The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

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09

Björk - Volta, worst album of the last 5 years?A few days I pulled together the list of the highest rated albums of those reviewed on CLUAS in the last 5 years. Now it's the turn of those albums that in the same period got the lowest ratings from CLUAS reviewers. The albums listed below are those that, since 2005, have been awarded less than 4 out of 10 by a CLUAS writer. Among them you will find albums by Placebo, Van Morrison, Smashing Pumpkins, Mercury Rev and James Blunt. 

So what album was considered to be the worst of those reviewed on CLUAS? Well the honour falls into the lap of Björk whose 2007album Volta was awarded a grand total of zero out of 10 by CLUAS writer Rev Jules. It was a divisive assessment if the comments below the review are anything to go by.

Here comes the full list...

Topping the list with a rating of zero out of 10...

1 out of 10

2 out of 10

2.5 out of 10

3 out of 10

3.5 out of 10

...and scraping in with a score just below 4 out of 10...


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05

The CLUAS Archives There are over 500 album reviews in the CLUAS archives. While they've always been accessible via our archive pages, the way the reviews have been presented (one big long unordered list of reviews for each year) is not very user friendly. Which is a pity as there are some terrific reviews in there, as well as reviews of great albums that may have slipped under one's radar. Thankfully the chances of missing out on some such gems over the years has now decreased dramatically. Read on for the fabulous details...

The CLUAS album archive pages have now been reorganised to ensure that our album reviews are listed, for each year, in order of the rating that the reviewer gave the album out of 10. Is that a collective 'Wow' I hear?

Anyways. What's interesting to see is the albums that came out on the top of the pile each year. Most of the top ranking albums are solid but some are, ehhm, let's just say "curious". Below are listed the very top ranking albums (i.e. albums that scored 8.5 or more out of 10) as reviewed by CLUAS writers from 2005 to 2009. Are these the best albums of that period? Certainly not, although many are gems that will stand the test of time. One thing for sure is that the list of albums and their accompanying reviews make for interesting reading.

So what was the top rated album released between 2005 and 2009, according to the CLUAS writers? The answer is, of course, obvious. It has to be the, ehh, all time classic 'Holiday Mix 2005' released by DFA Records.... Read on for even more mind-bending insights revealed in the list (including releases by 10 Irish acts).

10 out of 10

9.5 out of 10

9 out of 10

Between 8.5 and 9 out of 10

8.5 out of 10


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15

Glastonbury Pyramid StageThe lineup for Glastonbury 2010 was announced yesterday and it's a whopper (as you'd expect for  the 40th anniversary of the festival). Over the 3 days of the festival there are 285 different musical acts scheduled to perform (and that's not even counting the acts earmarked for the "Poetry and Words" stage).

Playing are Muse, U2, Vampire Weekend, Flaming Lips, Florence and the Machine, La Roux, Pet Shop Boys, Orbital, MGMT, Midlake, The xx, The National, Editors, Grizzly Bear and Broken Social Scene. And the list goes on...

[Aside: Having managed last Sunday morning to secure one of the last tickets to Glasto 2010, I do be terribly exicited]. 

However what's disappointing is the Irish delegation at the festival. Yes, U2 are headlining on the Pyramid stage on the Friday night (and could well deliver a highlight of the festival, it being their first time in over 20 years to deliver a full set without any visual gimmickery in front an outdoor crowd) but otherwise you have to dig very deep to find Irish acts.

As far as I can see there are, in addition to U2, only 8 other Irish acts in the entire lineup (or 9 if your definition of Irish stretches to including Rodrigo y Gabriela). And half of those (The Saw Doctors, Christy Moore, Brian Kennedy and Ash) could not credibly be held up as representative examples of where the Irish music scene is today. 

So what's the reason behind this? Well I have no clue. Is it that the more recent waves of Irish acts are not selling themselves hard enough to the Glasto promoters? Or are they doing so, but the promoters are not interested? Or does the best of Irish scene not cut the mustard for such a prestigious festival? Or some mix of the above? Any insights out there?

