Peter Gabriel's latest venture isn't a new album but a better way to serve up music and other entertainment on the Internet.
The Filter (thefilter.com) is the latest entry in a growing lineup of online recommendation engines that suggest new music based on your current favorites.
Unlike sites such as music's Pandora.com and film's Flixster.com, The Filter "is trying to expand," going beyond music and movies into TV and videos, Gabriel says.
Multimedia has been a strength for Gabriel, who has incorporated theatrics into concerts as the original lead singer for Genesis and as a Grammy-winning solo artist. His early CD-ROMs Xplora and Eve pushed the interactive envelope in the '90s.
While working with On Demand Distribution (OD2), an online music distributor he co-founded in 2000, Gabriel became intrigued with the idea of a software program that could sift through the totality of music and recommend new songs.
He registered thefilter.com Web address and later joined recommendation technology firm Exabre and some former OD2 engineers in the new venture.
"This vision was that we are all filters in one way or another," Gabriel says. "We have our experiences and our tastes. And we're trying to find some smart ways of taking advantage of that so that you can mix not only your own taste, (but also) your friends and musicians, artists, filmmakers, critics, magazines or (other) taste-making influences. You should be able to access them and hit a do-it button and get some stuff that you wouldn't otherwise."
An all-in-one recommendation project makes sense, says Paul Resnikoff, editor of DigitalMusicNews.com.
And Gabriel's involvement "just brings it above the level of other start-ups," he says. "He's a cutting-edge digital entrepreneur. It's good energy."
At its simplest, The Filter uses proprietary artificial intelligence to suggest works that are similar to ones already identified as favorites, using a database of more than 4.5 million songs and 330,000 movies. The database will account for users' changing tastes and grow as more users join during the private beta-testing period, beginning today (request access at thefilter.com).
"The more evidence we collect, the better the recommendations overall. And the more we know about you individually, the more we can filter content to suit you," says CEO David Maher Roberts.
Rate some artists such as R.E.M. and The Strokes as favorites, then judge a playlist of song clips — in this case from Dire Straits to Wilco — and The Filter creates "Music for You" such as Cream and Leonard Cohen.
By next month's public launch, a user will be able to add friends' filters and Flixster and Last.fm profiles. Web video recommendations will be improved; TV filters and iTunes purchase links will be added.
The Filter will continue to evolve, Gabriel says. "The theory would be that instead of a disc jockey, you have a life jockey. I personally would love to live in a filtered world as long I can control the filters."