The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Entries for 'eoghan'

01

CLUAS on the iPhoneFor years people have been talking about the day when we'd be able to access the internet on our mobile phones. The first technology that had a stab of bringing the web to a mobile phone was WAP ('Wireless Application Protocol'). It raised its clumsy head in 2000 or so and was - to be polite - an excruciating experience for users. In any case only a tiny number of sites (bless 'em) went to the trouble of providing a WAP enabled version of their website.

"Fret not", we thought back then, "glorious pocket-based browsing is surely just around the corner now that the telcos have splurged all these countless billions on 3G licences". Well it never really worked that way, did it? 3G is with us and a 3G-enabled phone is indeed quite likely sitting in your pocket right now. And how was the experience the last time you used it to browse the web? If your visit was to one of those mobile portals such as Vodafone Live (which have limited range of content on offer) the experience could be logged as something approaching 'tolerable'. Stepping out of the clutches of such a phone company's portal often gets very unpleasant, very quickly. One way out is to type in a web address on the phone but the less said about the complexities of doing so on many mobile phones, the better. The more usual route from a mobile phone to more interesting edges of the web is to run a simple a search on a search engine but, invariably, you end up quickly hitting some pretty ugly web pages that try to squeeze themselves into the tiny space on your phone’s screen (and any site that does look okay it is only because they have gone to the considerable lengths of creating a mobile compatible version of their website, something that is beyond the financial, time and technical resources of most webmasters, myself included). 

Boiling it down to its essential: browsing the internet with your mobile sucks. But that all changed recently with the arrival of Apple’s iPhone.

Thanks to the iPhone the 'internet-in-your-pocket' (well, a 13cm x 7cm pocket) is - at last - becoming a reality. With one glorious step Apple managed to do what so many previously could not: they managed to suss the 'how to get a website looking as decent on a mobile phone as it does on a computer' conundrum thanks to some very elegant and imaginative flourishes when it comes to the user interface and web navigation.

Much of the press has been (quite rightly) falling over itself singing the praises of these advances for users. But for me the real stroke of genius with the iPhone is not how it benefits users but how it benefits website owners: if your site’s design is smart and adheres to some well established best HTML practices you won’t have to create a second parallel version of your site for it to be accessible on the iPhone. Touché – all of a sudden the mobile web can now encompass, in very real terms, a significant proportion of the most interesting websites out there.

So how does the Apple iPhone do this? Here’s the quick answer. When you visit a website with your iPhone it downloads the page, as you’d expect. The browser built into the iPhone (Safari) then works out what the page would look like on a PC browser that is 980 pixels across. It then scales down the page as it would look on such a PC so that it fits into the iPhone screen. For most sites this means the iPhone user can then see the full webpage on their phone in one glance. The downside however is that for many sites some individual words will be difficult to read (as they will be too small after the page has been ‘shrunk’ down to fit on the iPhone screen). Apple have, of course, got this covered: all the iPhone user needs to do is just ‘double tap’ on different parts of the page and - if the web page adheres to established standards and best practices - the iPhone will zoom in and the user can now easily read the text / see the images on that part of the page.

While Apple is leading the way with these innovations, it’ll only be a matter of time before they inspire other handheld manufacturers to deliver a whole range of mobile devices that will, in similar, ways make it straightforward for the non-Apple masses to browse the web while on the move. I think it is finally safe to safe that the mobile internet is going to happen. Big time.

Those who run websites or blogs would do well to ensure their sites are ready for this iPhone-inspired era that is on its way. A few questions that any conscientious webmasters should be asking themselves...

  • How does your site look on an iPhone?
  • Does it adhere to established best practices? For example if you want the 'double tap' interaction described above to work you need to divide your web page's text into meaningful blocks using the 'div' tag.
  • Is the full payload of your webpage reasonable or is it still going to take an age to download? Download times really matter on the mobile web, make no assumptions about your users' patience. Or the data limits set by their telephone company.
  • Do you have content of your site embedded in a Flash file? Careful as the iPhone does not load Flash based websites.

With all this in mind I last month started to look into what it could all mean for CLUAS. While the CLUAS.com traffic stats showed that only 24 people visited CLUAS using an iPhone in the last 2 months of 2007 I knew that this figure could grow hugely in the future as the numbers of iPhones (and iPhone inspired handhelds) in circulation increases, but only if CLUAS has tweaked things to make it better for such visitors.

So in early January I focused my efforts, as a first step, on revamping the HTML code behind the most important page on CLUAS – the website’s home page. The result of this effort is that the CLUAS home page now not only loads perfectly in an iPhone but a 'double tap' on an iPhone screen will work as it should. There are other positive consequences of the change. For example this conversion meant that the HTML file of our home page was reduced about 25% in size (from a previously modest 20 KB down to a super slim 15KB). The content of the page is also better structured - logically and semantically - which means that search engines can more easily understand what our content is about and determine the relative importance of all text and links on the page (all the better for our permanent goal of getting CLUAS content to rank better and more widely).

I don't expect this to result in a massive increase in traffic to CLUAS from iPhones. However when mobile browsing à la iPhone takes off CLUAS aims to be well placed to capture a decent part of the action.

