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04 juin 2008

Think you've got good taste in music? Sell it

The Filter, a website backed by Peter Gabriel, analyses taste in entertainment and uses the data to make recommendations. An ambitious new website backed by Peter Gabriel, the Genesis singer and music entrepreneur, aims to give people the option to sell their taste in music and film.

The Filter will attempt to do for other forms of entertainment such as movies, music and television what Amazon has done for books, namely make recommendations to users based on the purchases of others.

Unlike other sites like it, however, the goal of the Filter will effectively be to create a blueprint of a person's taste across a whole range of entertainment genres and, ultimately, allow that person to sell their recommendations to others.

The site works by analysing the songs that someone listens to through iTunes, the tracks he or she buys from digital music stores, and how he or shes rates songs on itself. That data is then compared with similar lists gathered from other users, and used to draw up a list of recommended songs, artists and music news stories.

The same is done for films, using software that synchronises with existing online movie rental sites such as, web video, through monitoring of a person's use of YouTube, and television shows, again through purchasing on iTunes. does not sell music tracks - this it leaves to existing digital music retailers such as iTunes, to which it links. (Those who sign up can, however, click on a 30-second 'taster' clip of a song that has been recommended.) The aim is rather to help people navigate the vast quantities of entertainment that are available on the web and make recommendations to them based on their existing preferences.

"People are drowning in choice," Mr Gabriel told Times Online. "The web has brought us freedom of choice but once people get that, they realise they want freedom from choice. This lets them take control over who is giving them recommendations about things like music and film, so they can make better choices."

Existing music sites such as have long enabled users to tap into the collective taste of a large, music community and have songs recommended, but allows a greater degree of control over the recommendation process.

Users can elect, for instance, to have their movie suggestions 'filtered' through a film-buff friend, or choose a blend of two friends' tastes to recommend music.

There is also scope for 'cross-genre' recommendations, so a person will be able to put an artist like U2 into the site, and ask the engine to suggest films that are admired by U2 fans. When Times Online tried this, the site came back with Brideshead Revisited, though this was likely a product of the site not yet having a critical mass of users, its founders said.

The service is free, and the site, which goes live today, aims to make money through advertising, referrals to retailers such as iTunes, and by selling its platform to media companies keen to understand more about their audience.

It also plans to expand into other areas of taste, such as food, wine and travel.

Importantly, the site will not rely on becoming known as an independent social networking site, and will instead be able to be incorporated into existing platforms such as Facebook, personalised home pages like iGoogle, and on mobiles.

Mr Gabriel, who has been involved in several digital ventures - including We7, an advertising-funded online music store, said that "in principle" the site was in favour of allowing people to get paid for their recommendations, but added that the model for calculating compensation had not been wholly thought through.

He said the artists whose taste he would be most interested to tap were Tom Waits, for music, Martin Scorsese for film, and J J Abrams, the co-creator of Lost, for TV.

The Filter, which is based in Bath and has a staff of 18 - mostly software engineers - is backed by Mr Gabriel's Real World Group, and Eden Ventures, the Bath-based venture firm. It has attracted $8.5 million worth of investment so far.

Jonathan Richards /The Times

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