Here are the Irish acts confirmed so far for Glasto 2010:

  • U2
  • Two Door Cinema Club
  • Brian Kennedy
  • Julie Feeney
  • Ash
  • Christy Moore
  • Imelda May (who is actually playing two gigs at Glasto 2010)
  • The Saw Doctors
  • Fionn Regan

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24

CLUAS on the move from Arizona to NebraskaTwo weeks ago I undertook one of the biggest tasks in the last 4 years of CLUAS: I moved the entire website to a new hosting company.  It's a move that sees us abandon the arid desert of Arizona for the flat plains of Nebraska... 

For the last four years we were hosted by the Arizona-based company Crystaltech and they served us well. However in the last 6 or so months I have seen that CLUAS needs a hosting company that really understands the Content Management System we use ("DotNetNuke", also known as DNN). DNN is a very sophisticated piece of kit and is simply becoming more and more critical to CLUAS and its operation. 
 
There is one hosting company - PowerDNN - who are fully focused on hosting just DNN websites. Their tech support team know DotNetNuke inside-out, which is exactly when I need to ensure our website is maintained in the right environment and, when problems crop up, that I can contact a support person who knows DNN. PowerDNN - based in Nebraska - fit the bill and are now, I am pleased to say, the new home of CLUAS.com.
 
They are a bit more expensive than our previous company (and we even get less diskspace and database space than we had with Crystaltech, something that has been debated elsewhere) but I think the benefits will outweigh these factors that are less critical in our case.
 
I got to see the expertise of PowerDNN almost immediately during this move: there were a few problems that reared their head in the migration but all was soon solved thanks to the excellent help of Joe, a senior engineer at PowerDNN, who dropped all tools for a period to ensure some rough spots were ironed out and that CLUAS was soon up and running with PowerDNN.
 
Moving the site to these DNN experts in Nebraska brought some immediate benefits. For example, an utterly head-wrecking problem that I have been trying to fix for 6 or so months is now fixed. The problem was that since August 2009 CLUAS users who, during login, clicked the 'remember me' option (which should keep them logged in to CLUAS on that computer for 7 days) would instead find themselves being logged out after a really short period of time, sometimes even minutes. This was a major frustration for writers publishing new articles, or users posting entries to the discussion board, as sometimes they'd be logged out before they 'd finished writing their content and their work would be lost. Thankfully this problem is now a thing of the past.
 
Another benefit I am seeing is a pretty big reduction (it could be as high as 50%) in the load time of pages on CLUAS. I'll wait another week to see if these fast speeds continue to hold up. If so one of Ireland's fastest music websites will have just gotten even faster. Look out for a blog entry from me about it next week with nifty nice graphs and stuff.
 
So, in the meantime can you step aside for Bruce Springsteen and his homage to Nebraska, CLUAS.com's new home...
 

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14

Vote countingTypically at this time of year CLUAS is full democratic flight with polling booths wide open for readers to submit their votes to find the top albums of 2009. However, this year we've decided to not do a readers poll. And why not? It's simply because of the utterly mad amount of time it takes to tot up the thousands of votes we get.

Fret not, as there will still be a CLUAS poll this year. The last few weeks the CLUAS writers have been busy voting for their top 10 albums of 2009 and tomorrow (16 December) the results will be published. As always the CLUAS writers have stepped up to the plate and their votes collectively deliver an intriguing, diverse, credible and occasionally surprising top 40. I was pleased as well to see that, despite the intense competition from non-Irish releases, a total of five Irish albums released in 2009 made it into the top 40. Which ones? You'll see tomorrow.

In advance of the poll here's a quick overview of the numbers behind this year's writers poll:

  • 23 writers submitted a list of their fave albums of the year.
  • 202 votes were cast (an average of just under 9 albums voted for by each writer)
  • 131 different albums albums got a vote, of which...
  • ...89 albums were voted for by only one writer leaving us with...
  • ...42 albums that were voted for by 2 or more writers.
  • Breakdown of number of writers who voted for an album that made the top 40:
    • Number of albums voted for by 5 or more writers --> 3
    • Number of albums voted for by 4 writers --> 3
    • Number of albums voted for by 3 writers --> 10
    • Number of albums voted for by 2 writers --> 24

One thing I can already say is that the album that topped the poll did so by a healthy distance. It was voted for by over a third of all the writers who voted (8 out of the 23). That there would be broad agreement among the writers on the top album of 2009 is quite a surprise considering the massive number of different releases (131) that secured a vote in the poll.

