Why Spotify Shuffle is Not Actually Random


Joe Fedewa / How-To Geek

If you happen to’ve ever used the shuffle button on Spotify, you’ve in all probability observed it usually doesn’t really feel random in any respect. Seems that is by design, and there’s truly rather a lot that goes into how shuffle works on Spotify.

You’re very a lot not alone if it is a criticism you’ve had. The Spotify Help boards and Reddit are affected by individuals airing their grievances concerning the shuffle function. It’s clearly not working how individuals count on it to work. Let’s check out why that’s.

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Random Doesn’t Really feel Random

The core of this example is our notion of what’s random versus how random works in the actual world. The widespread criticism is Spotify’s shuffle mode doesn’t really feel random, however true random will not be what we truly need.

Flipping 1 / 4 is an efficient instance of this. If the coin is flipped 10 occasions, we count on to see a comparatively even distribution of heads and tails. Nonetheless, true random can simply as simply lead to 10 straight heads. Every time the coin is flipped, there’s a 50/50 probability will probably be heads or tails. That probability doesn’t change relying on the earlier coin flip.

Two lines or colors in random orders.
Two equally random orders. Spotify

The identical factor applies to songs in a playlist. True random may find yourself enjoying the identical artist a bunch of occasions in a row—there’s an equal probability for every music to play each time. Up till 2014, this was how the shuffle function labored, however individuals complained that it wasn’t random sufficient. So, Spotify modified it up.

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How Spotify Shuffle Works

If you press the “Subsequent” button, Spotify doesn’t randomly choose the following music proper then and there. The subsequent music was already determined in the mean time you turned on shuffle mode.

The identify “shuffle” is definitely a really correct description of the way it works. Consider it like shuffling a deck of enjoying playing cards. If you faucet the shuffle button on a playlist, all of the songs are shuffled into a brand new order. This occurs each single time you click on the shuffle button.

You’ll be able to see this in case you test the queue. I made a playlist of 10 songs—half of that are from the identical artist—and put it on shuffle 5 occasions. Spotify generated a brand new order of songs every time. Even on this small pattern dimension, you may clearly see among the points individuals complain about.

Playlists shuffled.

The identical music was on the prime of the record the primary two occasions I shuffled—that’s extra “random doesn’t really feel random.” Extra importantly, the artist that seems within the playlist 5 occasions is rarely evenly distributed. Actually, in two of the shuffles, 4 out of the 5 songs had been grouped collectively.

That’s how Spotify shuffle works on a primary stage, however once more, this isn’t random. Spotify stopped utilizing true random in 2014. Now there’s an algorithm that decides the shuffle.

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Enter the Algorithm

Fortunately, an engineer at Spotify outlined precisely how the algorithm works on Spotify’s Engineering weblog in 2014. The algorithm has nearly actually been tweaked since then, but it surely’s surprisingly easy.

First, the algorithm spreads out songs from the identical artist. Nonetheless, it deliberately doesn’t at all times do that completely—as seen above—to keep up a way of randomness. Typically, they’ll seem each 20-30% of the size of the playlist.

Spotify shuffle algorithm.
Every colour is an artist. Spotify.

The algorithm additionally shuffles the songs by the identical artist amongst one another. That is to stop songs from the identical albums from enjoying too carefully collectively. Artists that solely seem as soon as within the playlist have a “random offset” to stop them from at all times being on the prime of the record.

That’s it! The algorithm itself is kind of easy. Sustaining a feeling of randomness is what actually complicates issues. If shuffle at all times completely organized the artists in equal distance from one another, it will really feel like a repetitive sample. Shuffle has to strike a steadiness between true randomness and manufactured randomness.

Random Is Arduous

There are extra superior music shuffling algorithms on the market. The issue is including complexity could make algorithms slower. Spotify‘s algorithm is easy, however that permits it to shuffle nearly immediately.

The human mind makes the idea of “random” onerous to execute. The algorithm is extra about creating the phantasm of randomness than true randomness as a result of that’s what our brains need. The system is rarely going to be good, however you may at all times hit the shuffle button yet another time.

If you happen to’re nonetheless interested in this matter, try this wonderful video by Gabi Belle on YouTube.

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