Categories
Internet Technology

Panic’s Mystery of the Slow Downloads

Here is a video by Panic, makers of apps like Transmit, Panic, and Firewatch.

The brief backstory, is that some of Panic’s customers were reporting that downloads were really slow. The video explains what the issue was. The video also explains a small segment of how the internet works. This is not a technical video at all, so it is good for everyone to watch.

Categories
Apple Internet Podcasts

Podcasts Connect from Apple

Undoubtedly you have heard the term “podcasts”. Depending on your geek level, you may have not heard of them until late in 2014 with the release of the popular podcast Serial. Even though they may not have become super popular with most users, podcasts have been around well before then, for more than a decade now to be exact. Podcasts got their biggest bump, prior to Serial, when Apple added Podcast support to iTunes with version 4.9 in June of 2005.

Anybody can create a podcast and have it submitted to the iTunes Podcast Directory. Given the size and breadth of podcast types available in iTunes, many 3rd party podcast applications will use the iTunes Store to verify a podcast.

Previously, when a podcast creator wanted to submit a new podcast to the iTunes Podcast Directory, they had to use a form to submit their Podcast URL to Apple. Apple would crawl the feed and validate it, and if everything looked alright your podcast would go live.

The submission process was quite simple, but what happened if you changed hosting providers? You would have to do a manual redirect from your old feed to your new one. Once the redirect was in place, the iTunes Store would pick up the new feed and be updated. While this was as good method, it was not the best.

Podcasts Connect

To create a better experience, Apple has created a new portal for podcast creators called Podcasts Connect. Podcasts Connect allows for better management of existing podcasts as well as adding new podcasts.

With the Podcasts Connect site, to add a new podcast, you login with your Apple ID. Click on the “+” button in the upper left. You will be presented with one field to add your podcast, the RSS Feed. Enter in the RSS feed and click on “Validate”. Once you have clicked on the “Validate” button, many checks will be done on the feed.

These include, but are not limited to, checking the artwork, verify the RSS feed itself is valid, that episodes can be downloaded, a category for your podcast exists, whether or not an explicit tag is provided, and whether the podcast feed already exists.

If any of these items are not present, or if the feed has been submitted already, the validation will provide you with information about issues to rectify. An example is below.

Podcast.Connect.Errors

If your feed passes all of the checks, you will be presented with a preview page, similar to the one below, and the status of the podcast will change to “Prepared for Submission”.

Podcasts.Connect.Preview

After you have double-checked everything on the page to verify that it is correct, you can click on the “Submit” button in the upper right it will submit the podcast for review. Once it is approved, you will receive an email stating such and it will be available in the iTunes Podcast Directory.

Podcasts.Connect.Submited.Review

Editing an existing Podcast

There are times that you, as a podcast owner, may end up needing to change the feed for your podcast. It could be because you are switching hosting providers, or it could be because your podcast has become quite popular and need to create caching for podcast feeds. With Podcast Connect you are able to edit the RSS feed. To do this perform the following

  1. Login to Podcast Connect.
  2. Locate the podcast you wish to edit.
  3. Click on the cover for the podcast.
  4. In the URL field, put in the updated RSS feed.
  5. Click on “Save”.

On this page you will also notice a couple of features. The first is the “Last Refresh” time. This is good for determining when your podcast was last updated by Apple. There are also a few other features. You can refresh the feed. When you click on this, you will receive a message similar to the one below:

Podcast.Connect.Refresh

You can view the Podcast in iTunes, so you can see how it appears to others.

You can also hide the podcast from the directory. It is not 100% clear whether or not the feed will continue to refresh if hidden. It is presumed that it will.

The last option is to delete the podcast. This option will be best used if you no longer want to list your podcast in the iTunes Podcast Directory.

Possibile Future Features

Even though this is a great step forward forward in allowing easier management for podcast owners. I do think this step could bring some additional options in the future. One of the features that could easily be added would be the ability to charge for podcasts. Within iTunes it shows as “Free”. Yet, by adding a couple of options to the page, it may be possible to have a subscription model for a podcast. While I do not think many would take advantage of an option like this, it might be possible. Yet, knowing Apple it may not be very likely to happen anytime soon.

