Category: Audio

Will Facebook Live Audio be good for podcasting? So many questions…

Facebook live audio

Will "Facebook Live Audio" be good for podcasters? Will it help us engage with our audiences? Will it compete with SoundCloud and other similar platforms? Or will it pull people away from traditional podcasts to keep people within Facebook's shiny walls?

On December 20, Facebook announced the impending release of "Live Audio", initially with five partners and then "early next year" to more people. There's been a great amount of discussion but as of yet I've not learned of anyone who has seen/heard one of these new Live Audio events. Here is the info I've seen so far or can speculate on:

  • Users will be able to go live with audio in a similar way to going live with video.
  • Live audio content will go out in News Feed.
  • Listeners can ask questions and leave reactions in real-time during the live audio stream.
    • Presumably listeners will also be able to leave comments and reactions after the event is no longer live. Will Facebook differentiate as they do with comments to Live Video events? (Comments during the event have a red dot next to them.)
  • Facebook users can easily share the Live Audio streams to their own feeds and friends.
  • Listening will occur inside the Facebook mobile application. There will be an important distinction between iOS and Android listeners:
    • iOS users will only be able to listen while the Facebook app is open (and the phone is not locked). The users can continue browsing through Facebook while listening.
    • Android users will be able to listen in the background while using other apps.
    • To me this means that Facebook has not yet integrated with the audio interfaces within IoS that allow other apps to play in the background or on lock screens.
  • Techcrunch reports that Live Audio streams will have a limit of four hours in length.

As far as a motivation for launching Live Audio, Facebook mentions the feedback that some publishers prefer audio as a format. They also mention that some people are in areas where Internet connectivity is too low to support Live Video. Writing over on The Drum, Sean Larkin notes that Facebook needs new advertising formats and points to a recent study from The Trade Desk showing that advertisers are looking to increase their spending on audio advertising. Audio streaming and podcasts were highest rated in that survey.

In many ways this seems a logical extension of Facebook's desire to be THE place where people spend their time on the Internet. Given the explosive growth in interest in podcasts, it seems to me only logical for Facebook to try to bring some of that attention inside their walls.

Granted, it seems Facebook's initial focus is on the audio version of "live events" versus on podcasts. But to me podcasts are an obvious extention of this tool.

My Questions

Given that we can't see the Live Audio streams yet, or the tools to produce them, I find myself with the following questions:

  • Will users be notified with special "Dan York is live" kind of messages? (I suspect yes.)
  • Will Live Audio streams show up in the new "Live" tab in the mobile app? (as Live Video streams do now?)
  • What tools will be available for streaming audio? For instance, will there be anything to help with audio levels?
  • Presumably we will have to use the Facebook mobile app to stream the Live Audio streams. Will it be able to work with any other mobile apps?
  • Will we be able to bring in intros, outros, bumpers and other audio effects? Or will it truly be raw, live audio?
  • Will Live Audio streams also be accessible outside Facebook's walls to traditional podcasting apps? i.e. would there be a RSS feed that could go into iTunes? Or will it only work inside of Facebook?
  • Will Live Audio be a place to host a podcast? Or will it be another distribution channel?
  • Will Live Audio help spread the interest in podcasts and audio streams? Or will it impact the usage of traditional podcasting apps?
  • What will the impact be on SoundCloud? Many of us have found that platform useful for quick, fast podcasts.
  • And on a techie note, could you start out in Live Video and when connectivity drops, could you drop to Live Audio? Or will they be two separate event types that need to be started separately? (I suspect the latter.)

So many questions!

Given my interest in using SoundCloud for rapid creation and distribution of podcasts, I'll be curious to see how well Facebook Live Audio might work for podcasting. It might be good... it might be too constraining.

What do you think? Are you interested in Facebook Live Audio?


P.S. Another interesting aspect - over on The Verge, Casey Newton notes the potential of Live Audio for "witnessing" events: "Live audio of police confrontations might be less conspicuous, and thus easier, to broadcast than video streams."

The Power of SoundCloud As A Podcast Publishing Platform

Podcasting soundcloud 660

Why do I like SoundCloud as a podcast hosting platform? What advantages can SoundCloud offer podcasters? Why should you consider SoundCloud as a place to distribute your podcast?