Hang in there until tomorrow to see which album topped the poll. The only hint I'll offer is that it is NOT one of the following two 2009 releases (both of which just missed a place in the, er, coveted top 40, they being placed 41st and 42nd placed in the poll):

  • Mark Eitzel 'Klamath'
  • Arctic Monkeys 'Humbug'

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20

Skinny and Bloated websites in IrelandA pet peeve of mine is bloated websites: site with pages that are so stuffed with images and widgets that they take too long to download, even on broadband. Over our 10 years of operations CLUAS .com has continually tried to keep things lean and mean when it comes to page size (indeed CLUAS, as far as I am aware, remains Ireland's lightest – and hence fastest – music website).

Back in 2008 I had a good old rant about bloated Irish websites (specifically about Music and Technology blogs). Another indulgent rant is long overdue, this time I've fixed my attention on the winners at the recent 2009 Irish Web Awards. Are the best Irish websites of 2009 a lean and mean bunch, or are they a morbidly obese bunch? Read on...

The table below presents the results of an analysis of all 21 sites that won an award at the Irish web awards in terms their page size as reflected in:

  • the total size of their home page, and
  • the total number of files that need to be downloaded (also know as number of "HTTP requests") to create the page.

The 3 colour-coded categories in the table correspond as follows:

  • "The Skinny": ("Optimal balance of page size and http requests")
  • The Bloated: ("Just too much going on in terms of page size and http requests")
  • "The Bonkers": ("Inexcusably massive number of HTTP requests coupled with an utterly obese page size")

The Irish Web Award 2009 winners, categorised by payload

Site Winner of Irish web award for… Number of HTTP requests Total size of page (KB)
The Persuaders Best Podcaster 9 123 KB
Kildare Street Best New Web App/Service 11 148 KB
RTE Sport Best Sports Site 34 167 KB
CLUAS.com (did not win, just shortlisted) 30 168 KB
Silicon Republic Best Technology Site 44 217 KB
Count Me Out Best Social Media Campaign 32 240 KB
Curious Wines Best eCommerce site 45 266 KB
Talk Irish Best Education site 40 271 KB
RTE Most Useful Website 61 295 KB
Entertainment.ie Best Entertainment Website 91 350 KB
Look and taste Best Videocaster 35 432 KB
Boards.ie Best Discussion forum 23 468 KB
Cars Ireland Best Practice 100 540 KB
Decisions for Heroes Most Innovative Website 68 708 KB
Nos Mag An Suíomh Gaeilge is Fear 64 729 KB
Rose Project Most Accessible Website 44 792 KB
Phantom FM Best Radio Website 145 560 KB
IDA Ireland Best Govt. & Council site 175 655 KB
Irish Times Best Online Publication 151 832 KB
Organic supermarket Most Beautiful Website 71 1376 KB
Nialler9 Best Music Site 100 1387 KB
Dance Ireland Best Arts Website 62 2053 KB

Note: The data above is based on visits to these sites on 14 Oct 2009, page size of any site may have changed since then.

 

Seeing a whole load of data listed in a table is one thing. Presenting it in a chart is another, and can often make it easier to understand what is going on across a diverse set of data. So I plotted the results of each individual website on a chart in an effort to extract some more immediate and meaningful results from this analysis. The chart (see it below, where each dot represents one of the websites) has the number of HTTP request along the X-axis, the total size of the home page on the Y-axis. The general trend of the plotted data (that'll be the blue line rising gently upwards, my Leaving Cert Physics teacher would be proud of me) confirms what you'd expect, i.e. that the greater the number of HTTP requests a web page makes, the larger the size of that web page. However it's also easy to pick out from the chart which sites are skinny (hello to the sites that managed to squeeze into the box way down there in the most bottom left part of the graph) and which are bloated. And then there are those outlying sites which are just just barking when it comes to page size and number of HTTP requests...

