The DuckDuckGo search engine has grown and grown over recent years, now serving over a million queries per day I’m pleased to announce DuckDuckGo has now integrated Player FM’s podcast search, using their “!Bang” feature for cross-site searches. This is helpful for anyone doing research on a topic, who decides they want to burrow deeper and maybe even play a conversation in the background while continuing with their research on the topic.
If you haven’t seen DuckDuckGo’s !Bang before, here’s an example. The !youtube query below will redirect over to YouTube and continue searching for the query there.
Now, with the new Player FM Bang, DuckDuckGo users can search over 600,000 live podcast episodes by appending !player to their search:
This will take you straight to Player FM’s search results:
Power searchers will be pleased to note Player FM’s custom search grammar works right from inside the DuckDuckGo search box:
The quotes and minus sign entered on DuckDuckGo are acknowledged by Player FM:
That’s all for now. I’ll be introducing a major user-interface upgrade on homepage and channel pages soon, but meanwhile, give !player a whirl at DuckDuckGo!
I received a mail this morning asking if Player FM can show episodes in reverse order, i.e., oldest to newest. Although I haven’t heard the request, and it’s not crossed my mind to do this, it immediately made sense. So I decided to build it.
How is this useful? Since Player FM automatically plays episodes continuously, from top-to-bottom, showing Oldest First allows a listener to catch up on old episodes in the order they came out.
In fact, for some shows, it’s really the only way to listen to them. I’m thinking primarily of fiction such as novel readings and bedtime stories, since they’re often produced in series.
Furthermore, there’s a huge trend in TV recap podcasts, which work through TV show episodes one at a time. If you want the skinny on a whole season of Mad Men, you probably want this new feature.
Keyboard shortcuts are the web trend no-one knows about. Only in hushed circles will you learn that Twitter, Google, GitHub, and others are all working tirelessly to end world dependency on the mouse. Yes, it’s true. And if you visit Twitter right now and hit “?”, you too can learn how to browse, search, and compose without ever lifting your hands off your keyboard.
And now, Player FM lets you go mouse-free too. Hit “?” any time on any Player FM page to see the shortcuts you can use:
I should explain that seeking can be slow at times; since the website streams directly from publishers’ servers, it depends on their respective server setup how nicely it will respond to jumping around the track. Unfortunately, some servers need to load everything up until that point, so if you go forward 10 minutes, it will need to load 10 minutes of audio.
Also, you might wonder how next and previous work. What playlist do they move through? The playlist is the list of episodes the current episode first appeared in, as shown in the image below. If I start playing the Tim Burton episode, the next track will be the one below it and the previous track will be the one above it. This is even true if you navigate away from the Kermode page; the player remembers the most recent time you started any episode.
As you can see on the screenshot, this is still experimental and I’d love to hear from people who have suggestions for further shortcuts or anyone encountering difficulty with these, which might happen on certain international keyboards. Note that web app shortcuts should generally be just simple keys, not modifiers like ctrl, shift, alt, etc., to avoid conflicting with built-in browser and operating system shortcuts. And also the space bar (which would be the ideal choice for play/pause) is reserved for scrolling. I used this Wikipedia page to help ensure the keyboard shortcuts will work reasonably well across different layouts, but I can probably do more if there are any major issues with certain layouts.
Special thanks to Stuart Memo and others who participated in this Google Plus thread to help plan this feature.
Most podcasts have pretty good “album art” images…as with mobile apps, it’s the first impression and the way they often get discovered.
Unfortunately, some don’t.
In some cases, they never created an image in the first place. In other cases, they stuck with the default branding of their publishing system. And sometimes, they only check if it’s working in iTunes, which might have saved their old image years ago, so the publisher doesn’t actually realise the image in their feed is no longer working!
Whatever the case, it’s not so pretty when you see this:
So Player FM now allows for feed images to be overridden. If a feed doesn’t include an image, we can manually set it after searching for the image online. And if we can’t find the podcast’s official image, we’ll automatically add one with the right label:
We have a back-end tool to make it easy for Player FM’s researchers to quickly add replacement images, so we’ve now gone through all 2000 or so featured series and ensured they have good images, and will do so for non-featured images soon. Image overriding is only available to the researcher team for now, but as I work to wikify content, it will become available for more users.
For the first time since launching, I’ve added a bunch of improvements to Player FM’s feed fetching bot. This change improves timeliness (i.e., content is now more up-to-date), removes duplicate entries, and removes many error pages.
This article is mostly technical back-end stuff, so you may wish to look away now if you don’t want to know how the sausage is made.