Last week SoundCloud announced that its podcasting features were now publicly available to everyone [1]. Given that I've been using SoundCloud's podcasting feature in their beta program since May 2012, I want to share some of my reflections on why I think SoundCloud has great potential as a powerful platform for podcast publishing and promotion.

To set the context for my comments below, I started using SoundCloud three years ago to see how it could work for the "rapid creation of audio content". I wanted to just be able to push record in an app and then publish and promote my podcasts. I wanted it to be super easy. The result has been my "The Dan York Report (TDYR)" podcast that I publish now at:

https://soundcloud.com/danyork

From the start it's been an experiment to try out SoundCloud as a platform because I have several other podcasts I'd like to start. So TDYR has been my testbed to try out ideas and tools. I do pay for their SoundCloud Pro Unlimited plan which at $135/year works out to what I consider a reasonable $11.25/month for the hosting of my audio files.

As a result of all of this, here are 10 reasons I find SoundCloud powerful for podcasters.

1. Speed And Simplicity Of Creating And Sharing Podcasts

Here's all I do to create a new podcast episode:

  • Open up an app on my iPhone.
  • Press "Record" and record whatever I want to say.
  • Press "Share to SoundCloud" (or "Upload"), enter in a title and hit the button to start.

Boom!

That's it. The podcast is uploaded to SoundCloud and then shared out via the RSS feed to iTunes and also via social media to Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

That's seriously it.

Super fast creation and sharing/promotion of audio podcasts.

Now, of course, you could make the process more complex if you want to. I record my TDYR episodes as just raw audio without any kind of post-production and without an intro, outro or any other kinds of audio segments. In my case, I want the simplicity and rawness. But the beautiful fact is..

2. Many Applications to Create/Record Podcasts

... there are many, many, MANY applications that yet you create audio and share it up to SoundCloud. Applications are available for iOS, Android, Mac OS/X, Microsoft Windows and many other operating systems. SoundCloud has a whole directory of applications that can be used. Although many of them are for consuming/listening, they do have a whole list for creating/recording. Many of these are targeted at music producers, but many can also work for podcasters.

Because I am aiming for speed, I typically record on my iPhone and find that I'm generally using either:

I've been primarily using Opinion for the past while but recently they rolled out their own podcast hosting (competing with SoundCloud) and now give that preference in the export/sharing part of the app. I'm a bit concerned that they may continue to promote that service and make it harder to publish out to other services. On the other hand, the Hindenburg Field Reporter app doesn't seem to be frequently updated... although that may not be necessary, really. It's a rock solid app!

I've also used AudioCopy, a free app that SoundCloud started recommending when they removed recording from their own SoundCloud app. It's fine, but I like the editing capabilities of the other two apps.

The key point is that there are many choices of apps that will connect and share to SoundCloud.

And, of course, SoundCloud just lets you upload an audio file in a variety of different formats. So you can record your episode using any kind of device or application. I've recorded some episodes using one of my Zoom Handy audio recorders and then just copying the MP3 file from the SD card onto my laptop and uploading to SoundCloud through their web interface.

3. Automatic Sharing Out To Social Media

A great part of the simplicity is that when I post an episode to SoundCloud it gets automagically shared out to whatever services I've configured. I've set up a default configuration and then can override that sharing from the apps during the upload process. The beautiful thing is it supports multiple accounts for Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google+:

Soundcloud connections

And, as noted below, you can use services like IFTTT to distribute podcasts out to even more sites and social networks!

4. Insanely EASY Embedding of Podcasts

Another huge advantage of SoundCloud is that it is incredibly easy to embed podcasts in a blog post or web page. SoundCloud supports "oEmbed" and so very often all you have to do is drop the URL of your SoundCloud episode into your software and... ta da... that's it! This works great for all my WordPress sites. It also works great in chat clients such as Wire.

If your site/application doesn't support oEmbed (such as TypePad, the site I use for this blog), it's trivial to get a snippet of HTML code that you can then drop into your post (as I will do at the end of this post):

Soundcloud embed

This also works with social networks, too. Drop a URL for a SoundCloud episode into Facebook or Ello, for example, and the embedded player will automagically appear so that people can listen right there in their feeds.

5. Comments At Specific Points In The Podcast

Engaging with listeners is always a critical part of building a community around your podcast. Typically you get comments as replies to the blog post about your podcast or as replies on social media.