Do you you have a website or a blog? If so you too should look into its readiness for the sophisticated mobile web of the coming years. Excuse a brief descent into some technical details but here's a few quick concrete checks any webmaster serious about having an iPhone ready website needs to do:

  • First up the obvious one: visit your website on an iPhone if you have access to one and see how it looks.
  • If you don't have an iPhone but you own a Mac, no problem, you can test it using the iPhoney application (which partly emulates the browser function of an iPhone, but it can only be installed on Mac computers).
  • If you have a Windows computer my advice would be to:
    • Download and install the Safari browser for Windows
    • Open up the Safari browser, visit this page which if you follow the instructions below will allow you to see how your website would look on an iPhone. On the page you just need to:
      • Enter your site's URL (i.e. web address),
      • then enter '980' for 'width' (i.e. this corresponds to the number of horizontal pixels the iPhone uses when it initally presents a web page),
      • in the 'height' box enter something like 700 or so,
      • Then click 'Test'.
    • This will then resize your browser to 980 pixels across and load up your site. What you see is how you can expect your site to look on the iPhone (i.e. 980 pixels across).
  • Once you have seen how your site will look on an iPhone you may see changes you need to make in terms of its layout. Keep in mind:
    • Your site should not have key content embedded in Flash files, the iPhone will simply not be able to access such content. Same goes for Java applets (but Javascript is supported).
    • You should structure your web page's content in line with established best practices for laying out and structuring text on web pages (e.g. avoid HTML tables, instead use div tags to create blocks of content, lay it out using CSS styling and then structure the text using tags such (h1, h2, h3 tags for headings, p tags for main bodies of content and li tags for lists).
    • Check the size in KBs of the main page of your website using a web page analyser service. Ideally the main page of your site (its HTML + images + style sheets + Javascripts) should weigh less than 150 KBs. Anything more than that may easily test the patience of your visitor (especially important for new visitors, first impressions count, and all that).

These are only a few of the most basic guidelines. Those looking for more detailed guidance should go to the horse's mouth: Apple have put together an extenisve 'Designing Content' chapter in their iPhone Developer Centre

Okay, time to wrap this up. The mobile web is going to explode. Not in the next month, not even in the next 6 months. But 2-3 years from now the web will be a radically different place and huge numbers of people will access it in ways - and with a frequency - that they do not do so now. If you have a website or a blog the time to get ready for this is not next year but now.

CLUAS is far from being where it needs to get to, but we are getting there. Want to join us?


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16

Choice Music Award WebsiteSomething that never fails to get up my nostrils is websites that use Macromedia Flash. Used when appropriate Flash can create nifty looking and often informative websites - I'll concede that - but such niftiness comes invariably with a pretty hefty downside for both user, and for the website.

In a nutshell Flash based sites break all sorts of well established best practices for user navigation in addition to making the website, for all intent and purpose, 'invisible' to search engines (i.e. invisible to one of most important WWW 'launching pads' for surfers around the world). A few years ago on the CLUAS Discussion board I let rip about such sites, pointing out the numerous shortcomings of this technology before I went on to name and shame various Irish music websites guilty of using Flash.

In the last week another prominent Irish music site that uses Flash came to my attention and, in so doing, gave me an opportunity to resurrect my Flashy rant. I'm talking about the official website of the Choice Music Award (www.choicemusicprize.com). The website is, if you ask me, the one weak link in an otherwise well organised, professionally executed and credible music award initiative. It is unfortunate though that when it comes to its official presence on the interweb the Choice Music Prize has fallen short. Big time.

Flash SucksFor me there are five key reasons, all of them detailed below, as to why it has fallen short. I should note that while the reasons below are presented with regard to the specific case of choicemusicprize.com, each of these reasons remains valid for any music website tempted by the - er - seductive, skin-deep charms of Flash:

  1. Non-standard user navigation: Normal WWW navigation practices go out the window with Flash. For example on the Choice Music Website if, after viewing the home 'page' you then click on 'Shortlist' on the horizontal navigation bar you will, as you'd expect, be brought to the Shortlist  'page'. Once you've read that to your satisfaction and you want to, say, go back to the home page you may – out of habit – click on the browser’s ‘back’ button thinking it will bring you back to home ‘page’. Wrong. It will bring you back to the previous website you were on before you hit the Choice Music Prize website. Why is this? Basically because your browser treats a flash-based site as a single web page, no matter how many ‘pages’ it has. It may look like it has several ‘pages’ to a human visitor, but it’s only got one in the eyes of the browser (and also in the eyes of search engines for that matter, which brings me nicely to the next point…)
  2. Website content is invisible to Search Engines: While humans can read any text content of a Flash based website search engines still have major difficulty in doing so. In recent years Search Engines have started to work out how they can index content of such websites but they don't always do so and if they do it is done inefficiently and superficially compared to how they handle HTML based websites. For example the only bit of text that Google can read of the Choice Music website is the first sentence of the 'content' meta tag that appears in its HTML file. That's it. As a consequence the official Choice Music Prize website is not even in the running for many relevant searches for which it would - normally - be the number 1 result. For example try a search on Google for 'previous choice music prize winners'.
  3. Very slow download speed for some 1 in 16 users: The usual practice when trying to access an individual page on the WWW is to tell the browser the address of the page you desire by either clicking on a link or typing in the address. The browser then scuttles off and downloads that single page, it certainly does not download every page of the website you are trying to access. However ChoiceMusicPrize.com insists you download, in the form of a 215KB Flash file, every single 'page' of the site in their entirety before you can see anything. That's kind of okay if you are one of the many who nowadays have some form of broadband connection. However it is a bit of a nightmare for the 7% of users who still use a dial-up modem when visiting an Irish Music website(*). For them they will typically have to wait a full 44 seconds for the website to appear in their browser (according to www.websiteoptimization.com). Does a website owner really want 1in 16 of his or her visitors to wait that long? This would not be an issue if they had used standard HTML, as CLUAS does. By comparison the CLUAS home page appears in a web browser after a super light 15KB HTML file and a 3KB CSS file are downloaded. There are also 38KB of images to download on our home page but, once the HTML is downloaded, all text-based content of the home page is visible to a visitor who can read it while the browser heads off to fetch the images (which, for someone on dialup connection, takes about 15 seconds). The rule of thumb to take from this? Flash websites often take much longer to download, and websites that take a long time to download are really, really annoying.
  4. Plug-in Requirement: Today it is typical that 1 in 50 visitors to an Irish music website (**) do not have the plug-in installed in their web browser necessary to view a Flash based website. Straight off the bat, if you choose Flash for your website, you are excluding 2% of your potential visitors. Granted, many web owners are prepared to put up with such a loss of potential visitors if it means they can have a snazzier, more attractive website that a normal HTML based one, which brings me neatly to the final - and most preplexing - point...
  5. Choice Music Prize's use of Flash brings no advantage over basic HTML: Every single ounce of content on choicemusicprize.com could have be presented in exactly the same way using standard HTML and CSS positioning. I would even go so far as to say that it could look even better using HTML+CSS. There was simply no need to use Flash for this website. Its use here was akin to cutting a piece of paper using a chainsaw - yes, it will probably do the job but a scissors would have been so much easier and more effective. The decision to use Flash, in this case, has not just brought zero design advantage but it brings all this other baggage outlined above.

Okay enough riffing about the problem. Time to talk solution. The period for the most intense activity on the site is going to be in the days/week just after the winner is announced, i.e. after February 27. A goal should be set to have the site converted to HTML by then at the very latest but ideally by mid February (in order to give the search engines the time to index any new version of the website). Doing this should not be too difficult as the site has, as far as I can see, a total of 11 'pages' embedded in the Flash file. Converting these into 11 HTML files (with a bit of basic CSS styling and positioning) should be a reasonable goal in the next four weeks for Red Berry, the design company who created the current site in Flash (who I am assuming have HTML & CSS expertise in-house).

So let's see it then, a revamped Choice Music Website that is primed and ready for a surge in traffic (both human and search engine) from February 28 onwards.

Final point: any bands or business out there who are thinking of launching a website where the content is embedded in a Flash file, think carefully. Very carefully. And those of you who are already lumbered with a Flash-based site? Time to start converting it to good ould reliable HTML.


References:

* Over the entire course of 2007 6.6% of all visitors to CLUAS.com for whom a connection speed could be identified used a dialup modem.
** Over the entire course of 2007 1.8% of all visitors to CLUAS.com had no Macromedia Flash plugin installed in their broswer.

(Both these percentages were then rounded up to nearest interger for purposes of this blog entry).


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13

2008 - Time for change on CLUASIn the last few years it has been as clear as crystal to me that there were - and continue to be - so many things that CLUAS needed to do better (or, for that matter, just simply start doing). Finding time to do them for me has always been a problem.

Thankfully 2007 saw some essential building blocks finally get put in place - the launch of the CLUAS blogs, rolling out the ability for writers to directly publish reviews to the site themselves and optimisation of the site for search engines (one result of which is that Google now features new CLUAS articles usually within - literally - minutes of them being published). The last 12 months also saw CLUAS secure thousands of valuable new links to the site (of which several hundred links were from authoritative international websites).

Important and all as it was to make these advances - and those that I mention were were only part of the site's 2007 story - there remains a ton of stuff that needs to be done. 2008 should see us make many necessary strides.

Building on the solid foundation we now have following the progress made in 2007, CLUAS' goals in the coming year include getting the following (non-exhaustive) list of things sorted (and many of them are already getting off the ground). Read on...

Increase the number of interviews of Irish bands on the site: It's a bit of an understatement but CLUAS needs to greatly increase the number of interviews of Irish bands that we do. Up to now it has been a bit ad hoc: a writer decides of their own initiative to interview an act and goes and does it. The CLUAS writing team needs to get more systematic about this. First step towards this is to get someone to take on the role of coordinating all our interview efforts. I am not talking about someone who actually does all the interviews but someone who ensures that writers are systematically identifying interesting bands to interview and organising the interviews (with the interviews being done in the main via email considering the amount of time a face to face or telephone interview can take to finalise for publishing). Ken Fallon, who recently interviewed God is an Astronaut for CLUAS, has since agreed to take this coordination role, starting in February. Nice one, Ken.

