CastNinja: a desktop alternative to iTunes

CastNinja is a new web app by Jesse Morris that uses the Audiosearch API. 

Jesse Morris is a big podcast fan. He tries to expose himself to a broad range of topics that interest him, and he’s fascinated by podcasts as a form of unregulated media that can address something as inane as socks or as elaborate as French Revolutionary history.

Jesse is also a software developer, and while he typically uses an app on his phone to listen to podcasts, sometimes he wants to listen on the web to avoid running his battery down. He used to use iTunes, but stopped after he switched to using his Android device for music and podcasts. He found that it was difficult to find a good replacement for desktop listening — so he decided to create his own, CastNinja, using the Audiosear.ch API.

Finding the Audiosear.ch API was a happy piece of luck for Jesse: he was looking for an API that provided metadata and MP3 source information for podcasts, and he happened upon a thread on StackOverflow that mentioned Audiosear.ch. He read the developer documentation and went from there.

“I looked at other tools but didn’t find any great candidates… Audiosear.ch was easy to use and provided all the metadata and hosting information I needed — and it was very easy to get it up and running quickly.”

CastNinja’s user interface is deliberately simple. It provides an interface for seeing top shows and the ability to create an account and subscribe, but doesn’t it push alerts to you. Jesse says he designed it more in the model of Twitter, where you follow a podcast and see the latest episodes. Users can also see popular shows they might be interested in, and create playlists to listen to.

Jesse says he found the Audiosear.ch API intuitive and easy to use. “I looked at other tools but didn’t find any great candidates. iTunes was one option, but I’ve read that their API is poorly designed and difficult. SoundCloud was another possibility, but their API is focused on embedding their player as opposed to permitting access to metadata. Audiosear.ch was easy to use and provided all the metadata and hosting information I needed — and it was very easy to get it up and running quickly.”

CastNinja started as a desktop solution to podcast listening, but — once all the functionality is in place — Jesse would like to develop a mobile app as well. While the app wouldn’t initially add any new bells and whistles, he’s keeping an eye toward what it would take to scale, and what the next steps might be in terms of growing and responding to his user base.

Try CastNinja here, or give the Audiosearch API a whirl yourself!

See you in the archive,
The Pop Up Archive team

TriPod podcast celebrates New Orleans’ past

Weatherbeaten wharves in New Orleans. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

To celebrate the tricentennial of New Orleans, WWNO — the NPR member station for New Orleans and the 13 parishes of southeast Louisiana — wanted to create something intimate and rich that captured the history of the city in a meaningful way. The result is “TriPod: New Orleans at 300,” a unique on-air program (and podcast) that, over the course of three years, celebrates the city’s past through short, documentary-style episodes.

Laine Kaplan-Levenson is the host and producer of TriPod. TriPod’s 10-minute episodes air bi-weekly, and each one is its own mini history documentary. A recent two-part episode (I, II) for example, told the story of a World War II internment camp called Camp Algiers that housed Europeans who the United States thought might be Nazis.

Laine produces the show on her own, but she has an auxiliary team of historians, professors, and museum curators who help her identify the stories behind some of the city’s most compelling pieces of history. Each month they sit down to discuss different topics to cover. After selecting the topic for the next show, Laine reaches out to people to start interviewing. As the sole producer, she knew she would need to rely on tools in order to keep up with the bi-weekly schedule, so rather than transcribe tape by hand — as she has done in the past — she signed up for Pop Up Archive. Continue reading

Streamlining the Mortified production process

A participant in a Mortified stage show. Source: Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Teen angst. Embarrassing moments. Cringe-worthy choices. These experiences are the bread and butter of Mortified, the stage show and podcast that encourages ordinary people to “share the shame” of their childhood writing.

Dave Nadelberg founded Mortified in 2002, and today runs it alongside his producing partner, Neil Katcher. Together they help produce stage shows in 20 cities across the United States and the world — and transform a curated selection of those stories into three monthly podcasts. They use Pop Up Archive to automatically transcribe and tag tape in the editing process. Continue reading

Using Pop Up Archive to bring broadcast stories to digital communities

“Pop Up has been a way to make our process more efficient and allow ourselves to put more online, which is more sustainable for our staff and better for Vermont Public Radio as an organization.” —Angela Evancie, VPR Digital Editor for News

Angela Evancie is the digital editor for news at Vermont Public Radio. She facilitates online stories for VPR’s website, repurposing broadcast news for the web and overseeing special web-only projects such as data visualizations, interactive features, and videos (like this nifty explainer about the Iowa Caucus from 2016).