But what's cool about SoundCloud is that you can get replies AT THE POINT IN TIME within your actual podcast. If someone wants to reply to something specific you said, no longer are you trying to get to the point in the episode where you said whatever it was to remember what you said - the comment can be left right at that point of the episode.

Now, this DOES require a SoundCloud account. And so many of your listeners may not want to register for a (free) SoundCloud account just to be able to leave you comments at specific times. But some of your listeners might, and so for them it becomes a great way to build interaction.

6. Open API Makes Integration Easy

SoundCloud understands the power of becoming a platform for developers and they provide rich support through a SoundCloud developer program and much more. One result is the many applications I pointed out in #2 above, but another result is services such as IFTTT (If This, Then That) that allow you to easily set up actions involving SoundCloud. There are many IFTTT "recipes" for SoundCloud that are already available:

Soundcloud ifttt

As the screen capture shows, the integration can go both ways - in or out of SoundCloud. For instance, I had a recipe for a while that would trigger whenever I published an episode to SoundCloud that would post a link out to my App.net account (until I pretty much stopped using App.net). I also plan to set one up that will post to a specific WordPress site every time I publish a new post. Going the opposite direction, you can see that there are recipes that will publish to your SoundCloud account every time you put a file in, say, a Dropbox folder.

Now, IFTTT is just one site. There are many other sites that have their own integration with SoundCloud... all because of this open application programming interface (API).

7. Search and Discovery

SoundCloud as a web site / service is all focused around the consumption and listening to music and audio. Like any social network, people with an account can "follow" you and get all your recent episodes. SoundCloud makes it very easy to search and find episodes. It supports hashtags.

Now obviously this is again using the SoundCloud site, which your listeners may or may not do... but this becomes a way that you can potentially find new users.

8. Downloads

Just as the embedding of a podcast is easy, so is the downloading of a podcast IF you enable people to do so. This is a choice. But if you want to allow people to download an episode, all they need to do is to go to the episode page (an example) and the download button is right there.

9. Spotlight

If you create a good number of episode and want to highlight some of the episodes you think are the most important, SoundCloud lets you put up to 5 sounds in the "Spotlight" area of your SoundCloud profile page. A nice way to help people coming to your site to see what you think are your best or most important episodes

10. Statistics

Typically as a podcaster you want to know how many people are listening, right? As I've written about before and we've talked about over on the FIR podcast, statistics are difficult because you can know how many people downloaded a podcast, but not whether they in listened.

SoundCloud has many statistics and can perhaps obviously give more statistics about user behavior when your podcast episode is played from the SoundCloud site or apps. For regular "RSS downloads", you still do get a good bit of information, although, as mentioned above, it's challenging to know what the stats truly mean. Here's the "RSS downloads" of my last week of TDYR stats:

Stats on SoundCloud

Apparently I'm interesting to people (or someone) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! Who knew? And then Southbury, CT... (but I have family and friends in that region :-) )

Anyway, a good number of statistics are available

Others...

There are other reasons why podcasters may like the platform. For example, it's great that Creative Commons licensing is available for those who want to allow others to share their audio content under a CC license. There are also monetization options available that I, quite frankly, haven't explored yet (since I don't see TDYR as something that people would want to advertise on). The whole "social network" aspect of SoundCloud can be compelling, too, for building an audience. For example, people can "repost" your episodes and share them out with followers.

I'd note, too, that you don't have to use SoundCloud as your exclusive hosting platform. A friend, Donna Papacosta, primarily hosts her podcast on Libsyn[2] and then also uploads it to her SoundCloud account as an additional distribution channel. C.C. Chapman also posts some of his episodes to his SoundCloud account. So it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing thing. You can experiment!

Issues

While I'm obviously rather pleased with SoundCloud, there are still a number of issues I would love to see them address:

  • Support for IPv6 - Given the work I do with the Internet Society, I'm looking for hosting platforms that realize that all the new mobile networks and the efforts to bring the next 4 billion people online are going to need to use IPv6 in their networks. YouTube, Facebook and all of Google's properties all work over IPv6. SoundCloud needs to get there, too.
  • Use HTML5 instead of Flash - Similarly, SoundCloud really needs to ditch their Flash player and use HTML5 audio instead. Flash creates so many issues on my various systems. We now have HTML5 audio support in most modern browsers. SoundCloud has had experimental support for HTML5, but they need to move that out of beta, too, and make it the default.
  • Finish the transition to their new website user experience - SoundCloud has been in this strange transition from their "classic" website to the "new" website for a year or more now and it still provides a strange and bizarre user experience. You click some link in your account settings and... ta da... you are back in an old user experience... and then you have to find your way back to the regular "new" view. They need to just finish this up.

