by Alan Hannaway, 7digital Product Owner for Data 

We often ask ourselves How different do you think our listening experience will be in the next ten years? It’s a difficult question to answer, but a great one to ask. Serving an industry where there is constant change, the question brings us right back to where we should be focused: the way people experience music and radio.

Having powered music and radio services for over 10 years, 7digital knows how to deliver listening experiences that delight millions of people. We regularly reflect on what works, and what doesn’t. Sometimes it is clear what works well, and if you have a culture where you fail early and loudly (we do; it is part of our tech manifesto) you can sometimes see exactly what you did wrong. It’s not always easy though, and when the reason for something happening is not at all clear, finding out why it happened is difficult. How can you make sure the reasons you say something happened, are because of the reason you have identified? Correlation does not imply causation.

When we think about the future, we need a way to look back, and with confidence and accuracy, inform our plans on what to do next. For this, we use data, as a tool. Like any tool, the way you use it determines what you get from it. Data is a difficult tool to use correctly, but if you learn to put data in its place, it becomes incredibly effective. It raises your confidence when making decisions. It helps you reflect accurately on what you’ve done and it validates your thoughts. You learn from it.

When it’s possible to measure everything, you run the risk of over-analyzing the wrong things. So how do you ensure the data you are looking at tells you something that you can trust in order to make a confident decision? The answer for us is context. Specifically, data context (not to be confused with current trend of using the word context in music).

To help with the description and adoption of this idea, we developed the 7digital Music Data Context Map.


Music Data Context Map

There are three core elements to providing a digital music and radio service; Music, Audience & Service. With any one missing, you don’t have much left. At 7digital, we have deep reach to all parts of each. We have a music catalogue of over 32M tracks, served to an audience of millions of people, through a brilliant variety of services



Each of these core elements have many dimensions. For example;



As a tool, we place the reports and insights that we use in our decision making on this map.

Consider a report that provides insights on subscribers’ skipping behaviour on streaming services. Before analysing the data, and attempting to derive insights, we put the report on the context map. It resides somewhere between Audience (subscribers) and Service (streaming).


With the aid of the map, we can quickly determine the report’s value. We know what it tells us, and don’t get distracted by wondering where the value lies.

The context map also serves a second benefit. It helps you maximise value from any given data point, or collection of reports. This is important, as preparing data can be expensive and time consuming. 

For example, the above report becomes valuable to more people when you add further dimensions to it. You gain greater insight into music consumption if you look at the same behaviour across different genres of music that people stream. Likewise, greater insight into the audience is possible if you consider where the music was discovered, and enhanced service insight is gleaned when exploring the same behaviour on hybrid streaming/radio services. 


By adding more dimensions, the value of the data increases. As a strategy internally, we strive to always improve map coverage. Any given report, or series of reports that are developed, are placed on the map, and careful consideration is given to ensure we are able to accurately describe the data we have. When things converge near the center of the map, we know we’re doing a good job at delivering maximum value, to the greatest number of people. This benefits our own plans, and those of our partners. Ultimately, it focuses us and we do a better job for the listener.

For more updates on the role that data plays at 7digital, including reports sharing insights on music, audience and service, follow us on twitter, connect with us on LinkedIn, and bookmark our blog.

About the author:

Alan joined 7digital as Product Owner for Data in 2015, with a responsibility for ensuring the company are extracting value from and developing a line of data products. Prior to 7digital, Alan worked in a variety of roles, most recently, providing data to the entertainment industry through his own startup. Alan started his career working as a researcher in computer science, focusing his interests on the application of technology to measure the scale and distribution of content consumption on large Internet networks.  

Music Data
Digital Music
Future Planning
Saturday, July 7, 2012 - 13:03

We have recently been working on an incremental indexer for our Solr based search implementation, which was being updated sporadically due to the time it took to perform a complete re-index; it was taking about 5 days to create the 13GB of XML, zip, upload to the server, unzip and then re-index. We have created a Windows service which queries a denormalised data structure using NHibernate. We then use SolrNet to create our Solr documents and push them to the server in batches.

Solr Update Process
Friday, March 2, 2012 - 11:47

After having read the o’Reilly book “REST in Practice” , I set myself the challenge of using OpenRasta to create a basic RESTful web service. I decided for the first day to just concentrate on getting a basic CRUD app as outlined in chapter 4 working. This involved the ability to create, read, update and delete physical file xml representations of Artists. It is described in the book as a Level 2 application on Richardson’s maturity model, as it doesn’t make use of Hypermedia yet. One reason why OpenRasta is such a good framework to implement a RESTful service is that it deals with “resources” and their representations. As outlined in “REST in Practice”, a resource is defined as any resource accessible via a URI, and OpenRasta deals with this perfectly as it was built to handle this model from the ground up.

The Basic Web Service
Thursday, February 2, 2012 - 17:05

When bootstrapping a structure map registry, you are able to set the "life style"  of that particular instance using Structuremaps fluent interface. For example, when using NHibernate, it is essential that you set up ISessionFactory to be a Singleton and ISession to be on a per Http Request basis (achievable with StructureMaps HybridHttpOrThreadLocalScoped directive). Example:

For() .Singleton() .Use(SessionFactoryBuilder.BuildFor("MY.DSN.NAME", typeof(TokenMap).Assembly)) .Named("MyInstanceName");
For() .HybridHttpOrThreadLocalScoped() .Use(context =>; context.GetInstance("MyInstanceName") .OpenSession()) .Named("MyInstanceName");
It's nice and easy to test a Singleton was created with a Unit Test like so:

[TestFixtureSetUp] public void FixtureSetup(){ ObjectFactory.Initialize(ctx => ctx.AddRegistry(new NHibernateRegistry())); } [Test] public void SessionBuilder_should_be_singleton(){ var sessionBuilder1 = ObjectFactory.GetInstance(); var sessionBuilder2 = ObjectFactory.GetInstance(); Assert.That(sessionBuilder1, Is.SameAs(sessionBuilder2)); }
Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 15:42


We have been using Solr for a while for search, Solr is fantastic, but the way we get our data into Solr is not so good. The DB is checked for new/updated/removed
content, then written into a jobs table, which is checked to see if there are any pending jobs. There are numerous issues with using a DB table as a queue, some for MySQL are listed at:

To stop using our DB as a queue I decided to test out setting up and using an AMQP based message queue. AMQP is an open standard for passing messages via queues. The finally goal would be to allow other teams to push high priority updates or new content directly to the queue rather than have to go through the DB, which can add considerable latency to the system.

For this test RabbitMQ was used, as it has a .Net library and it runs on virtually all OSs, has good language support, and good documentation. This can be found at the RabbitMQ site:

Getting Started

I strongly advise reading these before you start: