VirtualPresence: FriendFeed - Basics

At first, I was planning on gently describing some of the building blocks of the social web, like Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and so on. This would then lead into some of the more tricky stuff like FriendFeed. However, as my posting is somewhat irregular, I have decided to immediately go to some of the more fun stuff. If you think I'm going too fast, let me know and I will fill in some of those intermediate steps (and who knows, I might get to them later on anyway...).

So, on to FriendFeed!

FriendFeed is social aggregation web app, which is just a fancy way of saying that they collect what you share on other websites and present this as a single stream of information. You just make an account, add the sites that you use regularly and FriendFeed will capture what you do on those. Posted a Twitter message, favorited a YouTube movie, loved a song on last.fm, these are just some examples of what FriendFeed pulls in. Overall, they now support 48 services. You can also directly share links through FriendFeed.
Next to adding sites you use, you can also "follow" other FriendFeed users. Similar to following someone in Twitter, you will see whatever they shared (on sites they registered) appear in your FriendFeed account. As you can imagine, following a lot of people could become tricky through all different stuff that enters your account. To make this somewhat more manageable, you are able to add people you follow to different lists. I made separate lists to follow tech people, for instance.

You can find me on FriendFeed as well, of course. I share all kinds of stuff over there, not just metal-related items.

What about my band?
FriendFeed can be a good way to augment your online presence for fans that really want to follow what you are about. It makes it easy for people to follow what you do without them having to create accounts on all the same sites. Suppose that you posted a bunch of pictures of your last gigs on Flickr, FriendFeed will pick them up and fans that never go to Flickr will still be able to see them. 
Following other people is also somewhat easier through the different lists you can put them in. You can make a "Fans" list (where you could follow what your fans are sharing), a "Bands" list (where you can follow other bands with FriendFeed accounts), and so on.

Here, I have scratched the surface of FriendFeed because it will get even more interesting once we get to the supporting features and FriendFeed rooms.

Do you have a question about using webapps for your band? Drop me an email, and I might answer it on the blog.


Graspop 2009 dates announced

Mark your calendars!

The dates for the Graspop 2009 festival have been announced: 26-27-28 june 2009.
Now the speculating for who might play can begin. My wishlist:
  1. The Black Dahlia Murder
  2. Amon Amarth
  3. Slipknot
  4. Crimson Falls
  5. Neurosis
  6. Deathstars
  7. All Shall Perish
  8. Anaal Nathrakh
  9. Saattue
  10. Aborted
  11. Cradle Of Filth
Who would you like to see on Graspop in 2009?


VirtualPresence: Do you have that URL in Small?

If you used a service like Twitter for any amount of time, you quickly run into the problem of sharing a link through it. 140 character is not a lot of space, but there is a solution for this through URL shorteners. There is a whole lot of them, but the basics are the same for all. You give them a URL that you want to share, and they return you with a very short replacement URL that you can then use in Twitter (or anywhere else for that matter). When someone clicks the replacement URL, they are sent to the original one.
From a technical standpoint, a URL shortener is not that hard to create which is probably the reason why there are so many. Let's have a look at a few:
  1. TinyURL: This is about the first one I remember seeing online. Basic stuff, convert a long url into a short one. As a bonus, they'll let you choose an extension if you want to (good luck finding something readable that's not yet used).
  2. icanhaz: A URL shortener based on the lolcats. They also let you suggest an extension yourself.
  3. bit.ly: A newer URL shortener that took the idea further. If you shorten a URL with bit.ly, you can later on go and see how often it was clicked. They also download the page you referred to and archive it, so you can still see it if it would go down.
What about my band?
I recommend going with a URL shortener that can show you clickthroughs, like bit.ly. New services that build on Twitter start up regularly, if someone clicks your shortened URL through any of those, it will show up on the bit.ly info page as well. If you're not interested in clickthroughs, I'd still use it. Bit.ly is one of the shortest domains, and you never know when you change your mind and want to see them anyway.

Do you have a question about using webapps for your band? Drop me an email, and I might answer it on the blog.


Murder Manifest is following you

Two days ago, I noticed a new follower on my Twitter account. It was none other than Dutch death thrash formation, Murder Manifest. It looks like they got their online presence well established through their own website, and Twitter, Last.fm, and YouTube accounts (among a few others). They appear to be a good example of what I try to describe with the VirtualPresence posts.

But there is more - and this is the real kicker - they released their entire album, called Mental Surgery, for free online. You can go to their site and download it. Which I immediately did, of course. Especially as they mention being influenced by bands as Aborted, The Black Dahlia Murder and Dissection. They also released the album on cd on the 1st of September. I expect this type of distribution to grow further in the coming years, as even more mainstream artists are starting to do this. The best other example that I know about is Trent Reznor of NIN who seems to be at the forefront of developing new ways to interact with his fans and the public.
Now I'm going to put this Murder Manifest album on and listen to what they managed to produce.


An automatic lyrics evocifier.

I got an interesting comment to my previous post on the lyrical analysis (of Nocturnal by The Black Dahlia Murder). The idea that was proposed went as follows:
  • Would it be possible to build a tool that could take a (first draft) of the lyrics to a song and propose more evocative words, or maybe introduce certain figures of speech?
  • Would someone want to use it?
My short answer would be: 
Build such a tool? probably yes. 
Would someone want to use it? it depends.

Let's dig a little deeper and see what such a tool could look like and what kind of features it might have:
  1. A thesaurus: I would probably start with this. Easiest way of getting synonyms. I can envision a tool where you paste in your text, it gets analysed and you get a smart ui for displaying the results. Maybe the original text with possible word replacements in a different colour and when you hover over them, you get a pop-up with possible replacement words.
  2. Smart replacement algorithms: You can't just blindly replace words in a song as the timing of the song needs to be respected. Therefore, you need more or less the same number of syllables when you replace something or you have to replace multiple words. You might need to take phonetics into account as well to make sure replacement words sound "correct" next to the other words.
  3. Figures of speech: Now we get into more tricky territory. Working figures of speech into lyrics will be hard. Some of the more technical ones (like an alliteration) seem doable, even though you will be working on multiple words at once. But it doesn't take long before you need your tool to be able to understand the meaning of words, which brings us to...
  4. Semantics: The joy and trouble with English words is that you usually have several synonyms for a word that mean more or less the same, but convey slightly different nuances of that concept. Unfortunately songs can be about anything, which means your tool needs to know about the general meaning of words as well. There isn't one specific domain that you could try to model. You basically have to do them all.
  5. Automatic translation: There exist a lot of bands whose members do not natively speak English. If they could write in their mother tongue and have tool translate it correctly to English and introduce more descriptive words and figures of speech while all the time maintaining the underlining meaning and atmosphere... Killer feature, I'd say.
Looking over the list, I think it would be possible to build a tool that does 1, 2, and at least part of 3. Entries 4 and 5? years away.
Part of the problem is indeed also who would be using the tool. At least for metal bands, not all of them go the atmospheric way. If you're in a down-to-earth band with songs about real life and society, then you are going to want to use words like "bloody" instead of "sanguinary". And even if you would want to use such a tool, a lot of bands probably would not want to pay for it. You can find a thesaurus online for free, ask friend who knows English well to help out, and save the money for other stuff like instruments...
Nevertheless, I found it a cool thought expirement. Now it's up to you! Did I miss a cool other possible feature? Am I underestimating what is possible linguistically? Or if you're in a band and write lyrics, would you pay for a tool like this?


Lyrical Analysis: Nocturnal by The Black Dahlia Murder

I pay less notice to the lyrics of songs then I used to. Now, when I buy new cd's, I have a quick look through the booklet for the artwork, usually while I'm ripping them for my mp3 player. But for a lot of releases that is the only time the written lyrics pass by me. 
Once in a while however, a hear a song that does make me want to now what exactly is being sung. One of those is "Nocturnal" by The Black Dahlia Murder. There are some hooks in that song that made it interesting, certain parts that could be clearly heard that draw you in. I had a closer look at the lyrics and found more than I expected.
Let's do some analysis:
  1. A minimalist booklet design: Apart from the front page, the booklet does not contain any artwork or pictures. Each song has its lyrics printed on a separate page in a light font on a dark background. With the lyrics before you and nothing to distract you, your own imagination will draw up visions of what is being sung about. This is a trick that horror writers sometimes use as well. Instead of meticulously describing every physical aspect of a monster, they stay silent on specifics. This way, the reader will imagine the monster as something which is particularly frightening to him personally.
  2. Free flowing text: The lyrics of a single song are printed as a continuous sentence. There is no punctuation to break up the text. No indentation indicating the start of a chorus. It puts your brain into a higher gear because it is harder to follow the lines. But it also has the side effect of keeping you better focused on what is going. Your mind is less likely to drift away.
  3. A dark ritual: I read from the lyrics the description of a dark ritual going on: a sacrifice, a forbidden book, the calling upon an unholy master, blotting out the sun, ... Good stuff!!
  4. Figures of speech: The choice of words used to compose these lyrics was not done haphazardly. Serious effort went into provoking a sense of dread through vocabulary and style. 

Perfect for a closer look (lyrics are in italic):
between the lines of dead language tongues 
before the dawn our hearts they shall hunt 
the smell of blood excites the nostrils
at first cut the sanguinary worship of 
"sanguinary", not "bloody", but "sanguinary", excellent word.
red spraying punctures a sight so divine
clutching her carcass face frozen in time 
Here we have the first of a set of alliterations (clutching-carcass, face-frozen), more will follow
a distorted dialect for the draining of veins 
Like before, more repeats (distorted-dialect-the-draining)
to the flooding of bedsheets with sick crimson rain 
They could've gone with "reddish" maybe, but "crimson" has a more evocative feel.
a warped diction of scriptures befouled 
traditions steeped within disgraces reviled
father, unholy one, to your nightrealm we bow 
nocturnal majesty, sworn to black we'll always be 

damnation's diction, a deadly disclosure our poisons in their goblets drip 
More repeats (damnation's-diction-deadly-disclosure)
How perfectly hideous, so eloquently scribed each scripture so skillfully sick 
And more (scribed-scripture-skillfully-sick)
parchment scabbed over with plasmatic prose, prophesize permanent night 
And even more (parchment-scabbed-plasmatic-proces-prophesize-permanent), be assured, this is no coincidence. Writing lines like these takes time, effort and talent.
the words of sheer blackness paint ebony my soul and bestow me with infernal might
"ebony", another choice for a more evocative color than simply brown. And not to forget, a bit of rhyme (night-might). 
A warped diction of scriptures befouled 
traditions steeped within disgraces reviled 
Father, unholy one, to your nightrealm we bow 
nocturnal majesty, sworn to black we'll always be 
A call and an oath upon the dark one. It would indeed be unlikely for a cabal of cultists to request something from their master without them having to pledge themselves to him for eternity. I suppose, who knows what it's like to be a cultist these days...
hatred and persistance 
destined to see 
a complete eclipse 
of that hated sphere the sun
Blotting out the sun, a lofty goal... not so easy to reach...
by the light unspoken 
this language of brutality
enraptured I have become 
unholy night's arms welcome me

nocturnal majesty, sworn to black we'll always be 
hatred and persistance 
destined to see 
a complete eclipse 
of that hated sphere the sun


VirtualPresence: Hashing up some more Twitter

Last week's post on Twitter was on basic Twitter usage. Today, we'll see another aspect of Twitter that you are bound to run into when you start using the service.
As it happens, people on Twitter often post messages on the same topic. They might, for instance, reveal their thoughts on an upcoming event (like elections, etc.). These messages only go as far as the circle of people they are followed by. In order to find these kinds of messages, the #-character was introduced as a convention. For example, if you are going to put a message up on the upcoming American presidential elections, the you can include the word "#election" in your message. And this makes it easy to find those kinds of message. Just head over to the Twitter search page, enter "#election" as a search term, and voila, all recent messages about the elections show up (well, at least the ones that also had "#election" inside the message).
These #-tags are not imposed by a certain company or institution. Anyone can start using a new one. The hard part is getting others to use it as well...

What about my band?
So what do you need to do with #-tags for your band? I wouldn't bother with them too much. Keep an eye out for those that are actively used and that you can use. Maybe a festival that you will be playing at has its own #-tag... If you find any of these, don't hesitate to try them out, but otherwise, there's going to be more useful things to do instead of doing this kind of semantic tagging.

Do you have a question about using webapps for your band? Drop me an email, and I might answer it on the blog.


VirtualPresence: Twitter

First of all, I changed the name of this series from "Social Sites for Bands" to "VirtualPresence", while the former was kind of a bland description, the latter has a better ring to it and is shorter to write.

So, today I'm gonna talk about Twitter and there's lots of stuff to say about it (probably enough for multiple posts) so let's start with the basics. Twitter is a small webapp where you can make an account for yourself and post messages. The trick, however, is that your messages (often called tweets or notices) can only be 140 characters long, similar to a text message (SMS) on a cell phone. For this reason, Twitter is often referred to as a microblogging site. Twitter also lets you follow other Twitter users. If you're logged in and you look at the profile of someone else (like mine), you'll see a button under their picture that reads "follow", press it and you are linked to them. The result is that when you log on to Twitter, you will see their messages as well in a single timeline.
Sometimes, when you see a message form someone else, you might want to reply to this. The @-character can be used for this, as follows:
  • A_Band: Touring Germany for the time next month, anyone know about a good tourbus company?
  • Dafmetal: @A_Band You should have a look at Bunny&Devil-buses.
Now my reply will show up in A_Band's feed. This works even when you aren't following each other!

What about my band?
This should give you a basic overview on how Twitter works. Now, the question remains, what's the best way to use Twitter for my band?

Keep the messages band related. For your band account, your best bet is to keep it band-related. Keep the "My cat is going to the vet."-posts for your personal account. Some good topics?
  • Gigs you're going to do or just played.
  • Recordings you're doing.
  • New merchandise that you're bringing out.
  • Post about the equipment you use.
  • ...

Decide what your following strategy will be. A Twitter account for a band will mostly be about getting info to some of your most loyal fans. Once you start being followed, there is the temptation to follow those who are following you. But when you follow someone, they'll partly expect you to be interested in what they post, and you might not be able to keep up. If this means that you no longer add people to your follow list, you are essentially breaking up your follower base into two camps. With one side feeling let down and possibly giving you a bad rep. My advice is to decide up front what your following strategy will be and choose: 
  • Follow no one.
  • Follow everyone that follows you.
Remember, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't @reply to people if they post something good. Twitter is really meant to connect with people indirectly.

The best way to get a feel for this stuff is to try it out, so head on over to Twitter and make an account. And don't forget to let your fans know about it through your website, blog or newsletter. And make a comment on this blog so we can find you.

Do you have a question about using webapps for your band? Drop me an email, and I might answer it on the blog.