Introducing the Podlove Subscribe Button

The Podlove Subscribe Button — One button to subscribe them all

Podcasts are becoming more and more popular for many reasons – the subscription model being one of the more important ones. Automatic downloads make podcast content easy to access and flexible to use and create an important bond between creators and the audience.

However, to actually subscribe to a podcast has proven to be a confusing and error prone task. No more: because today, we are going to change all this with the introduction of the Podlove Subscribe Button.

The idea is simple: present one simple button that makes selecting a podcast feed and passing it along to your favourite podcast app (either on your computer, mobile phone or in the cloud) a no-brainer. To subscribe, your audience just clicks the Podlove Subscribe Button, selects an app and there is (usually) no step three.

One button to subscribe them all

Okay, so we say it’s simple. Let us walk you through this to prove our point.

On the podcast website, you see the Podlove Subscribe Button somewhere. We use the established term “subscribe” and the well-known generic Podcast logo (once popularised by Apple) to make clear this button is all about subscribing to a podcast and not to be confused with blog subscription which is a totally different thing for the user (although being technically similar).
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That’s how the button looks up-close. Please note, the button comes in various sizes to be able to fit various contexts in web sites. We like the big smashy version that combines with podcast cover best:

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Once you activate the button by clicking it, it displays a summary of what you are about to do. We do this to ensure you know what you are going to subscribe to. This is how this looks on an iPhone 5:

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When you select “choose app” the button automatically detects the OS you are using and presents a list of well-known apps for that particular platform.

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In this example, we choose to open the podcast in the Castro app for iOS which brings up the app’s subscription dialog window. Here you can review your decision once more and proceed to actually subscribe to the podcast (or cancel the process). Please note that some apps just go straight to subscribing to the podcast without asking. This depends on the App and can’t be influenced by us.

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What if launching failed or if the app is not yet installed? Well, then you get some strange OS-dependent error, but the Podlove Subscribe Button still has you covered: you can retry or just proceed to the primary location to download/install/buy these chosen app (or go back and choose a different one).

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Alternatively, you can change to the “Cloud” tab and get a list of web-based services where you can log in with your account and subscribe to the podcast there. This means you can actually subscribe to a podcast even if you are not using your or your primary podcast device.

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In the rare case that you use an app that is not yet supported by the Subscribe Button, you can also choose “other app” and copy the usual feed URL that you can then manually transfer to the application. This is somehow still the tedious old way of doing it but at least there is a defined way how to present the URL to the user.

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The button has been translated in many languages already and we will provide as many translations as the community is willing to contribute.

The button is hosted by Podlove and will silently be updated to accommodate for new or updated apps and services. Podcasters simply have to set up the button once and they’re set. When new podcasts app surface: we will include it. If new platforms become important: we will support it. When things break and change: we will take care of it.

Supported apps

As of today, the following apps and cloud backends are actively supported by the Podlove Subscribe Button (with more to follow):

Working with the developers

Behind the scenes we have been reaching out to almost every podcast app developer on every popular computing platform. We have pushed for simple changes to their apps (while many have been compatible from the start) and we have seen many small updates in the recent months to prepare for the launch of the Podlove Subscribe Button.

While we cover most of the current podcast app ecosphere, we are going to add new apps and services as long as they are compatible with the Podlove Subscribe Button. If you are a developer and your app is missing, please review our technical guidelines and contact us.

We provide extensive documentation on how to properly integrate with the Subscribe Button and there is also a fancy testing page to make sure your integration works the way it should.

Loose ends and future plans

Currently, the Podlove Subscribe Button only supports audio podcasts but we will extend it so that you can actually subscribe to video (and even ebook) podcasts as well soon.

We are also thinking about how to support explicit selection of specific formats (like MPEG-4 AAC, MP3, Vorbis, Opus) or feed variants (high and low quality versions etc.). Right now, we automatically choose the right format for you which should serve most customers properly.

There are some issues with new podcast websites that (understandably) go https-only as many podcast apps have problems dealing with podcast feeds via https properly and/or have just trouble subscribing to them once the Subscribe Button presents an actual https URL to them.

We are also working on a solution to make the button blend in more friendly in your web site design so that colours can be easily customised.

Podlove Publisher 1.9

It’s been a while since the last major release but we have been busy behind the scenes and finally landed the 1.9 update of the Podlove Publisher and it’s a big one. Apart from a multitude of minor enhancements, bug fixes and improved behaviour, we have also some big new features we want to present and explain to you here.