Hopefully those are all things they will continue to work on to make the platform even stronger.

Getting Started with Podcasting On SoundCloud

If after reading all this you want to get started with a podcast on SoundCloud, they provide a very simple guide to begin:

http://on.soundcloud.com/creator-guide/podcasting

Basically, you create an account, set up the RSS feed settings, get some app that will upload to SoundCloud... and start publishing!

That's it!

If you are already using SoundCloud, all you should need to do is go into your "Settings" and to the "Content" tab where you will see your RSS feed and can set up any specific fields you want to configure:

Soundcloud content settings

As you can see at the bottom of that image you can configure your defaults for all uploads in terms of the license and whether uploads are automatically in the RSS feed.

Again, the Creator Guide for podcasting has more info.

I was admittedly rather skeptical of SoundCloud in the early years of my experimentation. Their "support" of podcasting in their beta program was pretty weak three years ago and it seemed all they wanted to do was build their own "walled garden of audio" and try to get everyone to come onto their platform.

But with this public launch of "podcasting" (which really amounts to exposing RSS feeds!) they've finally opened up those walls and made it so that you can use the SoundCloud platform for hosting your podcast - giving you all the advantages I've outlined above - but then making your content available to everyone out there to consume in whatever applications and systems they choose.

I look forward to hearing many more podcasts on SoundCloud... including yours! Please do feel free to follow me on SoundCloud as I continue with my experimentation. I'd love to hear from you what you think about all of this, either in the comments here or, of course, on the accompanying audio version (TDYR 243) of this post up on SoundCloud.



[1] For more stories about the launch, see Techmeme and Mediagazer.

[2] In full disclosure I also use Libsyn for hosting some of my podcasts (and have since 2005) and find their services very useful, too.

Photo credit: A merger of a Flickr CC-licensed image from Colleen AF Venable and SoundCloud's logo.

What Major Change Is SoundCloud About To Make To Their Mobile Apps?

Soundcloud 250What is SoundCloud planning for their next mobile app release for at least iOS and presumably Android? On Friday (June 6, 2014) I received an email stating this:
We noticed you've used our app to record and upload tracks to SoundCloud. With an upcoming version of the app, we'll be making changes to the way tracks are stored on your phone. If you have tracks that you've recorded but haven't uploaded, please follow the instructions below to save them. You can upload the tracks to your SoundCloud profile, or you can download them to your computer. Please do this as soon as possible to ensure that you don't lose anything you've recorded.

I cringed when I saw this... because I do use the SoundCloud app on my iPhone to record tracks for my "The Dan York Report" podcast and I do keep a number of different unpublished tracks sitting in the SoundCloud app. Often I may record a sound somewhere with the intent of later folding that into a recording (and which, admittedly, I often wind up never getting around to doing).

The key message of the email from SoundCloud is this:

YOU WILL LOSE YOUR TRACKS THAT YOU HAVE NOT UPLOADED UNLESS YOU TAKE ACTION BEFORE THE UPGRADE!

The email points out that all you need to do is upload the tracks to your SoundCloud account - and you can do so and make them "Private" so that they are only visible to you. They also note that you can download your sounds to your computer if you would prefer to do that. I chose to upload my tracks to SoundCloud as private recordings.

IMPORTANT: Note that when you upload your tracks to SoundCloud, the original date information will NOT be saved! That track you recorded in December 2012 that has the title "Sounds from Tuesday evening" will be uploaded to SoundCloud with a timestamp of when you upload the track. So if the date of the original recording is important to you, you may want to incorporate that date into the title of the track BEFORE you upload the track.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, the email from SoundCloud helpfully provided this image showing tracks that have not been uploaded:

NewImage

I cringed when I read the email from SoundCloud for a larger reason. This upload of local tracks was no big deal. I was done in maybe 5 minutes. My larger concern though is... what is SoundCloud going to do to the recording experience?