Most of any public radio station’s content is conceived of as an on-air (audio) product; the digital editor’s job is to make sure that the station is also serving online audiences, who are reading or interacting with the story in ways other than listening. Angela and her colleagues at VPR use a Pop Up Archive team account to transform on-air pieces into written content for the VPR website.

Source: Vermont Public Radio

VPR has three daily news magazines — Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Vermont Edition — and short interviews from each of these shows often find a second life as online articles.

A typical process starts with the radio broadcast being uploaded to Pop Up Archive. Sometimes, VPR editors take advantage of the fact that they’re publishing online as an opportunity to post a longer version of the original piece.  “After we get the transcript from Pop Up Archive, then it then gets edited. If we’re keeping the online piece in an interview format, we’ll just edit it for accuracy. Other times, we’ll rework the transcript into an article format,” Angela says. Next, the article is posted to VPR’s content management system, given art and final polish, and published to the web. A few recent examples that went through Angela’s team to be republished as content for online readers include a story on a children’s book about coping with death, an interview with author Chris Bohjalian, and an interview with Vermont’s new attorney general.

VPR also leveraged Pop Up Archive in the weeks leading up to the general election. The station conducted interviews with all of the major and third party candidates running for statewide office: 24 interviews in total. The interviews occurred over several weeks and aired in different shows and segments. In order for the web content to be valuable to readers and voters, VPR wanted to package the interviews in such a way that their audience could do side-by-side comparisons of the candidates on specific issues. They used Pop Up Archive to transcribe the interviews and repackaged the interview highlights into a comprehensive voters’ guide. “The content was among our most successful in 2016, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Pop Up,” Angela said.

The process of transforming broadcast content into web content is one that occurs at VPR almost daily. But when Angela started at VPR three years ago, its web operations team was much less robust, and the process of translating on-air content into web content happened much less frequently. Each time they wanted to share a written version of a piece online, Angela or another producer would have to do their own transcription by hand.

Pop Up Archive has been an important tool for the station as its appetite to do more online, while being realistic about resource and time constraints, has grown. “Pop Up has been a way to make our process more efficient and allow ourselves to put more online, which is more sustainable for our staff and better for Vermont Public Radio as an organization,” Angela says.

See you in the archive,
The Pop Up Archive team

Analyzing audio with free speech-to-text models from Pop Up Archive

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

An emerging archival speech technology project is underway at the University of Texas at Austin, and its inspiration comes from a piece of software called ARLO that was developed to analyze an entirely different form of aural communication: bird song.

Called HiPSTAS (High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship), the project is a collection of software tools and communication channels to help researchers access and analyze archival spoken word collections — for example, by analyzing audio spectrograms to identify particular traits such as pitch, tone, and speed. HiPSTAS was founded by Tanya Clement, an associate professor at the UT-Austin School of Information, along with collaborators at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The group has received several grants since its founding in 2012, including two from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The ability to search archival spoken word recordings along multiple parameters has powerful implications for historical research and literary scholarship. While digital sound recordings are increasingly available to scholars, searching through the files for discernible patterns is time-intensive and cost-prohibitive.

Stephen McLaughlin is a research assistant and PhD student in Information Studies at UT-Austin and a contributor to HiPSTAS. Steve is currently working with WGBH and Pop Up Archive on the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, part of which entails a massive effort to use machine learning to identify notable speakers’ voices (for example, Martin Luther King, Jr.) from within AAPB’s 70,000 digitized audio and video recordings. As part of the AAPB project, Pop Up Archive transcribed the entirety of the AAPB and released free models for the open source speech-to-text software Kaldi, with the intention that the models could be used to enable other audio collections to be transcribed and thus searchable.

“The language models Pop Up Archive has assembled are more accurate, and do a way better job of identifying proper nouns, than other tools I’ve seen.”

While testing potentially useful tools to combine with HiPSTAS, Steve downloaded Pop Up Archive’s free models. “The language models Pop Up Archive has assembled are more accurate, and do a way better job of identifying proper nouns, than other tools I’ve seen,” said Steve. “The other exciting thing is that those models can be extended. I can take the model, transcribe a recording or correct its machine transcription, and use that output to make it more accurate for my needs. The flexibility of this system is really exciting.”

Kaldi is free software, released under an MIT License, that can be run on institutional servers, making it a natural choice for libraries, archives, and institutions that have a long-term approach and technical resources to support their projects. This is something Steve has personal experience with: “I’ve seen this happen, where commercial API services are here and gone. So the ability to run Kaldi locally is really an important tool to have in your tool belt. Pop Up Archive is providing a really valuable service by contributing their resources to a project like the Kaldi models.”

