Order In the Plex Now

Brian Lamb Rocks

Sunday, December 24th, 2006

Tonight (Christmas eve) C-SPAN will air an hour-long interview with me on its “Q and A” program. The estimable Brian Lamb, C-SPAN’s CEO, did the honors. He told me afterwards that my appearance was unusual for C-SPAN which focuses on politics and such, not stuff like technology and music. But he is an iPod lover, and enjoyed The Perfect Thing.

Lamb says he has around 5600 songs on his iPod (more than I have, incidentally–I’m just breaking 5000, but that should rise as I recently got a MacBook Pro and no longer have a full hard disk drive), and to my delight, he loves the novelty and mystery of the shuffle function as much as I do.

I always think it interesting that more people do not use the shuffle function. If you read the book, by the way, you know I am a nut on this subject. I usually ask audiences two questions: first, how many have iPods, a query that gets almost everybody’s hands up. Then I ask how many listen to their whole collection, or a big chunk of it, in shuffle mode. Typically, about forty percent of the audience keeps their hands up for that. It amazes me that shufflers seem to be in the minority, and when I ask people about it, their most common explanations hinge on things like wanting control, or being afraid a “wrong” song will come up, or just a conviction that it will be a jarring jumble. I always ask these people to take an hour on their next plane ride to shuffle the library, simply jumping to another song if they don’t like what comes up at a given time.

If you’ve seen Lamb’s interviews, you know that a prominent trait is an omnivorous, intense curiosity. So it makes sense to me that he savors the experience of having something unexpected connections arise fron his iPod, the better to ponder the links between songs, between ideas.


  • I saw some of the C-Span interview last night and two things struck me. First, your suggestion that music collections say a lot about their owners and second, there are plenty of unexpected connections that our music bring us to.

    As CEO of the company that has developed and recently announced Goombah to the world, I spend a lot of time thinking about similar things. Goombah analyzes individual iTunes libraries, connects people to others in the community who are most like them musically and offers recommendations of new music based on those connections.

    Shuffle offers a new look at the connections among your own music collection. Goombah broadens that universe so users can explore the connections they have with relevant strangers and their collections. It’s an extended shuffle guided by statistical relevance.

    I look forward to reading the book.

  • Steve, I just finished listening to your book on my iPod (it seemed like the best way to “read” this particular book). I loved the book, but disagree with your assumptions about the popularity of shuffle among iPod users (which you are now seeing in your audiences). I can only speak for myself, but suspect I’m not alone. I use a combination of human programming and the randomness of shuffle — namely smart playlists. The playlist I use most often plays songs rated 4 or 5 stars that I have not heard in more than 30 days. Another favorite playlist contains unrated songs, which I audition and rate. I also disagree with your assumption that shuffle makes so much sense because people love all the songs on their iPod. Again, I can only speak from personal experience, but like many people, I typically like just one or two songs per CD yet I ripped every song in my collection since hard drive space is cheap. Shuffle by itself would play many songs that I do not like (but like to keep around for whatever reason).

  • You can view this interview or read the transcript here:


    I have loved reading your writing on technology since your days at Macworld, and you are the primary reason that I subscribe to Newsweek. Keep up the good work!


Leave a comment to Jeff Richardson