I’ll share a quick summary below, but a brief background on the feed bot first. The feed bot is a continuous process that runs on its own server. It checks every series on Player FM about once every few hours, requesting the latest episode data from the publisher’s server. When new episodes are recognised, it adds them to Player FM’s database. If there’s an error calling the server, an exponential decay algorithm is applied to ensure the bot doesn’t waste time on it.
Player FM has elements of being a wiki, including the fact that any user can add a new podcast series. So it’s not surprising that Player FM borrows some concepts from Wikipedia, and this “alias” concept is related to Wikipedia’s redirects. When a Wikipedia user renames an article, the old title lives on so it can redirect to the new one. That’s nice if people (or computers) have previously saved the old article. Now, Player FM does the same thing. If a feed title changes, it will remember the old title and redirect it to the new one.
In more detail, Player FM now aliases three identifiers: “slugs”, ids, and URLs. “Slugs” are similar to the title and designed to appear in the URL, e.g. the show titled “This Week In Startups – Audio” has the slug “this-week-in-startups-audio”. IDs are the underlying ID, and will be important for applications outside of the website, like mobile apps. URLs are the feed URLs where the podcast lives on the web.
The next few points identify some of the benefits of this alias concept.
Manually updating aliases and slugs
Because of the alias concept, we can now safely update the URL for a series. Some publishers have asked me to do so, because someone previously submitted a URL they consider to be unofficial. I’ve also noticed some shows, like 5by5 network, have moved away from Feedburner, so we need the ability to switch around URLs. In cases where Player FM has indexed both the old and the new URL, the system will automatically merge subscriptions too. And because of aliases, if someone later on tries subscribing to the old URL, they’ll automatically be subscribed to the new one.
Similarly, we can now update slugs safely. The first implication is that I was able to make our slugs a little bit cooler. Specfically, you won’t see paths like /series/—a–great_show. It would now appear as /a-great-show. Slug aliases made it possible to update Player FM’s URLs without breaking old links and angering the Googlebot. A possible future implication of slug aliases is we can manually change individual shows’ slugs if they are complicated.
The bot has always followed redirects, but previously, it would just follow the redirect every single time it called it. Now, it will update the series URL to reflect the new place it’s pointing to. And of course, it will create a URL alias in case someone tries to add the old URL again. (Are you spotting the pattern here?) This happens as long as the redirect is a permanent one (301).
Canonical FeedBurner URLs
About a quarter of feeds are Feedburner-hosted, and since Feedburner URLs come in many different forms, it was worth “canonicalising” them. Basically, we want to see all of these as the same thing: http://feeds.feedburner.com/GoodShow, http://feeds.feedburner.com/goodshow.xml, http://feeds2.feedburner.com/goodshow?format=rss. I wrote this up in more detail on my blog.
New or broken feeds would previously show up with title “Untitled”. This was poor user experience in the event a user had just imported several series. Now the title will show up a little more intelligently; typically, as the domain name of the feed, and in the case of FeedBurner, will show up as the path (e.g. “GoodShow” in the example above). Untitled episodes will now show with the name of their parent series, combined with the date.
The main thing left here is actually identifying duplicate series, now that we have a mechanism for dealing with them. For now, this happens automatically in the event of redirection, and we’ll respond to manual requests from publishers, but in the future, I hope to automate more of this using a tool to flag possible duplicates. This would probably be based on matching titles (as proposed here, the “dumb” technique of matching titles is probably the most effective technique too).
I finally made a much-needed renovation to the episodes and series design recently (as you may have noticed, both types of page are driven by the same underlying template, so it’s really a change to both at the same time).
How is this different?
Overall, a cleaner look which emphasises the main series or episode being displayed.
The latest 10 episodes now show a summary, which is extracted from the publisher’s description. Previously, only the title was shown.
Tags are now active links. They’re linked to a search, which I’ve found works quite well in practice and probably better than just linking to other series with the same tags.
Related items are shown on the right. These are related episodes if you’re looking at an episode page and related series if you’re looking at a series page. Most of the time, these use a matching algorithm which looks across the whole site for similar content. However, if the series is in a featured channel, the related series will generally be other shows in the same channel.
Added sharing buttons.
Text is now cleaner – I’ve improved processing of podcast feeds, so there’s much less code shown now!
The page loads faster as episodes and related content is loaded via Ajax, i.e. after the initial page load.
Posted by Michael Mahemoff on September 19th, 2012
Search has been the most demanded feature on Player FM’s UserVoice forum and I’m pleased to say it’s now here! It comes at a point where we have 600,000 episodes indexed, synchronised with about 10,000 podcast series, so if you’re looking for a listen on just about any topic, enter it into the search bar. You’ll find it on top of every page.