Final Thoughts

The addition of Podcasts Connect will make it easier to add and modify Podcasts. While many of the more tech-focused podcast owners would be able to create redirects easily. However, for the majority of non-technical podcast owners will now be able to make changes quite easily. I hope to see more portals like this from Apple that will make things easier for other types of users.

Categories
Internet Technology Thoughts

Streaming Companies: How to Improve the Customer Experience

It is the season to watch halloween-based or scary movies. Now I have my list of halloween/scary movie that I watch every year. The list is at the end of this article. Weirdly, I had watched all of the movies that I normally see so I went looking for more.

I subscribe to Netflix and have an Amazon Prime account. While looking for movies it occurred to me that neither of these two services has a list of halloween/scary movies. Sure, they both have the capability to search based on genre, as well as suggestions for similar titles, but they do not have a list of available halloween-based movies. The closest that either service comes, is when Netflix suggests “Titles related to”. This at least shows similar movies.

I find it quite strange that neither of these services provides this functionality. I know it would take some on-going man power to accomplish, but in the end it would provide some good will with their customers.

It may be too late to do a list for Halloween movies, but they could easily do ones for Thanksgiving and definitely Christmas.

 

Halloween/Scary Movies
Title Amazon Apple
28 Days Later Amazon Apple
28 Weeks Later Amazon Apple
Attack the Block Amazon Apple
Battle: Los Angeles Amazon Apple
Cloverfield Amazon Apple
Cockney’s VS. Zombies Amazon Apple
Contagion Amazon Apple
The Crazies Amazon Apple
Dawn of the Dead Amazon Apple
The Happening Amazon Apple
Hocus Pocus Amazon Apple
Hot Fuzz Amazon Apple
It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown Amazon Apple
Knowing Amazon Apple
Outbreak Amazon Apple
Scary Movie Amazon Apple
Scary Movie 2 Amazon Apple
Scary Movie 3 Amazon Apple
Scream Amazon Apple
Scream 2 Amazon Apple
Scream 3 Amazon Apple
Scream 4 Amazon Apple
Shaun of the Dead Amazon Apple
Super 8 Amazon Apple
The Village Amazon Apple
World War Z Amazon Apple
Zombeavers (Just added this year, Not for kids) Amazon Apple
Zombieland Amazon Apple
Categories
Internet Technology Thoughts

Changing Analytics

Since the announcement of content blockers in iOS 9, many have speculated what impact it would have on ads on the web as well as the tracking of users that has been present on the web for the last decade and a half.

Most content blocker on iOS will block a significant portion of third-party content. This could be a javascript library like jQuery, web fonts, social sharing plugins, or even images. Third-party content is any content that is not natively hosted by the site that a user is visiting.

One of the primary functions for loading third-party content are analytic, and tracking, sites. These analytics engines, while performing analytics for the site, also gather information about the users. The information gathered by these analytics firms include things that users would expect, like the HTTP request, the user’s IP Address, and web browser. However, what analytic firms also collect include screen resolution and many other items. This is done via a tracking cookie.

The issue with this setup is that if many sites use the same centrally-hosted analytics engine, that analytics site can correlate, through the tracking cookie, all of the information about that individual and create a full picture of the user. This could be more than just which sites are visited, but what links are clicked on, which ads have been seen and any number of other measurements. Many of these analytics site are ones that provide free services. When this occurs, the visitors of the sites that have opted to use the analytics engine become the product.

One of the problems on the web is that if people have resigned themselves that ads are inevitable, they do so in hopes of being served relevant ads. Yet, in order to get the relevant ads users must be tracked. The problem, for many, is not that users are being tracked but the fact that information that is tracked is being sold to advertisers. An additional problem is that it only takes a small amount of information to truly be able to uniquely identify someone. If it were only the websites doing the tracking, many individuals would not have a problem with this arrangement.