Contributors

We have been thinking a lot about the meta data that is needed and might be helpful for podcasts in the last two years. And there was a big weak spot in the current infrastructure. While podcasts are personal media with a very direct and intimate relationship between sender and receiver, the whole distribution architecture was just dealing with podcasts and episodes. It was all about the “medium” and not about people.

We intend to change this in a big way and today’s release is our first step in that regard. Release 1.9 includes a brand new contributor module. While you could assign people to episodes before, this time you can create individual profiles for each person, assign “roles”, use your own avatars and also link to the social media accounts and insert donation buttons (Flattr for a start, PayPal will come later).

People now also show up in the feed giving crawlers and podcast clients a chance to actually identify contributors across podcasts. And you get new shortcodes to make nice lists of people and more.

This is just the beginning. We have a lot of ideas and plan to expand this area significantly in upcoming releases.

Protected Feeds

We acknowledge there is a certain interest in protecting feeds with passwords. There are actually a lot of scenarios where this might make sense. But it is also a very complicated issue as everybody has its own ideas how to integrate with subsystems, databases etc.

So we are not presenting a real solution here but just put our toes in the water to get a basic functionality running: you can now put a general login/password on a feed or let people authenticate against the WordPress user database.

Depending on feedback, we might expand this feature in other directions but this needs to be rethought and discussed.

Other changes

There a lot of other notable changes in this release: the new license selector makes choosing the right license for your podcast easy and you can decide to have a license setting on a per-episode basis if you need to.

The Expert Settings now allow you to configure temporary redirects in addition to permanent settings. Feeds are now delivered gzipped and you can define a global limit for the number of episodes.

And of course, we killed a lot of minor bugs.

More to come

There a bunch of other subsystems that is being worked at, both existing and new. Our roadmap is reaching out for into 2014 and hopefully beyond.

The advances of this year were made possible by the pretty successful crowdfunding which enabled us to pay one developer to spend a few days a week to work full time. Thanks to everybody who helped and will help in the future. We hope the quality of our code and ideas shows our appreciation.

 

 

Podlove Publisher 1.8

Last week, we have release version 1.8 of the Podlove Publisher which is a substantial improvement to the things we recently added to version 1.7 of the software, specifically we put some more work into our integrations of App.net and Auphonic.

App.net

The App.net (ADN) posting service now supports setting a language annotation and cross-posting to a Patter room. Patter is the “chat rooms” of ADN and so you can now deliver your announcement to both the public timeline and a chat room, encouraging users to subscribe to the podcast’s chat room in addition or as an alternative to following the podcasts’ ADN account.

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We are still exploring the possibilities with App.net and so these changes are just more toes being tipped in the pond to test the temperature. However, we think there is more to gain here which is why we keep investing in this module. We are now also listed in the official App.net directory.

Auphonic

Version 1.8 strongly enhances the integration with audio post-production service Auphonic. While release 1.7 allowed to import meta data from existing productions into Podlove, the new release now enables you to create productions with the information already typed into Podlove, to upload audio files directly to Auphonic, start productions remotely and get the results without ever having to go to the Auphonic web site at all.

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You can select the source of the audio file for your production as you are used to with Auphonic: all the external services defined in your Auphonic account show up and so you can pass along media files via Dropbox, Amazon S3, SFTP or whatever you have configured to be a source.

But we also offer manual upload to Auphonic if your media file still resides on your computer. Please note that the manual upload actually passes the file directly to Auphonic. We are not uploading the file to your blog but take the direct route so that you are not missing out on speed or have to provide extra storage on your system. This is the very same experience you would have as when dealing directly with Auphonic with the only notable difference that you don’t have to go there at all.

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When creating a production, we take most relevant metadata from the Publisher and pass it along to Auphonic: title, subtitle, summary, the episode media file slug, license and publisher information.

If you work with chapter marks we recommend switching to “manual entry” (instead of using assets as a chapter source) so that you can benefit from the new integration too. The Auphonic module takes your chapter information and puts it into the production too.

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We are currently omitting tags as these are difficult to access within WordPress.

We also do not support podcast and episode images to be uploaded automatically. You should set the podcast image in your Auphonic preset where you also define the output files and other settings. You can select the preset to apply to the production in the Auphonic module settings after authorization.

If you want to add an episode image or set other fields like the track number, you need to open and edit the production with Auphonic before starting the production. We currently discuss how we can improve these things in the future.