As an exercise, Steve recently used Kaldi to run through 80 hours of recordings by the poet Robert Creeley from the PennSound archive, the topic of his undergraduate thesis. Creeley used certain phrases and expressions over and over, such as the word “company” — so Steve searched the Kaldi transcript for every instance of “company” and then generated a supercut, combining the different tones and intonations into a continuous string of audio.

HiPSTAS team members are very interested to share what they’ve learned from their collective experience, and in the coming months Steve plans to publish code demonstrations for other researchers working with archival audio. He’d also like to write about his work with the American Archive of Public Broadcasting to identify speakers in large audio collections. Finally, he intends to run a workshop covering his work with Kaldi at one or more conferences later this year.

Anyone currently working on archival sound projects can access HiPSTAS’ preliminary release of tools called the Audio Tagging Toolkit. You can also download Pop Up Archive’s Kaldi models on Github.

See you in the archive,
The Pop Up Archive team

Find new listens with Alexa’s “Magic Podcast”


Amazon Echo digital personal assistant. Source: Flickr.

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just tell someone, “Find me a podcast about science,” and they’d do it immediately? With the Amazon Echo digital personal assistant Alexa, you can.

Erik McBeth is the developer of the Alexa skill called Magic Podcast, which uses the Audiosear.ch API to find and play podcasts based on title or subject matter. This means you can simply say, “Play Fresh Air” — or whatever your podcast of choice is — and the newest episode of that podcast will begin. Even cooler, Magic Podcast can also be used as a discovery tool. Discover podcasts by subject area by asking Alexa to “Find a podcast about food,” or “Find a podcast about business.” Magic, indeed.

Erik got the idea for Magic Podcast after developing another Alexa skill called Magic Jukebox that allows users to stream SoundCloud music on their Amazon Echo. The most complicated part of the skill — responding to requests to pause, start, and skip tracks — was written during the Magic Jukebox development cycle. All Erik needed to adapt it for podcasts was to find an API that could plug into his existing infrastructure.

“So far so awesome. Don’t need to subscribe to anything. Say the name of the podcast and it plays the most recent episode. Simple.” — an Alexa Magic Podcast skill user

He looked at a few different options, including Feed Wrangler and Digital Podcast, as well as others that had seemingly gone defunct. None were a fit, since Erik needed links to actual mp3s served up over HTTPS (Alexa will not play audio from untrusted sources). He also liked the fact that by using Audiosearch’s API he could allow his users the option to play a specific show or look for podcasts on a certain subject.

Users have responded very positively to the skill, commenting on the novelty (“This skill just upped the cool factor of Alexa! Made her more functional for me.”) and simplicity (“So far so awesome. Don’t need to subscribe to anything. Say the name of the podcast and it plays the most recent episode. Simple.”) Erik has many plans for adding to the skill in the future, such as allowing users to save favorites or screen out podcasts they prefer not to listen to.

For now, users are simply enjoying the ability to add podcast functionality to their Echo experience. Have an Echo? Enable the “Magic Podcast” skill here. Or take the Audiosear.ch API for a spin yourself!
See you in the archive,
The Pop Up Archive team

Resurfacing treasures from California archives

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-7-28-39-pmCalisphere is a growing aggregation of digital collections from 180 institutions across California. It currently contains more than 670,000 images, texts, and audiovisual materials on a sweeping range of topics that reflect the collecting areas of its participating institutions.

Sherri Berger is a project manager at the California Digital Library who managed the re-release of the Calisphere collection in 2015. We talked to Sherri about this massive project, including goals for the redesign, the response they’ve had from the public, and some of her favorite audio available in the collection.

What was the goal of Calisphere? Who is its audience?

Calisphere was developed and is maintained by the California Digital Library, in partnership with the ten campus libraries of the University of California. One of the biggest and oldest regional digital library sites of its kind, Calisphere is more than ten years old and still going strong!

Calisphere was originally launched in 2006 with the goal of making academic research collections accessible to non-academic audiences, with a deliberate focus on K-12 teachers. Today, the site maintains this public mission, but we think of the audience as even broader, including K-12 students, undergraduates, scholars, family historians, creative professionals, and the “casually curious.”

You recently did a re-design. What challenges did you encounter?

I think one of the hardest things about a “reinvention” of an existing site is balancing the new vision with the needs of legacy objects and metadata. This issue comes up in any redesign, but the scale at which we work and the heterogeneous nature of the collections can make it all the more complex. At the same time, you don’t want to always do the safe thing — you want to take risks that will make at least a majority of the content more easily discoverable and interesting for users.

Between the project team at the California Digital Library, additional development staff at UC Berkeley, and librarians at all ten campuses, I’d estimate about 30-40 people played some role in the implementation. It was a true collaboration.

Sound is part of your collection. What types of audio are included?

