A highly scientific fictional approach to ranking musical artists using math

The Internet is always finding arbitrary new ways to compile ranked lists of musicians and their songs. Sure, the content mill demands it, as seen on Pitchfork, AV Club, Ranker, and so many other sites that have built their reputations on such systems. But it's our fault, too— we, the music-loving audience that we are, so eager to compare our preferences to others. No list is ever quite right; even our own personal Definitive Musical Rankings may change over time. Perhaps that's why we consuming new music lists every year, in hopes of finding that one true objective arbiter of our sonic truth.

That search ends today. Because David Steffen has finally found the answer, in his delightful new piece of epistemological fiction about the Horowitz Method, a metrics-based approach to ranking musical groups:

But what mathematical measure? If we were talking about comparing one song with another, it might be easier, for the music itself is inherently mathematical–meter, tempo, time, number of notes, pitches. But a single musical group could have any number of songs, and the number could grow every day—what particular songs would one use to judge a group? Their newest? The whole body of their work? And some bands release songs so regularly that any conclusion drawn would have to be re-examined very frequently. And that’s not even to speak about what particular measure to use which, we know from personal experience, becomes a dispute of its own.

No, if we are going to compare musical groups and expect a somewhat stable outcome, we must not compare their songs, we must compare traits of the group themselves.

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Escaping Twitter's numbers game with the Twitter Demetricator

Everyone knows about the trolls and nazis, but The New Yorker's David Zweig wrestles with the other strange pallor that descends on Twitter: the feeling that every moment is a self-conscious baring of oneself in pursuit of the metrics and measurements it applies, "a shameful interest in all those prominently displayed numbers." He installed Ben Grosser's Twitter Demetricator, which hides all that from Twitter (from yourself, if not from others.)

Twitter, perhaps even more than Facebook, runs on its users’ obsession—witting or not—with metrics. ... After three weeks of using the Demetricator, the nature of Twitter, for me, changed completely. In some ways, it became lonelier. Part of the fun had been feeling like part of a crowd, seeing a joke or an idea or an observation become something that fifty people, or fifty thousand, could share. But I’m willing to accept the loss of this superficial sense of community for all the gains. Not seeing any numbers at all made content itself the king. I came to appreciate, disconcertingly, that knowing what was popular before had not only often distorted but also sometimes completely overtaken my experience.

This was part of why I made txt.fyi, to make it easy to post things without the "ersatz quantifiers" of social capital, and is presumably why I wake up every day to requests to add user accounts and other features to it. Read the rest

Please clap: it's how Medium writers are going to be paid

Medium, the oft-pivoting publisher and platform, recently introduced an alarmingly twee new metric: "claps". If you like an article, you can "clap" for it, or as one might like to say, "give it the clap." And now The Verge reports that they'll be paying writers on the basis of how many claps they get.

A couple weeks ago, Medium replaced its “recommend” feature — a little heart button at the end of each article — with a “clap” button that you can click as many times as you want (much like how Periscope lets you send broadcasters an infinite number of hearts). The site wants people to send authors claps to show how much they enjoy reading each article.

Now, those claps are actually going to mean something. Medium pays authors by dividing up every individual subscriber’s fee between the different articles they’ve read that month. But rather than doing an even division between articles, Medium will weight payments toward whichever articles a subscriber gives the most claps to. It’s not clear exactly how much each individual clap tips the scale, but you can be sure that writers will be asking readers to click that button.

It’s a pretty strange way to implement payments, since it relies on a really arbitrary metric that individual subscribers might use in really different and inconsistent ways.

Medium should introduce a negative counterpart to "clap" called "slap." Read the rest