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I curate content for a living so I am not easily impressed. But I am deeply taken by the way Apple Music recommends content to me through playlists. Beyond driving my engagement with the platform, Apple Music’s playlist strategy provides a powerful model for thinking about how to combine machine- and human-powered curation.
Here are four (of the) very effective things Apple Music is doing with playlists.

  1. Apple Music position playlists as a primary curation and discovery vehicle.
    This is a screenshot of my dashboard in “For You” mode.

Step One

I rarely used playlists to discover music as a longtime Spotify customer because playlists seemed positioned as more of an afterthought to a discovery model built around artists, songs, and albums. Apple Music puts playlists front and center. That alone wouldn’t matter if the playlists being recommended to me were not well targeted, which they certainly are, thanks to a very effective on-boarding process based on the Apple-owned Beats Music experience. Also important: both the content and raison d’etre of each playlist is well positioned via the brief intro text and representative album covers.

  1. Apple Music clearly differentiates between different classes of playlists.

Here is a screenshot of my dashboard in “New” mode:

Step Two

I find Apple Music’s strategy of organizing playlists by both curator-type and user intent (e.g., Activity) to be very effective as well. It allows me to make an initial choice with regard to what I’m looking for and provides important context for the next step in the discovery experience.

  1. Even while playlists are a primarily a product-side curation tool on this platform, Apple Music makes the user a willing partner in the playlist discovery process.

Here is what happens when I select “Apple Editors Playlists” from the screen above:

Step Three

Yes, given the size and scope of the library, Apple wants and needs the user to apply yet another filter before the specific recommendation level. But rather than feel put upon, I appreciate the smart choices I am offered, understanding that I am an active participant in the curation process, even while the ultimate recommendations will come from an “expert.”

Note that even while the playlists themselves are curated by human beings, the discovery process is driven by topic.

We really don’t care which Apple Music editor is choosing the music; we just want them to curate interesting playlists. But we do care what type of music the humans are curating for us — thus the discovery process is focused on genre rather the editors themselves.

  1. When I reach the playlist recommendation level, I am delighted to find a much richer experience than I expected.

Here is the landing page for “Americana” playlists.

Step Four

I was anticipating a list of playlists on this page — and Apple Music provides that — but I was not expecting the mini-tutorial that appears on the right. I can choose to ignore it or I may dive in — but either way the framing is an added bonus. It provides yet another level of expert curation and context-setting that helps position the playlists in an effective and engaging manner for the user. (By the way, this particular page bears some resemblance to new curated topic pages we are working on at Safari.)

What Apple Music’s focus on playlists adds up, in my case and I am sure many others, is deep engagement with the platform; a higher level of content consumption than on similar services (driven almost entirely by playlists); and yet one more very enthusiastic Promoter.

It’s a powerful model for thinking about how to combine machine- and human-powered curation to drive engagement and provide a higher level of utility.

Tags: americana, apple music, curation, playlists,

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