Calisphere only recently has started to take in sound objects in a systematic way, which is exciting. The audio really runs the gamut.

There are a ton of oral histories, featuring all sorts of people, whether they have had a renowned career (for example, jazz composer Dave Brubeck from University of the Pacific) or have important personal or community stories to tell (for example, the Vietnamese Oral History Project from UC-Irvine).

The single largest collection of audio is UC-Santa Barbara’s Cylinder Audio Archive, which includes recordings made from the late 1800s to early 1900s, including popular songs, vaudeville acts, comedic monologues, and more. (I am particularly fond of this recording of the “Maple Leaf Rag” hand-played by Scott Joplin.)

And many of the sound objects on the site were identified as essential for the preservation of California’s historical record. These were digitized by the California Audiovisual Preservation Project from a variety of institutions.

How did you decide how to organize the audio to make it searchable?

Admittedly, Calisphere isn’t currently super optimized for searching audio for a couple reasons. For one, the model for Calisphere is that it is first and foremost an aggregator: for audio objects, it brings the metadata in, but it currently doesn’t stream the files right on the site (except in some special cases).

Meanwhile, from a user experience perspective, the fact is that Calisphere was traditionally mostly an image and text repository, so we leaned heavily on the visual component. But now that we are getting more audio, we are revisiting some of our design decisions to make sure that content is just as findable and accessible.

Why is Calisphere important?

California contains such an incredible group of collecting institutions, from public libraries to universities to community historical societies. But many of those institutions lack the technical resources to really get their collections out there and visible to their users. For instance, maybe they’ve got some digital objects in a library catalog, but they are hard to find on the open web and not presented in a modern design.

In Calisphere, those collections really shine: they get the full user experience, they get indexed in Google, they get put in exhibitions, they get sent to the Digital Public Library of America. In short: they get discovered and used!

Thanks, Sherri!

See you in the archive,
The Pop Up Archive team

Is “Oaklandish” more than just a clothing brand?

hakey-in-recording-boothThis week, we bring you a guest post from Haley Vien, a junior at Envision Academy in downtown Oakland, just around the corner from Pop Up Archive’s offices. Haley joined Pop Up Archive for two weeks in December as a full-time intern as part of a Work Learning Experience for her school. In addition to contributing to our social media accounts and helping test the Audiosear.ch clipmaker, Haley wrote this piece on what it’s like to find her way as a teenager in Oakland. Oakland is a huge part of Pop Up Archive — most of us live and work here — so we’re especially grateful to Haley for this deeply personal perspective of Oakland that we can share with the wider Pop Up Archive community.

It’s strange to be from somewhere you love, yet to not feel of that place. That’s how I feel about Oakland.

Living in Oakland but not feeling quite Oaklandish is complicated for someone who is still trying to discover who they are. I feel extreme pride and happiness to be part of a diverse, creative, and passionate community, and I’m trying to fit, but I feel like I stick out like a crooked puzzle piece. I don’t understand the lingo, I don’t know much about the local people or shops, and most of the time I don’t know what part of Oakland I am in. I don’t even own a single piece of clothing from the Oaklandish brand, which is a local clothing brand that celebrates Oakland. I have lived in Oakland all of my life, but I don’t feel Oaklandish in my soul. Continue reading

How I listen: Lucy Carnaghi

lucy“I love podcasts — always fantasize about doing my own someday!”
Meet Lucy Carnaghi. Lucy is the co-owner of a restaurant in Detroit called Rose’s Fine Food (“The Ultimate Diner”). In her free time, she enjoy foods and entertaining, reading and writing, exercise, horses, and making things. This is how Lucy listens.

When did you start listening to podcasts? Did someone teach you how to subscribe, and have you taught anyone else how to listen?

I started listening about five years ago because I wanted to catch up on This American Life episodes I was missing on regular radio. My interest in other podcasts grew from there. I tried to teach my dad, but I’m not sure if it really stuck for him. Continue reading

Telling audio stories from within the walls of San Quentin prison

Ear Hustle tells stories from life on the inside

“Before using Pop Up, we literally listened to tape and hand wrote it out. Or the other option was to listen to half a sentence, stop the tape, type it out, stop it, listen to more. It was insane; it took so much time. You could say that it made me hear the tape a lot more, but it was horrible and it was holding us back.”
—Nigel Poor, co-creator, co-producer, and co-host of Ear Hustle

Ear Hustle is a forthcoming podcast from Radiotopia, and the winner of Radiotopia’s Podquest competition to uncover innovative, rich stories and storytellers. Ear Hustle will tell stories of life within the prison system, revealing the experiences, characters, and perspectives of incarcerated Americans. And it’s told by the people living it. Continue reading