Ensure we review every Irish album of note released in 2008: We need to be sure we are systematically reviewing all Irish album releases of note. This is something we have - alas - not been doing well enough. Some basic steps towards achieving this are already taking shape behind the scenes.

Get more copies of albums to review: We need to get more albums to review than we did last year from labels and PR companies. A number of initiatives on this front have already been taken in the last week.

Review more gigs: In 2007 CLUAS writers Steven O'Rourke & Daragh Murray set things up so that CLUAS writers can get press passes for CLUAS writers to most of the quality gigs happening around the country. Problem has been that CLUAS writers have not taken full advantage of this. Steven has plans to sort this out in the coming year. Encouraging music nuts to go to quality gigs for free shouldn't be too difficult a task, should it?

A new blog focused on the most interesting corners of the Irish music scene: This is something that has been in the pipeline for a while - a new blog about interesting acts on the Irish music scene that all the CLUAS writers can contribute to (with Anna Murray overseeing it). This will finally happen. Watch this space.

Refresh of the website's look and feel: CLUAS could do with a new wash of virtual paint, a freshening up of its look and feel, however one that does not abandon completely the look and feel that has got us to where we are today. This will be a fairly major project and is one I have already started doing some ground work for. For example you may have noticed a change in the last week to the CLUAS home page. In techie terms I migrated the layout from a "table-based" layout (i.e. what should really be called "web layout for the lazy") to a pure "CSS positioning" layout. I plan to elaborate on this in more detail in a seperate blog entry as what I did brings many, many advantages and improvements to the single most important page of the site. Anyways, this shift to CSS positioning is one I want to (nay, need to) spread over the rest of the site before slapping on a new look and feel. (Aside: an additional consequence of this shift to CSS positioning is that the full CLUAS site will, in due course, be browsable by the iPhone and other cutting edge phone-based browsers as they emerge).

Regularly upgrade the technology the site uses: I'll share a dirty little secret. When over a year ago (at the end of 2006) I migrated the site to the new technology we use (DotNetNuke) I had some doubts if it was the right choice (there were many other Content Management Systems I could have chosen, DotNetNuke was not the perfect fit for us but it seemed to be 'good enough' and I had to stop waiting for perfection and just pick a system). One year on I am now convinced it was not only the right choice but - long term - the best choice for the site. DotNetNuke has really matured since we first started using it in Nov 2006. There is an extremely busy and skilled community of volunteers that are constantly improving the core technology and adding useful new functionality. The following are just a few of the improvements you can expect on CLUAS in 2008 thanks to advances in this technology:

  • Improved interface to the CLUAS blogs: a new version of the blog module we use has been released. I have not yet installed it on CLUAS but, as you will see, it makes for a more attractive blog interface (and it also sorts out the issue of carriage returns in any blog comments being ignored).
  • Ability for writers to directly publish features & interviews: new functionality scheduled for Spring 2008 will allow us to have writers publish interviews & features direct to the site without any need for my intervention.
  • Improvements to the discussion board: A new improved version of the discussion board will be out in the coming 2 months, another update is then foreseen 6 months later.

Securing more links to CLUAS: On the WWW one of the most valuable currencies for a website is links. 2007 was - without doubt - our single most successful year ever in securing links, both in terms of number and quality of links attracted. However a fair chunk of our future success depends on not just continuing this but also increasing the number of links we attract. We're on it.

Increase the use of polls on the Discussion board: Towards the end of 2007 we tested the waters with the poll function of the CLUAS Discussion board. Used properly it can be a nifty little addition to the board and in 2008 we should use it more often (but not over do it). The most recent poll we added to the site is for who you think should win the Choice Music Prize from the shortlisted albums (be sure to vote!) Expect more of those in the coming year.

Finally.... preparing for CLUAS.com's 10th birthday in 2009: CLUAS will be 10 years old in 2009. The plan is to mark the occasion in an ambitious fashion. There are a number of possible routes we could take but as the year progresses we should have a clearer picture of what we'll be doing. Once again, watch this space.

Would you like to be part of all this? Then all you need to do is submit an article, even a 200 word review of an album or a gig will do the job! You can then expect to receive free albums to review and access to press passes to gigs around the country of your own choosing.

In a nutshell, we're in great shape but - as you excuse the cliché - the best is yet to come.


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17

Tom WaitsJournalist and blogger Adam Maguire has kicked off a campaign to get Tom Waits classic "Christmas card from a hooker in Minneapolis" to the top of the Irish charts this Christmas. Quite right too.

For a purchase of the song to count for the chart you need to buy it by this coming Thursday (Dec 20) from any of the outlets listed below (all of which are used by IRMA when they compile the charts each week). I've culled these links from the Official Blog Adam has set up for this initiative, I've just split out which services work with what type of platform.