But the new integration should make working with Auphonic a lot easier, less error-prone and result in a much more reliable and quicker workflow for podcasters.

Podlove Publisher 1.7

Today we have released version 1.7 of the Podlove Publisher and apart from a few bug fixes and tweaks under the hood, there are two new modules in the package that you might find interesting.

App.net Integration

App.net (ADN) is a promising social network platform that seems to appeal to podcasters and podcast listeners alike and that has some potential for modern social media applications. Our module does just a few basic rather unexciting things: you can log in to you ADN account and the Publisher automatically create public posts pointing to a new episode when you release one. We have plans for more features for this plugin.

Auphonic

Auphonic is a web-based audio post-processing, metadata and encoding service that makes life for podcasters a lot easier. If you are not using it yet, you should strongly consider doing so. And that’s why we are going to integrate Auphonic deeply into the podcast production process (it’s still optional of course).

With this first release of the new Auphonic module (which is about to replace the now deprecated, experimental “Auphonic Production Data” plugin) we let you associate the Publisher with Auphonic by authenticating with your Auphonic user account.

You can then select recent Auphonic productions you have created and import all the metadata with one click. The system will extract the title, subtitle, summary, duration and the episode media file slug from the production. If you have configured the Publisher for manual entry of chapter information, the plugin also retrieves the chapter information from Auphonic if available.

If you have placed all those information in the media files by using Auphonic, it’s now super easy to transfer exactly the same data into your episode description. This should make posting new episodes even easier, less error-prone and also much faster at the same time.

Soon we will add the option to create new productions from your episode data too. This allows to follow a workflow that is defined by collecting all data in the Podlove Publisher first and passing this on to Auphonic. Having both production creation and import at your disposal opens up various workflows that are still easy to use.

Moving on

This release won’t be the last to add significant new stuff to the Publisher. We are addressing a variety of areas to improve the overall publishing experience:

  • Improve visibility of contributors in feeds and the website
  • A versatile conflict management system to ensure podcast integrity to make system setup and maintenance much easier and reliable
  • Generating statistics
  • Improved web player with better UI and embedding capability

Look out for more great news as we move along. And if you feel like you are getting something out of this project, consider a donation. It really helps.

Podlove Publisher 1.6

The latest release of the Podlove Publisher finally comes with extensive support for chapter formats for both episode assets and podcast feed support. Although most of this stuff is buried under the hood and there are no visible changes to the UI, let us explain what has actually changed, why this is a big deal and where we want to move from here.

Background

The Podlove Publisher has been focusing on extended metadata from the beginning and chapter marks have been of particular interest ever since because we strongly believe that timeline-related information is a way to significantly increase the value of podcasts for the audience.

We have some plans on how to integrate more of this kind of metadata in the future but we think simple chapter structures are a good start, are rather easy to author and using the Podlove Publisher that information is finally easy to broadcast to the clients too.

So far, the only way to bring chapter information to podcast clients was to use MPEG-4 media files (.mp4) and use tools like Garageband to embed Apple’s more or less proprietary “atoms” to put chapter marks, links and pictures into that files. The iPod (and later the iPhone) read these atoms and provided the chapter information to the user. So far, so good.

The problems were many: Apple’s format was (and remains) officially undocumented (although successfully reengineered), it was restricted to MPEG-4 files and the client needs to download the whole file before being able to present chapters to the user.

We want to ease this process, make it less dependent on proprietary formats and allow extraction of structural information before downloading the media files. The first result was the definition of the Podlove Simple Chapters specification. The next step is the deep integration of that format in the Podlove Publisher.

So what’s new?

So what does the update bring to the table? For a start, the Publisher can now read PSC files natively so that you can use PSC files as episode assets as a source for chapter timeline information. We support the all fields of the specification, including links and images. However, you have to wait until a future update to the Podlove Web Player that this information is passed through to the web page.

In addition to reading PSC format the full chapter information is now communicated in the podcast’s feeds to the client. Every client that is interested in chapter information can now retrieve it directly from the feed and use that information – even before downloading any media file. So the chapter information is totally independent of the media files and can be used by podcast directories, podcast search engines (like Poodle) or other apps without ever having to download any media file.

The Publisher also supports other chapter formats on input like the previously preferred mp4chaps format or WebVTT, but we really think PSC is the most robust way to go.