Right now I mostly used the SoundCloud iOS app to record my TDYR podcasts (as I explained in an episode) as my TDYR podcast is all about trying to see how minimally and easily a podcast can be recorded.

However, the SoundCloud app seems to continue to move to being more about music consumption rather than creation. This started a while back when they moved "Record" from the home screen to being under the "..." menu choice. And then we haven't really seen any improvements or changes to the recording capability.

Will they improve the recording experience? Or further de-emphasize it?

We'll see... but in the meantime if you have any local recordings in the app you need to do something if you want to retain any of those recordings.


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What Devices And Software Support The Opus Audio Codec? Here Is A List

Opus codec logoWhat devices support the Opus audio codec? What softphones? hardphones? call servers? Obviously given that Opus is the "mandatory to implement" audio codec for WebRTC, it will be in many web browsers... but what other I was asked this question by a colleague recently and when I couldn't easily find a list on the Opus codec web site, I turned to the VUC community inside of Google+ and posted there. The great folks there naturally were a huge help, and quickly came up with this list:

UPDATE: No sooner had I hit "Publish" then I discovered that Wikipedia has a list of devices and software supporting the Opus codec. As that list is much longer than this one below, I'd encourage you to look at that list.

What other devices or software supports the Opus codec? (Or what other lists are out there listing devices supporting the Opus codec?) Please do let me know either by comments here or on social media.

Thanks!

P.S. If you don't understand WHY the Opus codec matters so much, please read my earlier post on this topic.


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Follow Deploy360 On SoundCloud To Hear Our Audio Updates And Event Recordings

soundcloudAre you following Deploy360 on SoundCloud?  We’re posting there occasional audio updates about our activities as well as the audio recordings from our ION conferences and other events we attend.  You can find our profile there at:

http://soundcloud.com/deploy360/

Our SoundCloud account is enable for podcasting and so there is also an RSS feed to which you can subscribe using whatever podcast client you prefer.

You can see an example of the types of event recordings we’re doing in our ION Krakow “set” on SoundCloud.  The cool thing is that you can start the set playing and basically listen through the entire ION Krakow event.  It’s a great way to listen to what you missed if you weren’t able to attend or listen live.

In the new year I plan to get the audio recordings up there for ION Toronto as well as some of the recent ICANN DNSSEC Workshops.  Plus, we’ll continue to provide audio updates from time to time to let people know what is going on with our activities within the Deploy360 Programme.

We’d love to have you follow us there and comment on and share our audio recordings.  While you’re there on SoundCloud, perhaps you might also be interested in following the Internet Society SoundCloud account where we share some of the other audio content created at various Internet Society events.

The great thing about SoundCloud is it makes it extremely easy to create, upload and find audio recordings.  The only down side from our perspective is that it is not yet available over IPv6. :-(   If anyone knows of a similar service for audio hosting and sharing that does work over IPv6, we’d love to hear about it.  We haven’t found one yet.

Linphone On iOS Now Supports The Opus Codec

Linphone opus 2When updating my iPhone this week, I was extremely pleased to see the message in the attached screenshot that Linphone now supports the Opus audio codec. Somewhat strangely, I don't see any mention of this Opus support (or even the 2.1 release for iOS) on the Linphone news page or even on the Linphone features page, but the mention of a "Linphone Web" release does also mention Opus, so I'll assume this is real.

I've written before about why the Opus code is so incredibly important if we want to truly deliver a richer and better communications experience than we've had with the traditional PSTN and so it is great to see this support coming in to Linphone. Linphone is certainly not the first SIP softphone to support Opus - there are a number of others out there, including Jitsi and Counterpath's Bria (and X-Lite) - but it's definitely great to see another softphone added to the mix. Hopefully we'll also see this Opus support move to the desktop versions of Linphone (for Windows, OS X and Linux) as well.

Congrats to the Linphone team on making this happen!

P.S. Linphone also supports IPv6, ensuring that it will continue to work on all future networks.

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A Critical Audio Setting In Live Streaming With Google+ Hangouts On Air (That I Missed!)

Do you have the correct audio stream configured in Google+ Hangouts On Air (HOA) when you are doing live streaming of an event using a HOA? When we ran our live stream out of ION Krakow on Monday, I mentioned that we hit the undocumented 4-hour maximum time limit, but we actually had a larger issue that for the first 1 hour and 45 minutes -
our live stream's audio was terrible!

