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Is Your Metadata Miles Away from Complete?

by Clinton Forry on April 21st, 2011

Whether your content is produced in-house or licensed from a third party, make sure it’s complete from top to bottom. Otherwise, you might send someone off in a JAZZ RAGE.


I love music. After a lifetime of being hooked on CDs and LPs, I recently jumped into the realm of getting a music subscription online. The charm of these services is that they don’t require any downloads—all of the music is streamed on-demand.

Services like this are not new. They’ve been around for some time, actually.

I took the plunge because one of the services, Rdio, had finally created an online experience with the things I wanted. It’s easy to use. And easy to sync across different devices and locations. BUT, there are some common content issues that keep it from being a fantastic experience.


Services like Rdio work by licensing content, making it available each month to eager listeners for a subscription fee. Record labels strike deals with these online services to provide access to their catalog of titles.

Rdio has done their part, making the layout and features downright lovely. So lovely, in fact, that I’ve been going about as if I were a salesman for the company, begging people to sign up.

Being a jazz nerd, I immediately typed “Miles Davis” into the search box on my first visit. This is where the trouble started.


First, some jazz history: Miles Davis played trumpet with bebop sax legend Charlie Parker early in his career. They made fabulous recordings. Rdio makes enjoying these rather difficult. To illustrate, here are the entries for Miles and Charlie Parker:

Miles Davis and Charlie Parker search results

Figure 1. Miles is agitated. (Click to enlarge/exasperate.)

Although it’s likely not the fault of Rdio, there are some serious content problems here. Content is duplicated. Other content has frustratingly incorrect or incomplete metadata. Some content suffers both problems.

Some of these distinctions make sense. But others feature almost comical misspellings or strange divisions (comma or hyphen or slash or semi-colon or … ).

A careful audit of this content prior to publication would have surfaced these content classification crimes. Miles himself would arrest you for such offenses against his music.

Miles Davis You're Under Arrest album cover

Figure 2. The Miles Davis album “You’re Under Arrest.”

At any rate, this many misleading options will bewilder even seasoned enthusiasts.


Even more jazz history: In 1958, Miles recorded a classic album titled “Milestones.” Get it? Miles? Tones? Milestones? (This is as good as jazz humor gets, folks.)

That search I mentioned earlier? For Miles Davis? It yields 368 separate album choices. If you wanted to listen to the “Milestones” album on Rdio, you would be presented with yet another content conundrum:

Issues surround Milestones on Rdio

Figure 3. (Click to enlarge/enrage.)

When faced with 368 album choices, a listener can get overwhelmed, to say the least. They may switch from navigating the search results via text to relying on visual cues (in the form of album covers).

In Rdio’s case, album covers and artist names are considered metadata.  Inaccurate and incomplete metadata makes navigating the options difficult, if not impossible.

When metadata is incomplete or inaccurate, people will flee. They’ll unsubscribe from your service and take their money with them. You don’t want that.


In the interest of creating a satisfying user experience, the record companies would do well to clean up the catalog they license to services like Rdio. As newer editions of “Milestones” are released, this user experience will only become more unwieldy.

Complete and accurate metadata will make your life easier now.

New technology and its applications will find new uses for content in coming years. Make sure that your content—and by extension, your metadata—is complete and accurate. Because it just may make your life easier in the future, too.

  • Anonymous

    Just discovered your blog after reading a slideshow that you made regarding content and will be sure to read it often. My firm also does a lot of consulting on content for our clients because we truly believe quality content rises to the top. Although our firm focuses more on digital branding and media, the name of the game remains quality content.

    This post was really interesting and I love how you broke it all down. It also made think of an interesting point. When you analyze a new industry where there’s lots of startups competing to be the industry industry, many people look at technology, money, UI, design, etc. as major reasons why one will fail and the other will rise to the type. However, no one mentions quality of content.

    Think if you found a site that virtually provided the same services as Rdio but had better organization and quality content? Who would you ultimately choose? I know that many factors played in the overall scheme of why Mint.com won their industry war (there were several other startups trying to provide the same service) but I do think that Mint.com’s blog played a large role. They consistently produced high quality content that was extremely valuable to their target market. It not only spread like crazy through the internet that helped lead to tons of sign ups, but anyone would obviously rather be with the company who is going to provide them awesome information to go along with the service.

    Anyhow, glad to have found you guys. Keep up the awesome work. I’m going to go follow you on Twitter now. Look for me @Open_Connect


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Stahura/100000577988864 Mark Stahura

    Sadly, several 800-pound gorillas of the web world have taken wildly unhelpful approaches, ones that offer little guidance (or even negative guidance) for the rest of us: Google provides a gazillion results but little value; Apple provides the shallowest search tool possible, with very odd metadata (their Genius suggests that since I own “The Solar System” on my iPad I should buy “Green Eggs and Ham” –??!). The key questions are, “What will my users do on my site, and what to they expect to get out of it?” AND “What data — data itself and the structure to use it — will help them both do and get what they want?” As you say, time is money. They don’t get, they will walk. (Even internal users, by the way.)


  • Steve Raap

    Yikes! And this doesn’t even include the Miles Davis expanded box sets representing all combinations of players, eras, locations (live vs. studio), etc. The Miles Davis family tree of players itself sprouts groups like John Mclaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, Wayne Shorter’s Weather Report, and on and on. One can only wonder what kind of mish-mash of content a search including those eras and players might produce. I guess that’s why they call it Jazz.

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    I really like it.
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