Indulge me a moment as I have a moan. It pains me greatly to see there are no DRM-free (Digital Rights Management) downloads that are recognised by IRMA when they compile their weekly charts. But that I am sure is a temporary state of affairs. By next Christmas I suspect things will have changed on that front as the music industry progresses, as it has begun to do, towards the realisation that using DRM to restrict what music consumers can do with a purchased download is a mug's game.

iPhones & iPods:

  • Apple iTunes* - 99c, works on any iPod or iPhone (please note the link will launch iTunes)

Windows PCs only:

  • Eircom Music Club - €1.20, works on any 'Plays for Sure' device / €1.40, works on mobile phone.
  • Sony Connect* - €1.29, works on any Sony device (please note the link only works in Internet Explorer and you will need to install the SonicStage application to download song).
  • EasyMusic - €1.35, works on any 'Plays for Sure' device (please note you may have to change your location to Ireland before purchasing as the site's default is for the UK).
  • Wippit - €1.39, works on any 'Plays for Sure' device (please note you may have to change your location to Ireland before purchasing as the site's default is for the UK).

Get downloading! And once you've done that you can check out the Facebook page for getting Tom Waits to number 1 in Ireland this Christmas.


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14

MBV LovelessBack in 2003 I stumbled across an internet-based radio station called Accuradio. As can often be the case with internet radio 'stations', to call it radio was a bit of a stretch - there were no DJs and with a click of your mouse you could move onto the next track they had lined up. Anyways, back then over a period of about a week I tuned in regularly to their American indie channel and discovered a whole bunch of acts that up to then I had been oblivious too such as The Shins, Modest Mouse, Blonde Redhead, Death Cab for Cutie, Built to Spill and Daniel Johnston. One other act that caught my ear that week on Accuradio was Japancakes.

Hailing from Athens, Georgia, Japancakes - on paper - sound like they’d be your worst sonic nightmare: at their outset they were performing full 45 minute gigs using only a D chord. As you do, like. Once they got over such flights of pretence they settled into a country laced, post-rock, instrumental ambient groove and between 1999 and 2004 released 5 albums. Central to their sound was their use of cello and pedal steel guitar. Once you’d heard them once you’d recognise their stuff a mile off. Not for everyone but I immediately fell for their charms.

Japancakes Loveless MBVOver the years I managed to get all their albums but there was always precious little up to date info about them to be found on the interweb. Certainly they had no website or MySpace page that I could find. I just assumed they had split up and the only electronic trail they left behind was a few reviews on the likes of Pitchfork, the (very occasional) album that would crop up for sale on eBay. The last thing I expected was a brand new album from them.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to me earlier this week when I heard that Japancakes were still in existence and they had released, back in October, not one but two albums. But the real jaw dropper was to read that one of these albums was a complete cover, from head to glorious toe, of what CLUAS readers voted to be the second greatest Irish album of all time: My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’. We're talking a cover of the entire album. I was floored (and also gutted at my latent inability to keep up with the cool'n'happening, it taking two whole months for it to appear on my radar?)  I quickly made up for lost time and, like a good disciple, within 10 minutes of the news getting to me I was listening to the tracks on their MySpace page and had duly ordered the CD.

As their take on Loveless has yet to arrive in the post I’ve so far been exposed only to a handful of tracks from it that are knocking around the internet. It was never going to eclipse the original but, rest assured, this record is no gimmick, certainly not a case of The-Mike-Flowers-Pops-Orchestra-does-MBV. It's an intriguing, painstakingly arranged record with moments of occasional brilliance. Faithful to the original it also manages to tease new sides out of Kevin Shields' labour of love. One of the most interesting things was to see how well Japancakes version of 'Loomer' (check it out on the Japancakes MySpace page) would fit alongside Kevin Shields' tracks on the Lost in Translation soundtrack.

If you're holding your breath waiting for the recently reunited MBV to announce a few Irish dates in 2008 you could do worse than kill a bit of time checking out a few tracks from this record. You will either love it or loathe it. And my bet is on the former.


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06

Ticket ToutsNot happy with pegging concert ticket prices at ever increasing prices, some of the biggest names in the music industry now want to now get a slice of profits made on tickets resold on the web. They are proposing that a 'Resale Rights Society' (RRS) is established that will slap a levy on the sale price of every ticket resold on sites like eBay.

Apparently Radiohead, Robbie Williams and Arctic Monkeys are among the 400 artists who think this is a good idea. With a straight face the chairman-elect of the RRS Marc Marot (a former chief exec of Island Records) tried to claim that the move was not to pad out the already fleshy wallets of millionaire rock stars but instead to help new artists who have a greater dependency on gigs for their income. Yeah, right. If that's the case then why not come out and say that no money pulled in by the RRS will be given to a wealthy established artist? In any case any new artist who finds tickets to their gigs being resold online for more than face value will be well chuffed and can start considering themselves as having made it, secure too in the knowledge that financial worries are to be a thing of the past.

But the most outrageous justification given by Marot was that "it is unacceptable that not a penny of the £200m in transactions generated by the resale of concert tickets in the UK is returned to investors in the live music industry." Following the same logic a property developer (i.e. an investor in the property industry) could claim it is entitled to a cut of any profit made when a house they build and sell is subsequently sold on. Brass as monkeys property developers may be, but they know that they'd never get away with such a scam. However, this loose affiliation of millionaire rock stars who 'invest in the live music industry' think they can do just that. Who do these guys think they are?