Truly un-listenable at times. :-(

It turned out that while I had correctly configured Google+ HOA to use the proper video setting for the "Wirecast Virtual Camera", I didn't realize that I had to separately configure the audio seeting to specifically pull in the audio stream from my capture device:

Googleplus hangouts audio settings 450

I just mistakenly assumed that HOA would pull the audio from the camera... but instead it was getting the "Default microphone", meaning the mic on my laptop.

Interestingly, we didn't discover this in testing because when I was doing the testing with a wireless microphone I was sitting at my laptop and so naturally the audio quality was excellent. I did walk up to the front of the room at one point but even then there was no one in the room and my voice could be heard well.

The good news is that I had a separate recording going from the house mixer into my Zoom H4N, so I have a complete audio track for the event. Now I just have to go back and create a new video recording, stripping out the old bad audio track and syncing the backup recording. Not ideal but will at least give us videos of the sessions that we can upload.

The bad news is, of course, that the experience of the initial viewers was quite poor and I'm sure some of them did not stay around to watch more of the session under the assumption it would remain that way.

Why did it take so long for us to fix it?

Well, I was the one operating the livestream and I was speaking at the beginning and then moderating a panel discussion, so it was purely the case that I wasn't in a position to be able to diagnose and sort out the fix. During the break I finally had a chance to do so.

It was also a valuable lesson in monitoring. To look at the audio levels I was watching the graphical meters in Wirecast but I wasn't watching the level in the Google+ HOA screen! That was ultimately how I realized what was wrong. It also pointed out that we need to be running a second machine that is watching the actual livestream so that we can hear the issues ourselves.

All in all a valuable set of lessons that I'll be adding to my checklist for the next time we do a livestream using Google+ Hangouts On Air.

P.S. The key point of the whole exercise was to prove we could livestream an event out over IPv6, which did in fact prove to be successfu1!


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Reminder – Opus Codec Presentation Streaming LIVE From IETF 87 in 2 Hours

Opus codec logoWant to learn more about the Opus codec and why it is so important? As I mentioned at the end of my last post about why Opus matters, there will be a special presentation about Opus as part of the IETF 87 Technical Plenary happening in about 2 hours starting at around 17:45-18:00 in Berlin, Germany (Central European Summer Time, UTC+2, 6 hours off of US Eastern time).

There are three options for watching and participating live:

The technical plenary begins at 17:40 but there are some other reports before the Opus section. The agenda can be found online and includes:

1. IAB Chair Report
2. IRTF Chair Report
3. RSE and RSOC Chair Report
4. Technical Topic: Opus Codec
a. Introduction
b. Overview of Opus
c. Testing
d. History of Opus in the IETF
e. Opus Deployment Panel
f. Future Work
5. Open Mic

I suspect that the Opus session will begin closer to 18:00 local time, but you can tune in around 17:40 to see the start of the session.

It should be quite an interesting session!


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Why The Opus Codec Matters – Even If You Don’t Care About Audio

Opus codec logoWhat makes the Opus codec so interesting? Why is there such a buzz about Opus right now? If you are not in telecom or doing anything with audio, why should you even remotely care about Opus?

In a word...

Innovation!

And because Opus has the potential to let us communicate with each other across the Internet with a richer and more natural sound. You will be able to hear people or music or presenters with much more clarity and more like you are right there with them.

Opus can help build a better user experience across the Internet.

You see, the reality is that today "real-time communication" using voice and video is increasingly being based on top of the Internet Protocol (IP), whether that communication is happening across the actual Internet or whether it is happening within private networks. If you've used Skype, Google+ Hangouts, any voice-over-IP (VoIP) softphones, any of the new WebRTC apps or any of the mobile smartphone apps that do voice or video, you've already been using IP-based real-time communication.

Dropping The Shackles Of The Legacy PSTN

Part of the beauty of the move to IP is that we no longer have to worry about the constraints imposed upon telecom by the legacy Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Chief among those constraints is the requirement to use only part of the sound frequencies we can hear. You all know the "sound" of the telephone - and you hear it in any movie or TV show when someone is using the phone. It's that certain "sound" that we are all used to... that's what the "phone" sounds like.

In technical terms, we call this "narrowband" audio and it has a frequency range of only 300-3400 Hz.