Partnering with Auphonic

Although the Podlove Publisher is totally independent from other systems we have been conspiring with the great audio web service Auphonic on many levels. We have a very basic integration of Auphonic in the Publisher right now (by reading metadata from Auphonic production files configured as episode assets) but want to integrate it even more as the usefulness of Auphonic for audio podcasting can’t praised enough.

Auphonic has also achieved a lot for podcast metadata behind the scenes: it’s the first service worldwide to actually implement chapter information for MP3 — which has been specified since 2006 — including links and pictures and they have also triggered standardization of chapter marks for Ogg files too.

And starting today, Auphonic offers an interface to add links and images to chapters, write these to all kinds of media files and to create Podlove Simple Chapters too. So if you are into creating high-value structured podcasts, the available infrastructure has improved significantly.

The future of the timeline

The Podlove Simple Chapter specification and its integration in the Podlove Publisher is just the start. Behind the scenes, we are discussing much more detailed metadata concepts to form the Podlove Timeline. But it’s too early to speak about this and we have decided to go forward with this rather simple approach that can make podcasts much better today.

Right now, we are asking podcast client developers to embrace the Podlove Simple Chapter format as a means to improve the experience of the audience and to make us all more independent from complex media file structures that are expensive to load and difficult to parse.

So go and try the Podlove Publisher and test if it suits your needs. We are certainly not addressing everyone’s needs yet but we are moving fast and we have a strong roadmap that will bring a lot more cool stuff to you soon.

Podlove Web Player 2.0

We have just released version 2.0 of the Podlove Web Player and we think it’s great news as it brings quite a few new features on the table.

First of all, the player has been recoded at the core to be completely independent from PHP and WordPress so you can integrate it into any CMS you want. The API is now JavaScript-only but still provides the WordPress-Integration many are using right now (and probably will continue to do so).

We have also brushed up the look and feel of the player and we think it looks much better right now. The default appearance is with all extra panes collapsed in a rounded rectangle style. The chapter list can be expanded on demand as the summary and a new chapter/time navigation pane that also features a simple sharing feature to get a link to the current playback position and to bring up Twitters post interface.

Here is an example on how it looks and works:

New controls allow users to expand and collapse all additional views in the player. This technique keeps the general player interface clean and easy to understand while the power users get what they want too. Parameters allow to set the default state for these views.

There is even more in this release apart from these most visible features and updates to the player engine should result in more robustness and browser compatibility overall. Check out the Changelog for the details.

Many thanks to Gerrit van Aaken and Simon Waldherr who were behind this release and also thanks to everybody who contributed with ideas and bug reports.

We are going to include the new player in the Podlove Publisher soon so if you are using that plugin, just wait for the next release and you will get the benefits of an already integrated player.

Screencast series about Podlove Publisher

We will create a series of screencasts explaining the design and operation of the Podlove Podcast Publisher. During the alpha phase, these will be in german, but there will be something in english once we enter the beta phase sometime later this year.

Here is episode one, explaining installation and setup of the plugin.

Here is the second screencast explaining posting of episodes and the use of the template system.

Podlove Web Player 1.2

Gerrit has just posted version 1.2 of the Podlove Web Player, our Mediaelement.js-based web player that is optimized for podcast episode playback. Right now, the player is still only available as a plugin for WordPress, but will be made independent from WordPress in the near future. You can download and install the plugin via the WordPress plugin directory.

The new release features some nice and important novelties. The player has improved compatibility with browsers and makes playback of individual chapters easier for users. It also comes with an optional extended player interface that features podcast title, sub-title and summaries and presents a cover image to the user. This will hopefully develop into an embeddable player in the future.

The player also has support to be automatically enabled for existing “enclosure” custom fields that is used by WordPress (and other podcast plugins). It also presents Opus audio files to browsers that support it. So if you want to beef up your old podcast with a brand new player this might be the easiest path so far.

The beta version of the Podlove Podcast Publisher is coming soon. When it is released, you will see full support for the new features of the Podlove Web Player, making podcasting with WordPress even easier.

Here is an example of the new look:

Bitlove

Bitlove is one our associated projects that has just been released online as an alpha version. Bitlove is a web-based service that converts any standard podcast feed to a BitTorrent feed with no extra work for the podcaster apart from adding the feed once to the system.

Everything else is done by Bitlove: files are being torrentified, seeded and tracked by Bitlove. Bitlove publishes a copy of the feed with links to the original files replaced with links to the torrent files to enable subscription with BT-capable clients like Miro or uTorrent.

Bitlove is a free service based on free software written in Erlang by Astro.