25 July 2007

ccMixter.org - First Impressions

I've finally just started to experience both sides of ccMixter.org for the first time - once as content provider and once as as remixer. And the first impressions are very positive. If you want to hop right over and skip reading my notes below, I would recommend starting with the ccMixter about page.

So you are still reading this? Ok here we go:

General Impressions
Being sponsored by the Creative Commons organization, ccMixter is not littered with advertising and assorted visual madness so commonly seen at social networking sites these days. While I consider that as an overwhelmingly good thing, some aspects of the user interface take a bit of getting used to, because it is so refreshingly clean, different and not yet another clone of so many other over-hyped so called web 2.0 sites. It's a bit like using Google for the first time, after having used Yahoo for a long time. ccMixter packs plenty of web 2.0 punch, many things implemented much cleaner than on other sites. How many sites have we all visited with more than one "play" button for various snippets of music, but when you already have one piece playing, and press on another play button, the first piece continues to play? ccMixter gets this right. A newly pressed play button switches off the previous piece and starts playing your newly selected one. And the site handles changing browser window sizes and/or font sizes about as elegantly as can be done these days. Just those two things - done better than so many high profile sites - are a couple of immediate tip-offs about the thought, craftsmanship and caring that is going into this site. Victor Stone is the gentleman behind most of the programming code and he goes by the handle of "fourstones" on the site. And being a very good music maker and remixer in his own right, he is an active participant in remixing as well as uploading samples in addition to hovering around the forums to answer questions and give guidance. I wonder, if he ever eats or sleeps. :-)

ccMixter (so far) doesn't have a "friends" mechanism. I don't know, if that is a philosophical choice or a question of maybe adding it later. Personally I hate the inflated friends thing (and on many bigger sites it quickly gets to be that way) - it becomes quite useless, once there are too many friends for each person. But on the positive side a friends mechanism is one interesting way to link-hop and can be a fast way to find people one already knows, because a friend may have already marked them as friend. So a friends mechanism has worked for me at times, but only while the numbers of friend linkages is reasonably small - maybe up to 30-50? However ccMixter offers fabulous RSS feeds for following the exploits of the people one wants to stay in touch with. In addition it's easy to see what comments (called "reviews") a site participant has made, so that is one way to to link hop, although those lists end up quite lengthy as well. Maybe the system could be programmed to derive a "friends" type of list from multiple comments having been sent back and forth between individuals? In any case, it's a fascinating problem to solve for social networking sites, regardless of topic.

Generally speaking, ccMixter doesn't try to re-invent all kinds of wheels or make itself the hub of your entire life on the Internet. So while it clearly is a social networking site around musical collaboration (remixing being "sequential collaboration"), it's not there to handle your entire online life, promote your band or other stuff so common amongst the social networking clones out there. It's a place where reasonably serious music makers meet for the purpose of remixing. Overall ccMixter doesn't try to suck you into visiting the site all the time for ad revenue or to drive the hit counters up for a future takeover by one of the dot com giants. How refreshing!

Licensing
The licensing of source materials is straightforward creative commons based - this means content at ccMixter can be freely remixed, sampled, mashed up and re-published non-commercially (some content even allows commercial re-publishing). This type of licensing allows the music to flourish and is becoming recognized by more and more visionaries in the arts as well as in business.

Maintaining an Identity
Signing up to the site was straightforward and fast. One can create a profile page with a single small image (remember ccMixter doesn't try to be a promotional site for bands or general hangout for buddies), a link to one's home page, some "about" text and a couple of other informational items. A great feature is the ability to send emails to other users without knowing each other's email address. I much prefer that over the PM (private messaging) systems, which force me to log on to the hosting site to see what the message was. The PM madness out there is like a return to the stone age of multiple disconnected email systems. ccMixter scores big points in my book for its approach to messaging. (Even the software we're currently using for the a minor theory site gets this wrong - Note to self: fix that!)

Uploading content
This worked straightforward as well, but this is where I spent some wasted time and bandwidth, because I didn't read the upload page properly. While the initial distinction between acapella tracks and other loops is sensible, it would have saved me some time and ccMixter some bandwidth to be able to switch my uploaded files from "sample" to "a capella" after the first erroneous upload. To get the tracks into the right category I ended up deleting them and re-adding them through the right link. Similarly, it might be nice to switch a regular remix upload into a contest entry later on, or vice versa.

A ccMixter limitation, which I have a lot of sympathy for is the 10MB limit on uploads. I have sympathy for it, since in my own experience with our "a minor theory" site, uploads of more than 10MB's often fail. Combinations of web host limits, slow Internet connections and browser timeouts can make uploading larger files a difficult proposition. However, this limitation makes it quite a bit of extra work to upload entire remix packs. For example the remix packs for our a minor theory songs even in FLAC format are between 36 MB and 64MB. So I ended up just uploading a capella tracks and creating a link to the full remix packs hosted at our own site. Maybe it's just fine that way, too.