Graph of Irish websites, page size versu HTTP requests

Pity your poor browser - and internet connection – if you hit one of these 'bonkers' sites. For these 6 sites we're talking an average payload of 1.17 megabytes of data to be downloaded via an average of 104 HTTP requests!? Take the worst offender in terms of page size – danceireland.ie. Their home page is made up of 2MB of data (I repeat: 2 megabytes) to be downloaded. If you're on an iPhone and visit their home page, this single page will consume 7% of the daily bandwidth your phone company has allocated you (based on the monthly limit of 1GB of data afforded by O2 to iPhone customers in Ireland). One single solitary web page consuming 7% of your daily download allowance? Truly. Madly. Deeply. Bonkers.

The 8 'bloated' award winners? They are only somewhat better than their bonkers brethren. Between them they impose an average payload on visitors of 455 KB of files to be downloaded via an average of 70 HTTP requests.

But it's hats off to the 6 'skinny' sites (that'll be 5 of the 2009 Irish Web Award winners plus gatecrasher CLUAS.com) who all manage to keep their page size to less than 300kb while keeping the number of HTTP requests to less than 50. Between them they average a modest 265 KB of files to be downloaded per page via an average of 31 HTTP requests. Needless to say, thanks to our ongoing dietary efforts, CLUAS is among these 8 skinny sites, and our page size of 168KB means we clock in as the 4th lightest of the 22 sites.

Two concluding pleas:

  • Plea 1: Could all webmasters run their websites through one of the many free online tools that check the overall size of a page (I recommend the one offered by the WebsiteOptimization.com guys). If comes out at over 500KB get pruning. Remove some heavy images or chunky widgets on your page to get it down to a reasonable size.

  • Plea 2: Both the size of a webpage - and the number of HTTP requests the page makes - should be standard judging criteria in any web awards. Placing a carrot like that in front of any website owner who aspires to being recognised by his/her peers with an award for their site is one way to help focus minds on this often overlooked but important aspect of user experience, whether the user be connected via broadband or dialup. (...Of course it never crossed my mind that if super light CLUAS.com were ever to be up for consideration of an award with such an additional judging criteria, that our chances might get a bit of a lift...).

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28

Irish Web Awards 2009Last week it was announced that 26 sites were in consideration for the category of "Best Music Site" at the Irish Web Awards 2009, and CLUAS was one of them.

The 26 sites has now been whittled down to 11 and I was pleased to see CLUAS.com is one of them. The full list of sites now in consideration is:

As you  can see we are in fine company. The winner will be announced on 10 October at a ceremony in the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel in Dublin. Best of luck to all those who made the final 11.


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16

Yesterday CLUAS was one of the sites shortlisted for the 'Best Music Website' category of the 2009 Irish Web Awards, the winner will be announced on 10 October at a ceremony in the Radission SAS Royal hotel in Dublin. A total of 26 different sites were nominated in the category, the other sites that made the grade along as well as CLUAS are listed below. Best of luck to all concerned!

  1. http://drop-d.ie
  2. http://state.ie
  3. http://roisindubh.info
  4. http://nialler9.com
  5. http://kilkennymusic.com
  6. http://Muzu.tv
  7. http://thumped.com
  8. http://downloadmusic.ie
  9. http://musicreviewunsigned.com
  10. http://panicdots.com
  11. http://irishtimes.com/blogs/ontherecord
  12. http://guesslist.com
  13. http://dmi.com
  14. http://johnconneely.com
  15. http://metalireland.com
  16. http://goldenplec.com
  17. http://fredtheband.com
  18. http://umusic.ie
  19. http://archive.comhaltas.ie
  20. http://comhaltas.ie
  21. http://aliasempire.com
  22. http://heinekenmusic.ie
  23. http://haidooo.wordpress.com
  24. http://music.eircom.net
  25. http://sharoncorr.com

 


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14

While for many surfers the WWW often resembles a modern Wild West where just about anything goes there are - believe it or not - some formal standards in place. The particular standards I'm talking about are for HTML code: how HTML should be used when creating a webpage (and how a browser should interpret HTML and present it on a page). The setting of the standards is overseen by the all important World Wide Web consortium (also know as W3C, which is headed up by Tim Berners Lee, no less than your man who invented the World Wide Web).