There are historical reasons for this limitation in telecom, but moving to IP-based communications removes those limits. With VoIP we can use what is called "wideband" audio to have a full rich sound to our voice or video call.

Have you had a really good Skype connection with someone where it sounded like they were almost right there in the room with you?

That is wideband audio.

The Codec Problem

Now, for voice or video over IP to work, you need to use something called a "codec" to translate the sound of your voice to digital bits and carry them across the network (and to do the opposite for whomever you are speaking with). There are MANY audio codecs out there and they come in all sorts of flavors and with all different kinds of capabilities. The problem has been that there hasn't been a codec that:

  1. is optimized for interactive Internet applications;
  2. is published by a recognized standards organization; and
  3. can be widely implemented and easily distributed at little or no cost.

In particular that last point about the cost of licensing, especially for wideband codecs, often caused developers to shy away from giving us the rich voice quality that we can now have with IP. Or, in the case of companies like Skype or Google, they went out and bought companies who created wideband codecs so that they could use those codecs in their products. (See my story from 2010 about Google buying GIPS.)

Now there are free codecs out there that developers can use. For narrowband, there has been the ubiquitous G.711 which provides an IP version of "PSTN audio". There have been many others, including notably Speex.

But the struggle has been that there hasn't been a widely accepted "G.711 for wideband" equivalent that developers can just bake into their products and start using. Instead there have been a number of different, incompatible codecs used in different products.

Enter Opus...

So to address these points, back in 2010, engineers within the IETF got together and formed the CODEC Working Group to come up with a codec that could meet these requirements and become the ubiquitous wideband codec used across the Internet. Skype was involved early on through contributing their SILK codec. The folks at Xiph.org contributed their CELT codec. People from many other companies got involved and there were huge technical discussions on the mailing lists and at IETF meetings.

And it worked... the Opus codec was standardized in RFC 6716 in September 2012.

You can read all about the codec at:

http://www.opus-codec.org/

The key points are at the beginning:

Opus is a totally open, royalty-free, highly versatile audio codec. Opus is unmatched for interactive speech and music transmission over the Internet, but is also intended for storage and streaming applications.

Open, highly-versatile... and royalty-free.

At that site there is some great information, including:

There is also a FAQ and many other great pieces of information.

So Why Does Opus Matter?

Opus matters because it lets developers focus on creating a high quality user experience and not having to worry about codec incompatibilities and licensing issues.

Opus matters because it lets developers easily create applications with high quality audio. They can just start using available libraries and communicating with other applications and devices using a common wideband codec.

Opus matters because it can work in very low-bandwidth environments enabling real-time communications across Internet connections that might not previously have supported such communications. As we start to get more Internet connectivity out to the 5 billion people not yet on the Internet, the ability to work over different kinds of connections is critical.

Opus matters because it can help foster innovation in applications and the user experience. Opus is the default audio codec for WebRTC, and so all the zillion new WebRTC-based apps and startups are already beginning with a far superior audio experience than we've had before.

Opus matters because it will enable even more ways that we can connect with family members or friends and have the experience of being "right there". It can help musicians collaborate better across the Internet. It can help podcasters and journalists deliver higher quality interviews across the Internet. It can, in the best conditions, give us that rich audio experience we get when we are right with someone - even though we may be thousands of miles away.

Opus can help us deliver on the potential of the Internet to create more powerful user experiences and to help us better communicate.

THAT is why Opus matters.

Learn More At Monday's IETF 87 Technical Plenary

To understand more about the current status of Opus, who is using it and where it is going, the IETF 87 Technical Plenary on this coming Monday evening in Berlin, Germany, will have a special segment focused on Opus that will include a number of people involved with the Opus work. The agenda for the session can be found at:

http://trac.tools.ietf.org/group/iab/trac/wiki/IETF-87

It is happening from 17:40-19:40 Berlin time, which is Central European Summer Time, which is currently UTC+2 and 6 hours ahead of where I live in US Eastern time. If you can't be there in person, there are several remote options:

If you are unable to watch the meeting in real time it will be archived for later viewing.

The first option above to listen to the session using the Opus codec (and WebRTC!) is a very cool one. The panel also includes people who have actually implemented Opus including people from Google and also Emil Ivov from the Jitsi softphone. Their insight into what they did will be great to hear.

What's Next?

So if Opus is so great, how do you get it?

