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Why Pandora Blows Apple's iTunes Radio Away

Stocks in this article: P AAPL

Because it's the easiest and most accessible way to proceed, I'll use the term Music Genome Project, or MGP for shorthand, to explain everything from how Pandora personalizes your radio experience to how it leverages its user data to do everything from support musicians -- large and small -- to sell advertising.

A big part of Bieschke's job is to come up with questions that lead to experiments that help make Pandora's user experience the best it can be ... for every single user.

Some examples of how this looks ...

Like the Beatles

You create a Beatles station on Pandora. You're my age. 38. And also a big John Lennon fan.

Another Pandora listener, your 17-year old son who happens to dig the Beatles as well, creates a Beatles station, but he can't stand John Lennon (because you like him so much). Instead, he's into that period when George Harrison went all Top 40 on us with "Got My Mind Set On You."

Bieschke wants to make each user's Beatles station relevant to that particular listener. The 17-year kid with eclectic tastes. The 38-year old like me. And the 65-year old who lived through the British invasion. Whomever.

The thumbs up/thumbs down and other listening data Pandora users submit helps Bieschke figure out this riddle.

But here's the cool part that should make any music and/or science lover geek out: Pandora has so many observations it can use to draw a sample that it's not just guessing when it tweaks Beatles stations for different types of listeners. It's running complex and statistically reliable experiments that allow it to get to know you and serve you the proper songs with confidence.

However, like any great researcher, Bieschke doesn't stop at initial answers. He's clearly the type of perfectionist who tortures himself over the inferences he makes. And, remember, he's dealing -- literally -- with millions of observations.

This resonates with me because, while not as mathematically inclined, I'm just as obsessive, particularly when it comes to my music listening.

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