This is a naive short story. On the one hand it is mainly the result of procrastinating online on a Sunday night. On the other hand, a more positive person than me would see this as an instance of a -you can find whatever you want online with only so little initial information- sort of situation. So for reasons I will not go into, I wanted to find a particular song I used to listen to when I was living in Paris between January and July of 2004. I was listening to that song a lot on my small radio, on a radio station called OUI FM; arguably a ridiculous name for a radio station but the music was quite good according to my taste. Anyways, I was in Paris, and the particular radio station played a lot of indie songs, both french and otherwise. So, I was particularly fond of a french song that was obviously popular in France at the time. However, I never knew the name of the song, or the name of the band that sang the song, or well, even if I knew back then, I had absolutely no recollection a couple of minutes ago.
Usually when you have some initial piece of information, it’s just a matter of time to recover whatever it is that you wish to know, online. I’m not of course talking about knowing the name of the band, or the name of the song. But suppose, for example, that you remember a non-trivial part of the lyrics, meaning a part that could more or less uniquely define the song. Then Google the lyrics you remember, sort out the irrelevant results, and you are done. I believe this algorithm is largely successful even when trying to recover more obscure information that’s not so well documented online as music is. On the other hand, the initial data you need is not that trivial.
This time I had very little to go with. I remembered the song in the sense that I could recognize it if I listened to it. And I remembered one word from the lyrics: ‘vent’. Not so much to go with. I mean the first step is to Google the words vent, french or français, indie, pop, 2003/2004 and see what you get. I didn’t get anywhere really with this first naive approach. Trying at more music-specialized web sites only gave me some songs that I also listened to that radio station back then. It was not what I was looking for but now I had one more piece of information to go with. Similar artists! I remembered the similar artists section at last.fm. After that the story gets boring. I finally managed to narrow down the candidates, played a couple of songs in preview mode et voilà!
OK, probably not much for a Sunday night. But, you feel kind of satisfied when eventually this sort of pursuit goes through. In my opinion, this is a non-trivial example of internet search. Imagine that instead of a song you absolutely need to find out if a certain theorem is known to be true. Not that this necessarily covers a more substantial need. In any case, I am impressed that you can begin with such vague information, bootstrap it if necessary, and come up with a concrete result. In less than 30 minutes…