Well, if you are using any of the WebRTC apps popping up all across the Internet, you are already using Opus. As I noted above, the Jitsi softphone supports Opus. In an interesting bit of synchronicity, I noticed that Michael Graves wrote today about the Blink softphone now supporting Opus. More and more communications apps are starting to implement Opus.

If you are a developer of communications apps or services (or a product manager), you can look at how to incorporate Opus into your application or service. There is documentation and software available to help with the process, and many people are out there who can help.

If you are a user of IP-based communications apps or services, ask the company or vendor behind those services when they will support Opus. See if you can get it on their radar as something to implement.

And regardless of what you do with audio, let people know that this new way of communicating exists - help spread the word about Opus - let people know that audio across the Internet can be even better than it has been to date.

As you can tell, I'm excited about the potential - and very much looking forward to seeing what happens as Opus gets more widely deployed.

What do you think? If you are a telecom developer, or a vendor of such services, have you implemented Opus already? Are you thinking about it? (and if not, why not?)


An audio commentary on this post is available at:


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SoundCloud Rolls Out Auto-Sharing To Google+

Soundcloud iosYesterday SoundCloud released a new version 2.6 of their iOS app that for the first time allows sharing to Google+. This is rather intriguing because right now very few applications are able to share directly into Google+. Google has very tightly controlled access to their Google+ APIs to the dismay of many of us who want to more easily share the content we create into our Google+ accounts.

The new SoundCloud app for iOS provides the following new features related to Google+:

  1. The ability to login to SoundCloud with your Google+ credentials. This is only really useful to people who are new to SoundCloud as it simplifies the account creation process by letting you login with your Google+ ID.

  2. The ability to share sounds out to Google+ from within the iOS app.

  3. Automatic sharing of new sounds you create to your Google+ account.

The last one is the most interesting to me and the focus of what I'll write about here. I'll note, too, that according to multiple reports, including an article in TheNextWeb, the ability to login to SoundCloud via Google+ is also available in the Android SoundCloud app, although apparently the sharing is not there. The automatic sharing is centrally configured in SoundCloud's web interface and so may not have a dependence on the mobile app.

Automatic Sharing From SoundCloud To Google+

This is again the most important feature of the update to me. SoundCloud has for quite some time had the ability to automatically share any new sound you upload out to Twitter, Facebook (including Facebook Pages) and Tumblr. This new release adds Google+ to the mix.

You need to login to your SoundCloud account and go to Settings -> Connections. Once there you will see a new Google+ button: Sc connections

Selecting the button allows you to go through the standard Google+ process to authorize this application to connect to your Google+ account. Once you do that, you will see a new connection at the bottom of your list of connections: Sc googleplus

Somewhat bizarrely it doesn't use a Google+ icon but rather something that reminds me more of MySpace.

Similarly, over in the iOS app, after you save a recording and are getting ready to post the sound to SoundCloud, the "Sharing Options" now have a Google+ option at the top - but without any icon: Ios app sc 1 In theory, this should all allow the auto-publishing of links to new sounds out to your Google+.

Sounds Great... But Didn't Work :-(

So, after configuring all of this, I recorded a new episode 5 of my The Dan York Report on this topic... and it did NOT auto-post to Google+. When I was in Google+ there was a yellow message that appeared several times at the top of my screen that said something like:

"Oops... there was a problem posting "TYDR #005 ..." Retrying.

Unfortunately it appeared and disappeared too quickly to get a screenshot.

Manually Sharing From SoundCloud Web or iOS App

The good news is that the SoundCloud web also provides a mechanism to manually share a sound out to Google+. If you click on the Share icon on the page for a sound, you can select the Google+ tab: Soundcloud sharing and then write a message about the sound and choose who to share it with: Share on googleplus

Similarly, you can now do this sharing from within the iOS app itself: Ios app sharing

I'm showing these windows for sharing the sound I created, but this could be for ANY sound that you listen to within the SoundCloud app or web interface.

So What About That Auto-Sharing?

Why didn't my first episode after configuring Google+ integration auto-publish out to Google+? I don't know. I'm going to assume this was perhaps a "teething pain" as the folks at SoundCloud get this integration working.

Regardless, it's good to see this integration with Google+ happening (assuming it starts working) and more apps being able to connect into Google+.


An audio commentary about part of this announcement can be found at:


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