Downloads, podcasts and laziness

Andrew Booker 2007-08-20 17:24:53

Sometimes it seems that weeks go by while I do not appear to be doing anything.

This is pretty much true of the last three weeks, having put an end to the Imbibe series after the July gig, since when the lazy half of my psyche has completely taken over, thrown out all the good intentions, rearranged all the furniture, opened a nice Spanish red and sat down to watch a whole lot of DVDs.

It hasn't all been idleness though. I've been doing a few bits of development on the site around the downloads, that is to say, as much development as I can in the half-hour slots before bedtime that are all I seem to manage these days. Here's what's been going on. Obviously I'm writing about it, because I have absolutely nothing to show for it so far.


People have been asking why we don't have a podcast, when we have a nice downloads list that we add to almost weekly (there are currently 51, the first of which I uploaded exactly a year ago). The answer is not that I have never got round to it. Podcast feeds are really easy, and prompted with a mock-up from Tim (Williams), I developed a feed back in early January. But, rightly or wrongly, a few things in my mind have stood in the way of introducing a podcast. I will do it eventually, but here's what's been putting me off so far.

ID3 tags
These are the header sections on the front of an MP3 file that tell you the title, the composer, the artist, and other metadata. Other than renaming it when you upload a one to Improvizone, the upload mechanism leaves the file completely alone, so the ID3 tag contains whatever you put in it, if anything. I have tried, and have not usually succeeded, to be consistent with the metadata when uploading recordings from the gigs. If it's not consistent, you end up with tracks all over your iPod, rather than in an organised place where you can find them easily. I say this, though really if I'd done the podcast from the beginning it wouldn't have mattered, because iTunes ignores the file tags and uses the podcast feed metadata to organise the tracks. Anyway, it's been in the back of my mind to sort out, and following all sorts of fun I've recently been having poking the headers of .WAV files, I have an appetite now for similar adventures with ID3 tags.
Upload session ID
You'll notice whenever I upload some audio, I always put some details in the comments about when it was recorded, ie the gig or recording session, details which will inevitably be common to several downloads. I have since organised this properly, so that if you look at the page for a particular gig, you will see a list of all the downloads from it. Currently, this is a relationship that I add manually after uploading the file. I need to include something in the upload screen that adds it for me automatically. I can then include gig/session details in a consistent naming convention for the upload files, and in the podcast titles.
Hit count
I'll confess this is really the thing that has put me off podcast until now. The downloads page has a hit count list that tells you... yes, you've got it. When someone clicks on an audio file link, a piece of javascript on their web browser responds to the OnClick event (from either mouse button) on the file link by sending an instruction to the web browser to increment the hit count for that file. This works OK most of the time, but not all. For example, at the time of writing (Sunday night, 19 August 2007), the site tells me there are 15 hits for this download. I uploaded the file only this month, but if I look in the stats for the month so far, they show 27 hits for it. It would be easy to blame the missing hit logs on people browsing with javascript disabled. But the downloads list itself is DHTML via javascript, so they would probably never see the files in the first place. No, it's just flakey, though at least it works some of the time. The trouble is, people downloading files via a podcast will not register any hits. This will upset me, because it's fun to see the hit count go up, or not, and I want to see the effect a podcast has. So I need to do a bit of development on the link so that it still allows the file to be downloaded, but also gives me an accurate hit count even if it's not downloaded via the site page. Why not just use the web server stats? Have you seen what they look like?! DOG almighty. And anyway, if I wrote a stats parser, it would only work on this site. If I moved the hosting to a different provider, I'd probably have to write another parser.
The hits are a simple gauge of the interest on a track. People leaving comments, descriptions, titles and scores are also fun and very worthwhile. Writing about music is very difficult, but is often vital for generating interest among other people. Our track comments are like mini discussion groups, where the topic is the latest download. Don't like it? Say why not, or just give it a bad score. But once people get their tracks from a podcast, are they going to score it or leave comments any more? I need to make sure the podcast feed, and also the ID3 tags, have the appropriate links back to the site.

Track Comments

On that subject, I'm doing a bit of development work on the track comments page, eg this one. It's a bit busy. Also, it's not clear when you need to press the submit button, which itself has disappeared off the bottom of the page when there are more than a couple of comments, even if you just want to add a score. Also, it's not obvious that you have to supply the CAPTCHA even if you're not leaving comments, which anyway you shouldn't have to if you're scoring with the radio buttons. So I'm doing a bit of work there to simplify the page.

Next gig

Erm... yeeaah...

As it happens, there will be another Improvizone event this month. At the end of the July gig, Nick (Cottam) suggested he and I and Simeon get together for a trio session. Normally this kind of thing would happen in a rehearsal room, so I duly booked one, begrudgingly. Begrudgingly because, if we're improvising and recording, there is no point doing it behind closed doors. If it's good enough for recording, it's good enough for playing in front of people. If it's not good enough for playing in front of people, it's not worth doing at all, recorded or not. So, on Tuesday 28 August 2007, the three of us will do a recording session in the back room of The Plough in Walthamstow. At least if there is anyone around, they can listen to us while the hard disk ticks away (and hopefully does not seize, like it did at the last gig).

Music for the 3rd Millennium << | >> 7th gig: Tuesday 28 August at the Plough, E17