Why Return To Your Website?|
or Your Loops Are Strangling Me
[ No. 22 - August 1998 ]
Things That Are New
AT&T's proposed merger with TCI Cable means kickstarting the
timeframe of widespread access to the Internet through
your cable service. That's good because we can ostensibly receive 10
megabit downloads. Of course, we can only upload at far slower
speeds. One's ISP would be one's phone account. One bill.
This is all good for us Internet users, assuming that AT&T figures
out that telecommunications is somewhat more than a telephone
conversation and that TCI actually offers customer service.
Microsoft's Windows 98 release shipped at midnight recently and if
there's anything new or groundbreaking about it we can't find it.
Yeah, we read the box. It says that applications launch 36% faster.
It appears to be a big maintenance release, with basic webpage editing
tools and marketed in a language that assumes we are all dummies.
If you're running Windows 97, there's likely no harm in upgrading.
Oh yeah, it appears that two or three monitors can now be run
simultaneously off the same CPU. Of course Macs have been able to do
that for ten years. Ah well. Read the fine print. And remember, as
soon as you successfully install Windows 98 an unmarked helicopter will
fly over your home.
The RealAudio folks have brought us the newly updated Real Systems
G2. It's an overall revamp of the entire RealAudio method.
The codecs are a little bit better. That translates into slightly
better audio quality. Up from phone talk to FM radio at last
perhaps? There does appear to be an improved streaming mechanism
(they call it SmartStream). During streaming the G2 system will
transparently drop to a lower bitrate version if lines become
clogged and slow down. We hope this means that it will also
transparently bounce back up if the lines become clear. It also
acquires new plugins for your Player so that (as needed) they can
be downloaded and quickly updated on your computer without having
to go to the Real Networks website to redownload and reinstall. A
popup window (appropriately used!) will intuitively update your
player with the new plugin (they call it AutoUpdate). There may
even be enough goodies included in the new G2 Real Player Plus to
make it worthwhile to buy (at last!). There's actually EQ (treble,
bass and midrange) available, along with volume level displays and
a playlist. The brightness, contrast and color of a video image
can be set as well. Currently this product is only available for
Windows running (at the minimum) a Pentium 100MHz chip with 16megs
of RAM. There's a shocker...
Res Rocket Labs (see column #13 on the
FezGuys website) received funding to expand their technology from
the well-known philanthropist Paul Allen (one of the founders of
Microsoft who bailed early but kept his stock). Res Rocket is a
good idea that's cool. There should be a new version out in a
couple of months. Hey! If you can think of a new Internet
technology that's cool somebody will throw money at you. It's
still possible. Contrary to reports of the "end of the golden age"
of the Web there are still tons of venture capital funds seeking
people and organizations to invest in. Be charismatic.
So there we are, working away in the early morning while innocently
listening to a track from the ten CD Steve Reich box
(late-twentieth-century classical deconstructionists take note!) when
gradually, by stages, we begin to notice a repetitive sound, just at
the edge of hearing. After a cursory search of the apartment for
broken appliances and a look out the window for car alarms down the
street we realize it's coming from the stereo. The CD must be
skipping. But no! It's a song consisting of one one-second-long
mid-range piano pattern repeated for twelve-minutes. But (get this:)
halfway through the piece, the pattern slows down. Suddenly the
lights came up in the darkened theatre of delight that passes for
our brains. "Lets Not Do This," we think. Let's not repeat
ourselves endlessly and then slow down. Let's create a
diversionary tactic and suggest, instead, a way to avoid common
mistakes in the creation of an audio-content-based website.
Nice segue, huh? Ok. Try this test: Don't be You. Become Another.
Now go to your website and give it a spin. That's right: Browse your
own website. As you are experiencing the overwhelming sense of New
Worlds and Fresh Horizons consider the suggestions below.
First off: when you arrive at your page, do you immediately hear a
piece of music while the page is loading? Is this piece of music a
loop that, after loading, cycles endlessly until driving you nuts? Do
you want to leave your page, or (*gasp*) turn the sound off? Even if it's
a nice loop turning 'round and 'round: is it clean? Is the
stitch between the loop's beginning and end seamless? The ever-helpful
FezGuys suggest using autoloading audio with care. Avoid seam
glitches. Aesthetically we feel that repetitive sounds tend to annoy
rather than enhance. Of course that throws the last fifty years of
musical culture in the dumpster. Somewhere down deep, clawing
for air between Philip Glass and Einsturzende Nuebauten, is a Pretty
Loop Of Love. Keep digging you Godless Heathens! And here's a
thought: consider offering visitors a be-ribboned basket of audio
backdrops to choose from but only when and if visitors ask. Find (and
walk) the fine line between a static web page and
one which results in a slow-to-download aural attack.
Meanwhile, the You who is momentarily Not You is observing the
various graphical images loading on your site. These images do not have
to be huge. There is no reason to autoload a 100k JPEG file of your
album cover. Your lyrics (you sing?) do not have to be embedded
in a finely-detailed trompe-l'oeil when a straightforward 2k text file
will do admirably. This doesn't limit you from including
a link to the large JPEG.