As far as I know absolutely nobody out there in the free market is offering something with a price tag that says 'it costs this amount, but if (because I don'r offer a possilbity of a reimbursement ) you then go and sell it to someone else, you must give me a slice of your sale price' (Update: Aidan puts me straight on this point below in the comment section where he points out that a % of a painting sale or a soccer player transfer is passed back to the artist / original soccer club). That sort of mentality is more at home with pyramid schemes than the free market.

Yes, it is true that there are some problems with the reselling of tickets on the interweb but trying to just grab a slice of an illicit cake is simply not a credible way of addressing the issue. If they were really serious about this, these artists & their management teams would get together to put in place preventative measures to stop, or at least reduce the numbers of, tickets being resold online (such as a mechanism for reimbursing a fan who has bought a ticket and unexpectedly finds s/he cannot go to the gig, this being something that could be provided for a modest charge offered on an opt-in basis at the time of the booking, just like it is with many airlines).

In the meantime anybody thinking of buying a ticket online via the likes of eBay just needs to do as they would for any other purchase: research what is being sold, who is selling it and for what price. If they are comfortable on all levels then go ahead and make the purchase. The same Caveat Emptor approach is valid be it for the purchase of a tube of toothpaste, a semi-d in Leopardstown or a ticket to see Led Zep in London.


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20

Polling BoxLast night the voting booths for the 2007 CLUAS end of year readers' poll were opened. Keeping things simple we are this year only having one category: best album of the year.

Unlike previous years readers will not be able to vote for absolutely anything they want, instead there is a shortlist of 40 of the best albums released in 2007 from which readers can pick their favourites of the year. The shortlist of 40 was picked by the CLUAS writers (or to be more precise, 38 were chosen by the writers, and 2 slots were decided on by members of the CLUAS discussion board were, more info below). We're doing it this way as, quite simply, in previous years the counting of votes took an absolute eternity. Streamlining it with a fixed shortlist will make it a relative breeze.

In the interest of transparency and all that here's a bit of background about how the final shortlist was arrived at:

  • All the CLUAS writers were invited to submit their top 10 albums of 2007.
  • A list of favourite albums was then received, before the internally set deadline, from a total of 19 writers.
  • Ten of these writers cast votes for a full top ten.
  • A total of 159 'votes' (or album preferences) were received (i.e. on average 8 fave albums were voted for by a writer)
  • Among these votes a total of different 100 albums were declared as a favourite.
From these votes a shortlist of 38 albums was drawn up as follows:
  • The 30 albums that got voted by more than 1 writer (2 of these albums were Irish releases)
  • The 5 Irish releases that got 1 vote (i.e. making a total of 7 Irish albums in the shortlist, a healthy number in my opinion)
  • The 3 albums that were only voted by one writer but that writer gave it their no. 1 vote

That left two slots to be filled. To fill them I took all the albums that were voted for by only one writer, but which was voted as either that writer's no. 2 or no. 3 album of the year. This gave a total of 14 albums (subsequently reduced to 12 when it emerged that two of were actually released in 2006). We then ran a poll on the discussion board for users of the board to decide what 2 of those albums would make the final shortlist. In the end it was Iron and Wine and Explosions in the Sky who got the most votes for their 2007 release.

Why 40 and not 50 shortlisted albums? A shortlist of 40 was chosen as a sweet spot between providing coverage of a good number of the year's best releases and keeping to trying to keep to some sort of minimum the quantity of stuff to fit on the voting page. To be honest this is all a bit of an experiment in the sense I have never put a voting form with so many fields that voters can choose between. Will it intimidate readers and they then decide to stay off in droves? It's a possibility, we'll just have to wait until the results are counted.

At the last minute I also slipped in an extra category: "Best song of 2007". If anything meaningful in terms of a result emerges from votes cast in this extra category, great. But to be honest, based on past experience, I expect votes to span a huge range of songs and no real consensus to emerge. May I be proven wrong!

Here is the final shortlist of 40 albums, from which readers can now indicate their favourites (a minimum of 3 albums need to be selected by a voter for the vote to be valid, they can also indicate in their vote a maximum of 10 albums).
  •  A Lazarus Soul - Graveyard of Burnt Out Cars
  •  Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
  •  Arcade Fire - Neon Bible 
  •  Battles - Mirrored
  •  Blonde Redhead - 23
  •  Bruce Springsteen - Magic   
  •  Cathy Davey  - Tales of Silversleeve
  •  Damien Dempsey - To Hell Or Barbados 
  •  Editors - An End Has A Start
  •  Elvis Perkins – Ash Wednesday 
  •  Explosions In The Sky "All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone"
  •  Feist ''The Reminder'' 
  •  Future Kings of Spain - NervousSystem 
  •  God Is An Astronaut ''Far From Refuge'' 
  •  Handsome Furs - Plague Park 
  •  Headgear - Flight Cases
  •  Interpol, Our love to admire
  •  Iron and Wine "The Shepherd''s Dog" 
  •  Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
  •  Laura Viers 'Saltbreakers'
  •  LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
  •  Low - Drums and Guns
  •  Manic Street Preachers - Send Away The Tigers
  •  Mark Ronson - Version
  •  MIA - Kala
  •  Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Sank 
  •  Mumblin'' Deaf Ro ''The Herring And The Brine'' 
  •  Nina Hynes - Really Really Do 
  •  Of Montreal ''Hissing Fauna, Are You Listening?'' 
  •  Panda Bear - Person Pitch 
  •  PJ Harvey White Chalk 
  •  Radiohead - In Rainbows
  •  Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Raining Sands 
  •  Robert Wyatt - Comicopera 
  •  Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover 
  •  The Field - From Here We Go Sublime 
  •  The Kings Of Leon - Because Of The Times 
  •  The National - Boxer 
  •  The Shins - Wincing The Night Away
  •  Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

