The Ridiculousness of it All

Its no secret iTunes is getting more ridiculous with each version, but as I try to claw back some level of interest in listening to music on the go and on my Mac. I'm finding the prospect of wanting to use it even more maddening and suspect. The irony in the user interfaces for both iTunes and the Music app for iOS and the Mac respectively is the rising complexity alongside the dilution of character in both apps and what made the individual parts stand out. For example the ever growing presence of the iTunes Store in my music library. They used to be separate experiences.

My first headache after a long spell with not wanting to transfer or listen to music on either of my devices was after I put my Beatles Digital boxed set on my iPhone. And I only wanted the Beatles on my iPhone because I figured having less music would make the app simpler to operate. I was wrong and I didn't get a chance to find out because when the music app loaded, I still found all my music cluttering up the app, because of the streaming feature available. Coincidentally the Beatles boxed set can't be streamed even though I actually paid for it.

If I did kill the Internet connection on my iPhone, I of course succeeded in nullifying access to the streaming option, but that's inconvenient because of obvious reasons like having no internet. I signed out of my music app thinking that would fix the issue. It does, but then Apple helpfully logs you out of all other Apple services in the other different Apple Store apps.

It's a losing fight I find myself in. I'm pining for the simplicity and experience of a dumb iPod again because of Apple's insistence on us using its services at the expense of the quality of the experience offered. I thought Apple sweated the details, or maybe they are sweating them, but just not in the user's favour.

I don't even have Apple Music, iTunes Match or use Apple Connect and it feels my music collection isn't mine, it did on the iPod and it did on the Mac before the software started bloating and turning against itself.

This whole music service and content delivery system is so needlessly complicated and stubborn and I don't even need to talk about the bugs. I don't even talk about music amongst friends and I've stopped buying music because I'm not listening to any. It's been all podcasts and the occasional SoundCloud track.

This isn't new information and if I'm having this epiphany, I'm positive the folks in Cupertino are aware of what they are doing. So while I want Apple to re-imagine iTunes (how long have we been waiting, only for Apple to go the opposite direction?) like they have done with Photos, can I find the simplicity of the service that I desire elsewhere? Something that just reads MP3 files.

I'll update soon.

Podcasting in June

JPG (Subscribe here

The output was doubled this month! Four brand new episodes, two discussing Game of Thrones, one reviewing the new Avengers movie and episode 41 discusses the latest in Apple news.

Hong Kong People Podcast (Subscribe here)

I had a delay with releasing the last two episodes of this show. Yes you read right, the last two episodes. The show has been cancelled. In these two episodes, I interview a local art therapist and a local school teacher. Both episodes are under an hour.

All is not lost, I enjoyed doing the Hong Kong People Podcast and learnt a lot making them, while my schedule and theme was really tight, it allowed me to to refine my process.

Instead, I can happily announce my new podcast, again based around Hong Kong as its central theme, but with the format being looser to allow other types of discussion on the show. The show can be found here (rss link) and when it has passed the iTunes review team I'll post the link here as well if you don't want to deal with rss feeds.

See you all at the end of July with regard to podcasts.

First Month with Squarespace

Note - This is the written version of episode 36 of the JPG Podcast, except without the music, the improvisation or the Logic Pro X dicussion, but this written version includes a few nuggets of extra info.

Introduction

Anybody who consumes even the slightest number of podcasts will have listened to an advert from Squarespace. They are almost everywhere.

I bought a Squarespace account because I wanted to to merge my original and ageing WordPress blog with my Viewbook website which hosted my photography portfolio (btw nothing wrong with Viewbook, I never had a problem with them ever so I still recommend them if that's what you want). Getting a Squarespace account though meant I could merge these two sites together, that was important to me now.

Now before we get into this, I didn't intend to podcast with Squarespace in the beginning as I didn't realise it offered podcasting as one of its features. I think I know why though because it seems from the advertising and for the good publicity that they have, the podcasting part is somewhat underdeveloped, but it is free, anyway these are the things I found annoying and awkward with the podcast service

Podcasting

Space is limited on the basic account, you get 2 GB. This is *okay* for the show I use it with because I don't recording high-quality episodes and 2GB will last awhile and the show I’m making has a set life span. But other users might want more eventually, (which costs more) for example my other show JPG is between 60MB is 100MB in size at 128kbps so if I used Squarespace I’d only get 20 episodes out of the space offered. That's less than half a year of service before I start deleting episodes or upgrading. The space is manageable for me, but you need to know.