About Screen Width: Not everybody has a 21-inch Trinitron
on their desk. Visitors to your site will have to (yeah life's
hard, right?) scroll around constantly to access your offered
plums. The ever-contrite FezGuys suggest a screen width of about
eight inches (or around 600 pixels) maximum. Simple, small and
quick. Speaking of quick, what's with the automatic, pop-up
browser windows no one asked for? It's irritating to be bombarded
by uninvited objects. If it's not absolutely necessary; lose it.
Your visitors will anyway. As for multiple frames within your
site: think twice about it. Now, think again. Does it really make
your site simpler to navigate? If so, go for it, though if you
must complexify, consider offering your visitors an option to view
without frames. Your ever-goading FezGuys do suggest (if you
haven't already) you upgrade your browser to the most current
version available. Nonetheless, many visitors may be using earlier
browsers and be unable to view your site if it requires frames.
Exercising your artistic inspiration is good but keep it simple.
Back to your raison d'etre: the music. Alongside your full song
files the ever-polite FezGuys offer that excerpts from each piece be
added for easy preview. If the excerpt is from the middle of a song then
place a fade-in and -out of it. Keep the excerpt around thirty or
forty-five seconds, long enough to get a feel for the composition.
Offer the excerpts and the complete pieces in MP3 and RealAudio
formats. Provide links to sites where users can download the players
(which you've tested yourself!) for these formats. If possible,
monitor log files to observe the popularity of these formats. Consider
offering files of your songs in the funky old Sun-AU format. Yeah, it
doesn't stream or sound good but it works on almost every computer.
Make sure your web server is set up properly for your MIME types
(MIME types are the headers included when downloading the soundfile via
the web that tell your browser what to do with the file). This way a
visitors' browser will launch the correct program to play your music
instead of a page of textual garbage. If you are not using your own
web server talk to your server's administrator to make sure this is set
If you expect your visitors will wish to obtain a yummy clean version,
consider offering download-only versions of your songs in a
very-high-quality, 44kHz sample rate, stereo-imaged, 16bit sample format
optimized for rates of up to 128 kilobits per second. For files of
this mythic "near CD" quality you may consider charging an actual fee.
For commercial transactions try a third party web-billing service such
as Cybercash or First Virtual. Of course there's always mail-order.
Thousands of musicians have made this system work for them.
Provide an email address for visitors to offer praise, insults
or cries for help. Answer your email and, as always, the ever-mannered
FezGuys remind you that etiquette is still not dead. Be polite.
Collect email addresses. Ask for permission to add your contactees
names to your announcement list and do not recklessly trade your email
list with innappropriate organizations. Never sell your list.
Though it may be obvious to some that we don't pratice what we preach;
the ever-succinct Fezguys offer webdesigners this reminder: good
writing makes a difference. Spelling and grammar - use them
Most importantly: give people a reason to come back to your site.
Update frequently with new content. Include a news section and update
it often. Include a "last updated" date and don't forget about
it. Schedule an itinerary of new stuff. Don't put everything up at
once and then leave it alone and unchanged. Creating your online
community doesn't happen overnight. The ever-redundant FezGuys remind
all that "Slow cooking makes a creamy pudding."
And, finally, those little counters. What the hell is up with that?
Those who think an online community is fostered by reminding visitors
of their resemblance to a statistic deserve their ego-validation
psychosis. Do YOU like being treated like a number? Unless you've got
a valid reason for including them ("1000th visitor gets a free CD!"),
we suggest you consider leaving the counter out.
The ever-reassuring FezGuys suggest that what's real in the physical
world; what has depth, weight and emotional resonance; carries that
weight into the virtual world. If it's relevant, it's relevant! Use
common sense, so we won't have to.
Hi guys - I'm really curious about something... It has to do with
MP3 versus CD audio quality. When I listen to an MP3 recording I'm
able to hear lines and textures that I totally miss when listening
to the same song on the compact disc. Little "hidden things"
really jump out at me and I'm wondering if this phenomenon has to
do with the MPEG-3 technology or what?... (Just to let you know,
the bitrate of my MP3 files is 128 kbps and the sample rate is 44.1
kHz). A good example is the song "Alone" by Heart. When I play
the CD it sounds good like a CD should, but when I play my MP3
version -- I mean things REALLY jump out! And this is only one
example -- I have dozens of others. So, do you guys know why this
is so? Thanks. :^) - Dana
MPEG-based (MP3, MP2, etc) compression is based on those
wacky Germans' concept of psychoacoustics. It removes sounds that the
human ear can't hear. When compressing down to smaller and smaller
sizes, the codec starts removing sounds that your ear *can* hear, which
results in a very different listening experience. When you listen to
128kbps MP3 files on your computer, it's good enough quality that it's
within that "near-CD quality" range, yet is not quite *exactly* the
same. So the music will sound different from the way the original
engineer mastered it. You may find that certain sounds are accented
that you prefer, especially if you listen with computer speakers which
result in different qualities of the music being emphasized. An
interesting experiment would be to take a variety of songs and encode
them into MP3 and see if you can identify what exactly it is that you
like better about them. It may be a slight reduction in high end which
makes the midrange stand out a bit more; or something entirely
different. If you make music yourself, it can help you understand more
about how you want your own music to sound. :} - The FezGuys