open source social

To improve Funkwhale

I’ve been following Funkwhale for a while now and have written earlier about the project. Before I start I want to make clear that I love Funkwhale and I’m thankful to the developers and other contributors that have made it awesome. Lately however it has become obvious to me that the project could get more traction if the social interaction between users would be improved. Currently a user can do little to interact with an artist or other users. Also the interface can be confusing for people that are new to Funkwhale. It’s therefore that I’ve come up with some tips for the developers to tweak Funkwhale to provide the user a better experience.

But first what is Funkwhale. If you already know you can skip this paragraph and the next. Funkwhale lets you listen and share music and audio within a decentralized, open network. So you can upload your music library and share it with friends and family. Music from the public domain or with a Creative Commons license can be shared with all Funkwhale users. Funkwhale currently consists of 53 known servers (called pods in Funkwhale) which can communicate together using standard, free and open source technology. Funkwhale uses the ActivityPub protocol that is often used in the Fediverse, an ensemble of federated servers.

Funkwhale is both for people that create music or podcast and people that just like to listen to it. You can join an existing pod or create your own pod. The last option provides the most control over your music or podcasts. Other than Soundcloud or Bandcamp, Funkwhale is not owned by a central organization. Instead it’s a federation of pods from different owners that share music and podcasts.

Currently the user can explore and listen to music that is uploaded by others. Basic functions like adding to favourites, adding to a playlist or downloading are in place but discoverability and social functions are either non-existing or poorly implemented.

Discoverability. I would love to see a Trending tab in the Explore section. This Trending tab could contain a list of songs that are favoured the most e.g in the last month and a list of songs that are listened to the most in that same period.

Social interaction. Furthermore it would be nice to be able to see number of ‘streams’ per song or the number of times a song is favoured. Maybe further down the line could be the ability to comment on a song although I’m aware of the moderation problems that may cause.

Interface. The interface of Funkwhale is confusing at first. It took me a while to make sense of it with terms like channels, libraries, playlists and radios. Sure they all sound familiar but the intricacies were lost to me in the beginning. I wish I had read the user manual of Funkwhale sooner but I suppose many users just don’t read manuals. Anyway channels are a collection of audio files published directly on Funkwhale. While libraries are used to store collections of music such as your personal music collection or a collection of publicly available music. So a channel would be more for an artist to publish his or her own creations while libraries is for uploading work from others. Playlist have more or less the same function that they have on other music services. A user can create one, add or delete selected songs etc to a queue. Radios on the other hand enable the user to create a queue of music by a range of user defined parameters called filters (a pretty cool feature if you ask me). In addition the interface of Funkwhale has a great number of inconsistencies. To name just one when I open the queue I’m unable to favourite or get more information about any queued song. To conclude this part, the interface of Funkwhale offers a lot of great options but needs to be made more consistent and simplified for the user.

Funkwhale has so much potential and it’s, as far as I know, the only software out there that allows musicians and music listeners to share music and socially interact at the same time in a network without the burden of a centralized network where one organization tells you what you can and cannot do. The Funkwhale project is young and in its infancy so I’m convinced that it will improve over time and that the issues that I mentioned will be addressed. In the mean time I’ll enjoy using Funkwhale when listening to my own library of music, explore what music other have uploaded or just listen to my favourite podcast.

Some useful links for Funkwhale:

open source

Your music library and MusicBrainz Picard

With all the steaming services available why have your own digital music library? The reason for this is two-fold. First streaming services like Spotify or Deezer have a constant changing library of music as a consequence of the agreements that they make with rights holders. This means that music in your playlist can suddenly disappear (or being greyed out) or, what happened to me, explicit songs are being replaced by clean ones. The latter can cripple them to a point that they aren’t listenable any more. What the examples demonstrate is that eventually you have limited control over the music of these services. Secondly the service itself can change e.g the app that you’re relying on disappears as happens with the Spotify app on my Squeezebox network music player.

Alternatively you can build your own digital music library e.g from your CD collection. This is called ripping and is done with software such as the free and open source Asunder. Asunder creates nice digital music files in the audio coding format that you desire. It can even add metadata to the file by checking an external music database. The process of adding or changing metadata is called tagging. The result of this process is often incomplete and results to gaps in the music collection. This is where MusicBrainz Picard comes in. It’s a tag editor that can fill all these gaps and it’s pretty good at it.

To work with MusicBrainz Picard open a music file, a folder with music files or even multiple folders with music files. MusicBrainz either gets the missing metadata by comparing it with it’s own. If that fails MusicBrainz Picard can get the correct metadata with acoustic fingerprinting. This compares part of a song with their huge online database of MusicBrainz to find the right song and add the correct metadata. After everything is done just save the info to the music files and your done.

Another powerful option of Picard is to organize your all your digital music file. To do this just select all the music and drag it into Picard. This video demonstrates just how powerful this option is (alternatively you can also watch the video here:

MusicBrainz Picard and the MusicBrainz database are projects of the MetaBrainz Foundation. MetaBrainz Foundation has a philosophy of free, open access of data. It has been set up to build community maintained databases and make them available in the public domain or under Creative Commons licenses. Most contributions come from volunteers so users are encouraged either to donate or contribute to the data gathering process.