The search results are focused on individual episodes, but will also bring up matching series and featured channels (curated “mega-lists” on various topics). By default, episodes are ordered by date…latest episodes first.
Search works similarly to Google search. When you enter two or more terms, it will look for shows matching all terms you enter. Not just one term, but all terms, must match.
You can search for a phrase by including it in quotes.
And you can exclude a term by including a “-” before it.
There are various search options available too, if you hit “Advanced Search”. You can restrict results by episode duration, time, and sort by relevance instead of date. You can also turn on safe search to avoid podcasts marked as explicit.
I’ve updated the homepage to help deal with all these new channels. It’s still a work in progress, but hopefully it’s easier way to find what you’re looking for now.
In other news, the app finally works in Internet Explorer. Well, IE9 at least! Users of IE6-IE8 should be prompted for Chrome frame support. The app also works on IE in Windows Phone, but again I have to give a caveat here, and it’s a big one. Due to the problems WP7 has with loading external fonts, icons are broken. (I did tell you this was going to be a biggie.) At least we know the app is tantalisingly close to functional, and I have a task on the backlog to get this up to speed. (Full disc
losure: I am the fortunate recipient of a WP7 test device from Microsoft Developer Relations.)
Finally, I’ve improved the basic player for Android browser. It now supports seeking in both directions, shows duration, and is overall more responsive. However, this work has also uncovered a major bug with Android Browser. In short, any phone call or text message will cause a paused track to resume. This is surprisingly difficult to work around, so for the time being I’ve left this behaviour as is. I can’t unfortunately recommend switching to Chrome until its own bug is fixed, where it stops playback altogether when the screen is turned off or the app switches. Please star this bug on Google’s tracker if you’d like them to fix it.
Mobile matters for podcasts. To borrow from a recent tweet, “hearing is a mobile sense. You can listen while doing other things. That’s why Player FM is so cool: surfacing cool audio content”. For that reason, it’s important people can keep Player FM in their pocket, whether they’re on the move or even just moving around at home. For that reason, Player FM’s website has a range of user interface updates today, aimed at making the mobile experience smoother and improving overall device compatibility. In this post, I’ll summarise all of the recent updates.
The channel switcher is available as a sidebar on the desktop, but comes into its own on mobiles as the primary browsing mechanism, allowing you to rapidly flick through recent shows on any topic. Logged-in users can personalise the menu by starring their favorite channels, whether on mobile or desktop.
Fixed Navigation Bar
There’s now a navigation bar on top with big “finger friendly” buttons to control playback and a running time display.
You can hit the toggle button to slide down extra track info, and the clickable progress bar.
Pause Button and Progress Indicator
When you hit a play button anywhere on the app, it will transform into a pause button for immediate control. Furthermore, an animated progress indicator will show directly on the play button. These are small changes, but they make a big difference to the experience of starting a track, and bring Player FM’s user interface more in line with user expectations. This is available on all form factors.
The app is now be working fine on:
All modern desktop/laptop web browsers (including recent versions of Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari)
Mobile Safari on iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad
Chrome on Android and the new Chrome app for all of the above Apple devices
Chrome on Google TV
For Android, there’s an in-page “mini player” experience for the Android Browser, because the browser is built on a relatively old foundation and needs some special audio handling, and also the fixed navigation bar is not feasible. Android users might even prefer this to Chrome for the time being, as Chrome for Android still has a flaw that unfortunately shuts down audio playback when the screen is turned off or the user switches to another app.
The Player FM researchers have continued to unearth high-quality, frequently updated, podcast series. We now have 124 topic-specific channels, each with an average of around 11 hand-picked series. The new update has focused on business, tech, programming, publishing, religion, specific industry verticals such as aviation and book, and “fandom” channels like Star Trek, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. All that makes for one big channel cloud and I definitely have short-term plans to bring some structure to the growing list of featured channels before they take up the whole page! For posterity, the full list as it stands today is here.
One condition I’ve relaxed for channels applies to the new collection of “fandom” channels like . Many of these are tied to older films and TV seasons, and of course many people do watch those older shows. So in this case, I’m okay with a series not being updated in the past few weeks, as long as the original content is still intact.
Up to now, viewing a channel’s latest episodes has involved opening the channel page. That’s great if you want all the detail of every series, but most of the time, you probably just want to see (and hear!) latest episodes. Now you can flick between channels without leaving the homepage.
With a solid nod to Twitter’s suggested user lists feature, new users now have a starting point. The onboarding experience makes it easy to get started with subscriptions.