Submitting my remix to the Salman Ahmad remix contest was overall a very straightforward and pleasant process, but it did ask for a bit too much private data for my liking. Why does one have to part with that data just for entering the contest? I understand that some additional data may be needed for the winners of contest, but that would only be a small subset of the contestants and could be collected only from the winners at the time that it becomes necessary. Fortunately that additional private data isn't shown publicly on the site, but in the age of identity theft, I am a bit hesitant to submit private data to a website, because even the best designed, programmed, managed and well meaning website can suffer from a programming bug or an attack. In ccMixter's defense, one doesn't actually have to enter that data at the time of uploading the contest entry, but can fill it in later - could that be after one is notified of being a winner?

Finding things and staying informed
There's a useful general search function, although one needs to keep in mind that the underscore _ character is used instead of a space in most name and keyword fields. There are lots of links - you are always only one click away from any provider of content. There's a useful forum for more public group dialog and to get help. All content is tagged with system selected as well as uploader definable tags, so for example, one can quickly find content with tempo 125 to 130 bpm. Or a female melody a capella track. As mentioned before, there are RSS feeds all over the place. Maybe one nice addition might be to be able to get separate feeds for just one forum area rather than only a combined feed for all forum traffic. I find RSS indispensable to keep in touch with a lot of stuff, and can only highly recommend learning how to take advantage of subscribing to such feeds.

Listening (New paragraph added 2007-07-26 GMT)
In addition to having a really nicely implemented ccMixter Radio, editor's choices, and user ratings, ccMixter's playlist feature is a great way to remember, organize and track favorite remixes, or the worst of the worst, if you are so inclined!. You can have many playlists and listen to or subscribe to other user's playlists, including the omnipresent RSS feeds, so you can stay informed of other user's updates to their playlists.

So even for pure music listeners ccMixter offers a superior experience to most social networking music sites. As the quantity and quality of the content grows, there is little doubt in my mind, that ccMixter will become one of the legendary music destinations on the web. And because of the creative commons licensing, it is immune to a lot of the nonsense affecting internet radio and online music in general. As the corporate players in the traditional music business are becoming ever more aggressive in locking up music, sites like ccMixter will continue to bring music makers and audiences together. There is already quite a bit of quality music there - and even some of the less refined stuff has a raw charm to it, which reminds me of the magic of experiencing music more personally. intimately. The web version of musical performances in a small coffee-shop or club. Instead of leaving a tip, you can leave a review for the online performer. A nice comment makes any performer's day whether it be after a live or after an online performance. On a site like ccMixter it's much easier to avoid listening to crap than on most commercial radio stations with it's corporate rock bands, mickey mouse club alumni and television contest winners. And ccMixter doesn't have advertising blemishing the music experience.

Bottom Line (for now)
These are just my first impressions, and so far there is a lot to like about ccMixter - and in my opinion it's the overall best remixing site I've found so far. I hope that most of my remixing friends will start joining ccMixter. The site has the potential to become the best remixing treasure on the web - in many technical ways it already is, but a continuing influx of talented music makers will really fulfill it's potential. I recommend starting with the ccMixter about page

In addition, I've seen talk about additional collaboration features being added. That would be a great addition indeed, since remixing and collaboration are highly related and many remixers end up collaborating (heck, that's how a minor theory started!)

I'll try to actively participate at ccMixter by providing more samples from a minor theory and some of my own as well as remixing some other content from there outside a contest. It will be interesting to compare the experience of a site without a "friend" mechanism to other sites with friend mechanisms.

After having given ccMixter a first good spin (pardon the pun!) , I have a little bit of the same feeling, when I first bumped into Wikipedia or the Internet Archive. This has the makings of becoming one of the very special destinations on the web.


Any errors, omissions, or other thoughts, please leave a comment. - Thanks!

6 comments - add your comment:

teru said...

That is a great write-up. I wish everyone who reviewed something would put the time and energy into the research that you did.

PS - We're ALL friends at ccMixter. ;)

MC Jack in the Box said...

very well written and insightful. and as you nicely pointed out, much credit to Victor for all the hard work he puts into making ccmixter such a groundbreaking and awesome place.

fourstones said...

I hope someone knows a good food delivery service because my head no longer fits out my door -- thanks all, especially spinster for such a great review.

of course imho the site is nothing without the talent that has so generously chosen to put their music into the Commons.

Dork said...

Hey spin. I'd just like to point out that, similar to the way the Pulse files have been published, you could upload the AMT tracks as multiple files in the same object. This is a great way to get around the 10 MB upload limit.

jbuckman said...

Great review, really detailed with helpful thoughts. This kind of thing really is helpful to Victor in his work.

Also, I really enjoyed your remix of Salman from http://ccmixter.org/media/people/spinmeister

I forwarded a copy of both your review and your Salman remix to Salman himself, as he's been really keen to know how the remix contest is going, and he'll be happy to see that good stuff is coming in.

-john

Jeane Goforth said...

I will pass your thorough review on to my music director and the orchestra members who I know are doing a lot of remixing. And I will subscribe to your blog feed so I can learn more.