W3C logoNow to be honest, up to about a year ago, CLUAS did not care about these standards and there was not a single page among our thousands that was even close to being compliant. This did not stop me having a begrudging respect for websites that spouted on about their "W3C compliancy". I was after all only too keenly aware that CLUAS would need to overcome a proverbial mountain to enter the hallowed corridors of compliant websites.

All the same, last year I looked into it and I started - slowly - to update our HTML code, with a little change here and minor tweak there, all with a view to making as many as possible of CLUAS.com's thousands of pages compliant. To be honest it was initially just one of those pointless personal challenges you set yourself once in a while, the motivation of which few people would ever understand (and if they ever did understand the motivation they'd doubt your sanity).

The exercise is ongoing however already the result is that already a massive number of pages on CLUAS.com are at last complaint to W3C's "HTML 4.01 Transitional" standard. Basically the vast majority of pages whose address does not end in .aspx are now complaint (for example 73% of last month’s top 100 most visited "non aspx" pages are now compliant).

So what about these non-compliant .aspx web pages? Well these pages are generated using the DotNetNuke content management system we use and just a handful of them are already compliant (to the different "XHTML 1.0 Transitional" standard). However the level of their compliancy will improve in coming months as the next release of DotNetNuke Blog Module (which is used to publish our album and gig reviews, blogs, and interviews) should be fully compliant, meaning in one swoop huge numbers of CLUAS pages will step in the world of compliancy.

So why bother about compliancy? Put simply there are a number of advantages, such as:

  • File size and loading times are reduced.
  • Sites are easier to update in terms of content or styling because of the smart structure (i.e. separation of content from styling) that is implicit in W3C compliant websites.
  • Greater assurance of future proofing your website - if a site obeys established rules, they should continue to work in browsers and devices of the future.
  • And having a compliant website means the webmaster feels all smug and elitist compared to pitiful other sites that have not clue about the wonders of compliant HTML code.

The gas thing is that while all this effort may result one day in CLUAS.com being a website fully compliant with W3C standards, the next generation of HTML standards for web pages are already in the pipeline. So we may have to start this compliancy effort all over again…


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13

It's common knowledge that securing links from other websites plays a key role in getting your website's pages into major search engines. CLUAS has been steadily attracting links over its 10 year lifetime resulting in a steady stream of people visiting CLUAS via these links and also - more importantly - ensuring we have an excellent ranking in the search engines. For example we have, for years, been the number 1 result for people searching 'Irish indie music' (and bizarrely also for 'Irish Jazz music'). But such searches are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. CLUAS receives a very considerable amount of its traffic from search engines thanks to - literally - thousands of different 'long tail' searches done by users each month.

So why does CLUAS rank above other Irish music websites when it comes to so many search phrases? There is a complicated answer. And a simple answer. The simple answer is: "links, and loads of them". Thanks to something I stumbled upon last week I can now visually demonstrate the "linking success" of CLUAS compared to other similar Irish music sites. I came across a tool made available by "Majestic SEO" (a company offering "Search Engine Optimisation" services) who started to trawl the WWW back in June 2007 and recorded all the links they found. To use their own words they have...:

"...crawled over 96 billion webpages and analyzed almost 697 billion unique URLs and their anchor text to calculate who link to who and with what anchor text."

They allow registered users of their site to compare websites in terms of the number of links they have attracted. The graph below (click on it to see it in higher resolution) shows the number of different domains that the Majestic SEO crew found over the last two years linking to CLUAS and compares it with the links they found for 3 other Irish music sites (Hotpress.com, State.ie and Nialler9.com).

CLUAS - number of links it has attracted from other domains
Click to see graph in higher resolution

It is clear from the graph that CLUAS has attracted links from more domains (i.e. websites) than any of the other sites. This massive repository of sites linking to us is, if you ask, me a key signal used by the search engines when they decide to rank CLUAS above other websites. Building such a eco-system of links sure takes time, but we can vouch for the fact that once it is done the impact is considerable (and occasionally surprising...).


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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'.