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19

CLUAS ranking as no. 1 website for Irish Jazz Music on the Yahoo search engineIt would come as a surprise to regular visitors but CLUAS is - for the moment - Ireland's no. 1 website for Jazz music. Official.

Well, official at least in the eyes of Yahoo, or Microsoft's 'Live' search engine because, at the time of writing, those two search engines are ranking CLUAS as the number one result for searches for 'Irish Jazz Music' (see Yahoo's results here, Live.com's here). What's more Google was also ranking CLUAS as the number one result up until last week when they (getting a dose of common sense or something) decided to rank another website for these vital key words (Update: After dropping CLUAS from the no.1 spot, in fact dropping us from their entire list of top 100 'Irish Jazz Music' websites, Google has decided that CLUAS is, once again, a top website for Irish Jazz Music).

How did this happen? It is the result of an experiment I undertook at the beginning of October to see if I could get CLUAS to rank highly for a genre of music we usually do not focus on. Jazz music was a good candidate I thought. While it is certainly not something the site focuses on, there have been a tiny number of articles published in our 8 years history that can be classified as being about jazz (or something vaguely jazzy), so there was something to work with.

So what did I do? It was just a few simple steps. I first created a brand new page on CLUAS for Jazz music, let's call is the CLUAS 'Jazz Music home page' (this is the page now appear as the number one result for Yahoo and Live). I then set about making this the strongest page about jazz on CLUAS by doing the following:

  • I put a link to each of the jazz articles on CLUAS on this 'jazz home page' (there are a total of about a 10 articles for jazz, definitely not comprehensive coverage).
  • I then added on each of these articles a link back to the CLUAS 'jazz home page'.
  • I did a site wide search for all occurrences of the word ‘jazz’ on CLUAS and then linked each of them back to the 'jazz home page’. I also added a link as well to the CLUAS sitemap page (a page the search engines visit regularly, this meant I could be confident the search engines would find the jazz home page).

I then sat back and waited for the search engines to do their stuff. Within a week I started to see results. Google was the first to rank CLUAS as no. 1 for Irish Jazz Music (and also the first to drop it! Update Nov 19 - it's back as the no.2 site now). The Yahoo and Live search engines soon followed.

But once I saw the result I set about creating other thematic 'home pages' using exactly the same method, with a view to getting them to also rank well for relevant key words (and so drive more traffic and new users to CLUAS).

The first 'thematic target' I set was Dublin gig venues. A lot of people search for info on gigs by searching for the venue name. Maybe CLUAS could grab some of that search engine traffic by creating some relevant pages that could rank highly for different Dublin venues? With this in mind a month or so ago I set about creating a home page for each of the main Dublin venues where, over the years, the CLUAS writers have reviewed gigs. There is now a page on CLUAS for Tripod, Whelan's, The Village, Vicar Street, The Point Theatre, Olympia, Ambassador and the former Temple Bar Music Centre). Each page has links to the gigs we have reviewed over the years in that venue.

The result? Across all three of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo and Live) CLUAS is now one of the top 10 sites for various key word searches relating to these Dublin venues. The only downside is that we are not appearing in the top 5 results (where most people click on a result), when we appear it is more typically between the 6th and 10th spots.

Nonetheless this is bringing a healthy and steady level of brand new first time visitors to the CLUAS site. For example the traffic analytics service that CLUAS uses show that over the first two weeks of November 2007 a total of 44 visitors (i.e. an average of 3 a day or appox 100 a month) reached the site after they searched for something relating to Vicar Street. Not a huge number at first glance but is encouraging is that 97% of these visitors had never visited CLUAS before and once they get to the site they, on average, ended up choosing to view 2.8 pages on their initial visit. I am seeing similar levels of new visitors (and pages that they then go on to view) for people searching for info on the Point Depot, Whelan's, the Ambassador and Olympia.

In a nutshell these new venue pages are bring a minimum of 300 brand new first time visitors to CLUAS every month and these visitors don't just bolt for the door when they hit the site, they hang around and browse an average of about 3 pages each.

Expect some more themed 'home pages' on CLUAS that aim to rank highly in the search engines and, in so doing, rope in more first time visitors to the site. If even only 10% of them then go on to be regular visitors, it will result in a long term growth in our visitor base. 


