iTunes, Last.fm and the politics of folksonomy

So, I’m listening to some perfectly nice folk/country/bluesish music by Eric Bibb in iTunes and I notice that the Genre column has the recording listed as Blues. I enjoy the multi-dimensional space of folk/country/blues/rock/etc, and like stuff at varying points in the coordinate matrix. This is the only album of Bibb’s I have, and I suspect it’s on the folkier side of his folk/blues mix. The reason this particular recording is categorized as “Blues” seems to be, er, at least as much visual as auditory.

For alphabetical reasons the song following Bibb is Eric Clapton’s cover of Going Down Slow, written bySt Lous Jimmy Oden and popularized by Howlin Wolf. Clapton’s cover is classified as Rock. The Clapton tune is much straighter blues than most of that Bibb recording. But Clapton is more vulnerable to sunburn.

Does anybody other than me find this aggravating? It seems *late* for this to be an issue. Obama likes star trek and jazz, he has the right to his choices as do the rest of us. Why do I need to look at this obsolete marketing category that classifies music ethnically not sonically.

Aha! The Last.fm tag cloud does a better job of things. The top tags for Bibb are blues, acoustic blues, folk and singer-songwriter. The top tags for Clapton are classic rock, blues, blues rock, guitar, singer-songwriter.

This issue is less vital than the discrimination that keeps gay families from legal protections of marriage, and other issues where real people get hurt by badly applied categories. It’s is more superficial than #amazonfail, the category mistake that pulled books on gay and lesbian themes out of Amazon search results and hence into more limited sales prospects.

The genre categories in iTunes are annoying throwback to the bad old days where music access was partitioned by segregated radio station. The result of the bottom up social network folksonomy is yet to fully express itself and yet to be measured. But I’d much rather look at the more nuanced, more accurate, less stereotyped tag cloud.

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