’ve been listening to, giving more prominence to your more recent spins. By combining those two things, we can find the missing songs.”
Discover Weekly started as an internal hack at Spotify, before making the journey to a proper feature for users. “It was cool to see the whole company rally behind it and help nurture it to scale over a matter of months,” said Ogle.
Spotify intends Discover Weekly to “grow and change” along with each user, informed by their listening habits. “Some weeks, your recent listening will nudge it in new directions, and in other weeks, Discover Weekly might be the one doing the nudging,” promised Ogle.
He added that while localising Discover Weekly, he discovered that the most idiomatic name for it in Hungarian translated to “this week’s adventure”, which he thinks captures the intention of the new feature.
The wider context is the long-running discussion about the relative roles of humans and algorithms in music recommendation.
It’s a debate given new legs by the recent launch of Apple Music, and public comments by Apple executives about its emphasis on human curation over algorithms – implying that rival services including Spotify are more focused on the latter.
It’s an understandable PR position to take, but in truth, Spotify has been working hard on the human side for some time too – from building up its in-house editorial team and promoting their playlists, to the work of its The Echo Nest division (where Ogle worked for a year in 2011, incidentally) on matching listeners to other listeners, not just listeners to songs or artists.
“For describing the way we do things at Spotify, ‘human vs algorithm’ doesn’t even make sense anymore,” said Ogle.
“Discover Weekly is humans all the way down; we can only create a truly personalised playlist every Monday morning for 75 million people because we have so many music lovers on the service already, soundtracking their lives in ways we can learn from and build atop. Our algorithms stand on the shoulders of (human) giants.”
Discover Weekly also relies to some extent on some of the behaviours those humans have learned while using Spotify. The playlist refreshes every Monday, meaning they’ll need to save tracks to their collection or other playlists so they don’t forget them.
In a recent talk at The Great Escape, Spotify’s Will Hope said this process of “harvesting” playlists has become common on the service, and Ogle agreed.
“Playlists are really the native format on Spotify; our users already know how to play, skim, offline, or save them,” he said. “That’s the aspect of Discover Weekly I’m most excited about — the approach to personalisation is totally new, but there’s no new mental model or UI to learn. I think people will know what to do.”
With Spotify facing an increasingly-competitive streaming market, the company is planning to make personalisation one of the key battlegrounds against Apple and others.
“We’re starting to do some other clever things under the hood that I can’t quite talk about yet,” said Ogle. “We’re just getting started when it comes to deep personalisation, lots more to come.”
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