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15

Anybody who tried to access the CLUAS home page, blogs or discussion board this morning (from about 6am GMT to 1pm GMT) would have seen a big fat 'sorry you can't access this website, mate' error.

These sort of errors happen once in a while around these part so it's - normally - no big deal, just a bit of an inconvenience. However this time around it was the first time that the ability to access parts of the site was deliberately blocked by our hosting company because there was too much traffic to the site (to be perfectly precise, access was not blocked to CLUAS but our website was disconnected from the database that contains the content of our blogs and discussion board; the other parts of the site not depending on the database were still accessible).

Being blocked for attracting too much traffic is good news (hey, hey we're attracting more users!) and bad news ("damn, we're going to have to toughen up the hosting infrastructure to deal with the increased levels of traffic").

While sorting out the problem in conjunction with CLUAS.com's hosting company I was curious to see that the increase in traffic was less becuase an increase in humans accessing the site and more because of a (big) increase in visits of the search engines 'bots' accessing CLUAS to retrieve our content for their own purposes (i.e. knowing what's on CLUAS so that they can present relevant results for their users when they search for various key words).

So what did I have to do to persuade our hosters that we would no longer completely hog access to the server which hosts our database (and databases of other websites) and so they would be confident enough to allow CLUAS to reconnect with its database? Basically I reduced the traffic the site will get from search engine bots by:

  • Reducing the frequency with which the Google 'bot' visits CLUAS from the default of 'Normal' to 'Slower' (it's possible to set this via CLUAS.com's account on Google's rather good Webmaster Tools)
  • Adding extra lines into CLUAS.com's robots.txt file that instruct the Yahoo bot (called 'Slurp') to stop crawling any files in the parts of the site that are database-driven.
  • To be sure I also barred another major Yahoo bot ("Yahooseeker") from crawling the entire website.

Following these steps the site was reconnected by the hosting company and, bingo, CLUAS was working again around lunchtime today.

The steps I had to take have their obvious downsides - some CLUAS pages will be indexed either less frequently or not at all by major search engines, which in time is going to compromise the amount of traffic we get from search engines (which has always been very good). But it is a short term solution until I move the CLUAS site to a more robust hosting environment.

But one encouraging lesson I have learned from this is that the migration of CLUAS from its previous dated environment almost exactly one year ago is (finally!) paying dividends - at least if when I note that the search engines have decided what we have merits them to go and increase significantly the rate and frequency at which they trawl our site. I always knew it would be a long road but that, in long run, CLUAS would be much better equipped for the future. We are certainly not there yet. There is a ton more to do. But the tools to do what we need are at our disposal.

Anyways. To mark the 1 year anniversary of the beginning of the massive (and ongoing) operation to bring CLUAS (kicking and screaming) into the 21st century I am going to, this week, start a series of blog entries that outline what CLUAS has done in the last year, with what technologies, why, and where this all may lead the site in the future (and, er, you can wake up from your slumber now).

Fret not, though I will also be getting back into posting, in parallel, some more blog entries about music and technology and what is going on out there. Watch this space, etc.


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24

Bob Dylan has (cue mass rumbling of moral indignation) gone and done an ad for Cadillac to help them sell one of their top-of-the-range SUVs.

It's easy to get outraged by this sort of carry on, especially when you consider the anti-establishment line that defined his first decade as a performer. But, it's really no big deal.

Dylan nailed his colours to the corporate mast many a year ago (hell, there's probably some pompous heads out there who would try and tell you he did so back in 1961 when he signed to Columbia Records). There's been plenty of huffing and puffing at the various points when Dylan made it clear that cutting deals with various corporations was fine for him. There was that corporate gig Dylan did for Applied Materials employees back in 2002. Then in 2005 he got into bed with Starbucks for an exclusive deal to distribute 'Bob Dylan: Live at the Gaslight 1962'. And then last year he lent his hand (and silhouette) to Apple's iTunes division for some exclusive terms with the release of his last album 'Modern Times' (that included a pre-sale ticket tie-in with the devil incarnate TicketMaster).

But while he looks after the business side of things, Dylan also keeps his eye on the artistic side: there have been many a gem on his studio releases of the last decade, and recent years have seen him get his fingers dirty in some notable ventures (such as the "No Direction Home" documentary & the great read that was his book "Chronicles Volume I"). Nonetheless it's important to draw the line at his live performances of the last decade. The ones I saw were, to say the least, a bit touch and go.

Yeah, he doesn't need the money and flogging SUVs is well dodgy. But - and now I turn into a complacent crank - so what? Last time I checked life was a bit too short and, sure, we'd all be better off if we kept our outrage bottled for more worthy stuff than a gruff genius who is creaming a bit off a few corporations.


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Nuggets from our archive

2004 - The CLUAS Reviews of Erin McKeown's album 'Grand'. There was the positive review of the album (by Cormac Looney) and the entertainingly negative review (by Jules Jackson). These two reviews being the finest manifestations of what became affectionately known, around these parts at least, as the 'McKeown wars'.