The second thing you maybe not didn’t know is you have to generate a second RSS feed. I say second because you might already use an RSS feed for your blog. This also means you need another tab at the top of your site, for a minimalist like me it's eating at me, but it does simplify things for visitors.

Hello Internet do this for their Squarespace site, but they don’t have a blog so it’s fine for them. Im trying to give you another example aside from my personal experience. 

Okay a little bit about automation with podcasting. Whenever you create a podcast with Squarespace you have to specify the minutes of the podcast, upload the artwork and subtitle the show. With a service such as Libsyn it’s done for you, the process is more streamlined to get your work online. I can't automate the things I took for granted using Libsyn (like uploading artwork). It's very odd and not as advanced, even though the interface is nicer than Libsyn. If I'm not clear, I have to upload artwork for each episode, whereas Libsyn will save it and apply it to future episodes.

With Squarespace you can push updates to any social sites you own. Twitter and Facebook work fine, but Tumblr doesn’t get all the information, even though Tumblr explicitly states it pushes a blog post in its entirety. It took a while for we to realise when I checked out the state of my tumblr site and noticed the audio file wasn't attached without explanation. There's no fix I've found so people were being made aware of a podcast update, but couldn't listen to anything. At the moment I include a link back to iTunes.

There are no stats with podcasting via Squarespace. Instead I have to use Podtrac. Again a little disappointing.

In summary, I will still use this service, it’s not exactly perfect, but it is free to me because I didn't realise Squarespace offered this service upfront. When I first found out they did, I was thinking I could move all three of my shows to square space, but then having 3 extra rss feeds and tabs at the top of the site could be a problem. I just use it for one of my shows to save money.

So that's podcasting for me at the moment. Maybe in my ‘My Year With Squarespace’, I’ll have something else to say about this service. It will be renewal time after all.

Photography (and blogging)

Now photography and blogging which was the original reason why I got Squarespace in the first place, blogging is much better than WordPress, much much better, the interface is kinder, more dynamic, less techie looking and faster. Templates are kinder on the eyes and much more manageable. There's nothing more to say, blogging is so much easier than before.

But, I had greater expectations with the photography templates. I would expect the templates to take my text files and image files and just plug them into the new template I selected. But it doesn't, you have to remove all the demo stuff that came with the template then add your own. I'd rather the service showed me the demo and upon transitioning to the template, it removed everything and inserted all my stuff. It makes setting up a site longer. That aside I haven't found a single Squarespace template that allows for full screen images that don't crop images. It's like Squarespace doesn’t understand photographers when we want to maintain the integrity of our photos by keeping them how we intended. I'm thinking of the Momentum template that caused me no end of pain as a bad example of this. I currently use the Forte template now because it doesn't crop my photography, but I don't get full screen images either.

This is something Viewbook understands as I did have full screen images, shame it didn't have a blogging features. Another downside with the Forte template, is that you get all your photos in diptychs and the caption text is present without the option to hide the text.

Stats

Blogging stats while they are extensive (more than Wordpress) only makes me want to find out more and I'm being suffocated, take subscribers for example, all you get is a number, there's no other way to relate with the information, all I know is I have some and it changes dramatically at the end of each week, I don't know whether they are coming from the blog or the podcast. It's the same with Facebook’s, you can get subscribers from there, but you don’t know who or how.

Positive Notes

  • Square space provides really good apps for free with their service. They are a blogging app and a stats app. The blogging app is very clean, very minimal and I've used it while I've been making commutes around Hong Kong, stats are great, but againI want to know what is behind the information.
  • Cheaper, though it does feel this is the main reason why I've been passive to some of its shortcomings.
  • It has done the job of merging two sites into one.
  • The online help service. The help service is amazing and that’s the truest part from the advertisements. Many times I’ve needed their help and they answer in a short space of time without you waiting that long. They even send links to video explainers which show you how to navigate to that part of the site you need to be in order to tweak something or switch something on.

In summary the service works, even if it isn't as effortless as they say. Especially with setting up templates, that could be much easier.

Going forward I’d like to see updates to fix the lack of automation with podcasting or just work harder on that part as it is a bargain for what it is, it could be a major selling point. I would also like to see square space develop better photography templates. They really need to create some genuinely dedicated photography templates.

Link to the podcast discussing this topic here.