The reason that most would not have a problem with this arrangement is that when you visit a website, and do not pay for the content on that website, it is understandable that a website would want to know who is visiting the site, as well as keeping some basic information about the individuals who visit the site.

One of the things that I have been pondering, particularly since the iOS 9 content blocker fiasco is what alternatives to Google Analytics there are. I did some searching, tried a couple of different free and open source packages, and ultimately I have decided on trying out Open Web Analytics.

Open Web Analytics will work as a standalone product or as a plugin for WordPress. With Open Analytics, none of the information leaves the site where the product is installed. It is not sent off to third-party aggregation sites where it will be analyzed. Since Sunday morning I have been running both Open Web Analytics and Google Analytics. I am running both in tandem to be able to to see how close the two are in relation to number of visitors, and individual page counts. It will likely not be long before I decide to turn off Google Analytics entirely.

There area a myriad of reasons behind this change. The first is that I cannot, in good conscience, allow readers of my site to be unwillingly forced to use Google Analytics and be subjected to unnecessary third-party tracking and aggregation. While yes, the content is free, it still does not feel right to have visitors be tracked in this manner.

The second is the speed of the site. With any third-party loading of content, inevitably the site is slowed, even if it is just milliseconds, it is slowness. I would like to have a responsive website, in both styling as well as load times. The best way to do this is to eliminate as much of the third-party items that load on a site.

It may be that I am an idealist, but I would like to think that more independent websites would choose to run their own analytics. I know it is not possible for all sites to do so, but it would be nice to see this change occur on those that can.

I would think that if enough sites opted out of using Google and other analytics aggregators, that maybe these companies would start realizing that users are not satisfied with the current state of tracking and change their practices. Particularly in Google’s case, if ad revenue starts to take a major hit due to content blockers, it may open their eyes a bit. Sadly, I am not optimistic that this will help in any meaningful way.

Categories
Internet Technology Thoughts

Web Advertising Issues

Back in December of 2013, I wrote on The Tech Scoop about a debacle I had with Google Adsense. To summarize the issue, a couple family members clicked on a few ads, and Google thought this was fraud and thus violated Google’s terms of service. So, they blocked my account.

After filling out their appeal form indicating what happened, and being completely truthful, Google decided that I did not do enough to “mitigate the issue” and permanently banned my account from the Google Adsense program. Being banned from Google Adsense has some other ramifications. One of those is that since that account was disabled, I cannot monetize any of my YouTube Videos. I only found out this latter fact yesterday when I was uploading a video and looked into possibly adding ads to them.

Similarly, with all of the talk about iOS content blockers and the state of advertising on the web, I have been thinking about the issues with web advertising. Besides the increase in the number of ads, ads that take over an entire page, and even interstitial ads, and the horrible tracking. There is another issue that I have been thinking about, and one that has not been mentioned in what I have read. That issue is the lack of alternatives to the big players Google Adsense.

There are a number of other companies that may be available, but these are usually invite only. For sites like mine that do not get a lot of traffic, there really are no other viable alternatives. I looked into Microsoft’s Advertising and applied, but they rejected my applications. There are some companies, like The Deck that do not use advertising to track users across the web.

Instead, they pay up-front for the number of impressions. One this is exhausted, that is it. They only thing they track is the number of impressions. They do not have any personally identifiable information about the users who view the sites on which the ads are shown.

There is a certain segment of the population that is completely against ads. The current wisdom is that approximately 15 percent of web users employ an ad or tracking blocker. However, I do think as though a vast majority of internet users are not opposed to ads, but are opposed to the insidious tracking that has occurred and continues to occur. I, like many, understand that advertising is a necessary fact of the Internet, and society in general.

One of the things that I have not seen is a real alternative to the existing advertising model. What I would like to see is a service that caters to smaller sites. One that does not track its users, and models itself on sites like The Deck, although maybe not necessarily technology focused.

If advertisers are willing to make meaningful changes, something will have to be done in order to allow users to trust advertising companies again. It will be a tough and long road to get advertising aggregators back in the good graces of web users.