We last took a look at the iTunes plug-in The Filter way back in 2006, so it's high time to see what this alternative to the Genius playlist is up to. Of course, when it first came out there was no Genius playlist, nor a Mac version--now that there's both, does it hold up?
Certainly the most obvious benefit is that although you do need to register to use the playlist, you don't need to hand over your credit card number to this Peter Gabriel-supported plug-in. These days many people probably don't care, but to me this is a strong vote in The Filter's favor.
Paranoia aside, The Filter seems to have made some serious, quality improvements. It still uses Bayesian mathematics algorithms and evidence models to make its suggestions, and it still takes what feels like forever and a day to scan large collections. That's not an improvement, of course, but it no longer lives on top of all other windows, either.
Instead, its icon lives on the Quick Launch bar. Right-clicking accesses a context menu, and from there users can jump to Preferences, thefilter.com, or change the default playlist generation from being based on the song to the genre. Double-click on the icon and it automatically generates a playlist, as long as a track is currently playing. Aside from scanning your collection I found The Filter to be reasonably responsive, if not zippy.
The Taste Profiler is a mandatory aspect of using The Filter. Before it can recommend playlists, and before you even finish installing it, The Filter requires that you rate at least three musicians and movies. In addition to music and movies, you can also rate TV shows and Web-only video.
The overall experience is slower than using Apple's Genius playlist, probably in no small part because it's a plug-in. However, The Filter now works with Windows Media Player and Winamp, although not MediaMonkey, on the PC, so non-iTunes lovers will probably be willing to suffer through the one- or two-second delay in getting their playlist kicked back to them. Rolling in all kinds of videos make this even more useful to today's mediascape.