Observing Cassette Culture


Title graphic for thesis defense.

Earlier this week, (Monday actually) was the defense for my thesis titled, “Observing Cassette Culture: User Interface Implications for digital Music Libraries“. Every thing went off without a hitch, and although I have a little ‘housekeeping’ to do on the final document before i can publish it, I passed! Today, I thought I would post up the powerpoint presentation I used to deliver the oral part of the defense. It hints at what is to come when i do post the final thesis. Although the outline below is quite abbreviated, it indicates the overall structure and ideas I presented. Thanks to all the participants who agreed to allow their photos to be published, and completed the survey. I am looking forward to continuing this research!


People construct their music listening experiences with the technology that is readily available, and the collection of recorded music they keep.

  • Music collections, Tapes and MP3s
  • Why cassettes are special
  • Research questions

This Research Study

This research observed the images of peoples tapes, as posted on the social photo sharing website flickr.

  • Online Ethnography – User centered design
  • Bookmarked images on Flickr
  • Analyzed images and conducted survey


iTunes and the other music players are not all that bad, I believe however the design of them has been more influenced by the capabilities of the technology, as opposed to the needs of users.

  • Organization – Tapes could be browsed. iTunes is organized by default but the entire collection cannot be displayed.
  • Personalization – Tapes embodied memories, relationships events. Could be shared.
  • Digitization – Physical affordances are lost, such as the musical history.


The analysis of the results showed some behaviors that have not been accounted for in the design of digital music players.

  • Organization
    • Images – Showed many examples of “piling”
    • Survey – Stars rating system not used (over 75% no)
  • Personalization
    • Images – Many mixtapes in collections
    • Survey – People still give and receive “music mixes”
  • Digitization
    • Images – Many narratives were documented, (almost every picture has a story)
    • Survey – Tapes are kept for sentiment and nostalgia and fear the music will be lost

Design Implications

Indeed, many implications for the design of digital music libraries were noted.

  • Organization
    • An un-organized view may be desirable
    • Browsing needs better support – visualization
    • “Coverflow” does this to some degree
  • Personalization
    • Tagging may support better playlists
    • Playlists should also be customizable
    • Sharing needs to be expanded
  • Digitization
    • Tracking music histories my be useful such personal music charts
    • Snapshots of the state of the player at a given time may also be useful


Future research

  • Where does music go to die?
  • Tension between automation and user control

One Reply to “Observing Cassette Culture”

  1. >Wow! I looked at your summary snd ,indeed, every point you've brought up surely does go to the heart of cassette 'culture'..
    .. I have been a cassette collector of note for over 20 years, and have had not only the most Rare ones ever issued (lost in the boot of my car, alas) but was the only one (in at least my town) who could always count on being able to sell em four or five years ago, when NOBODY wanted cassettes.. this is starting to change, just like i
    kept on sayin to folks it would..
    I am enthusiastically looking forward to reading your PPT presentation……..

    Cheers from the Doctor

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