31 October 2015

Vocal 2.0 Beta Released

Hey, Nathan here. I’m the guy making Vocal.

I am extremely excited to announce that Vocal 2.0 is now in beta! This beta release is the result of six months of intense, dedicated work, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.

Vocal 2.0 Library View with the Starter Pack

##What’s New?

  • iTunes Podcast Store. Browse the top podcasts on the iTunes store, discover new shows, and search for your old favorites. This is the first time that the entire iTunes podcast store, the largest and most up-to-date podcast directory in the world, has been directly available from a client on the Linux desktop.

  • An incredible new search experience. Find podcasts and episodes from your library, or search across the entire iTunes ecosystem to find shows that match your interests.

  • A new playback queue. Want to listen to several episodes in a row? Add them to your queue, so that when the current episode finishes, the next one will start automatically without skipping a beat.
  • HTML show notes. Have you ever listened to a podcast where the presenters tell you to check the show notes for a link to a particular topic or to find out more about the show? Now, for supported podcasts, you can directly access the full show notes listing directly from within Vocal.

  • Full iTunes URL support. In the past, when adding a feed manually, you would have to find the standard RSS feed URL to add the podcast to Vocal. Now, simply copy-and-paste the iTunes store link and Vocal will automatically find the RSS feed for you.

  • Smarter notification management. Vocal 2.0 handles notifications in a way that presents useful information to you when necessary, but stays out of your way as much as possible. In the past, a new notification was sent after each download, as well as every time new episodes were discovered. Now, if you are downloading multiple episodes, Vocal will wait until they are all complete to notify you. It also knows whether or not you are currently focused on the window, so that it won’t needlessly bug you with information you already know about.

  • Completely redesigned from the ground up. While you will notice many common elements that you loved in the first version of Vocal, 2.0 features an entirely redesigned experience that I am confident you will fall in love with.

  • Playback improvements.
  • Hundreds of additional bug fixes and improvements.

##Reporting Problems

As this is a beta release, you are absolutely guaranteed to run into issues. Please report any problems that you have over on the project’s GitHub Issues tracker. If you stumble across a podcast that Vocal is having trouble adding to your library, be sure and let us know about that, too.

##Supporting the Project

As you know, Vocal is 100% free, and always will be, but it takes an incredible amount of time and effort to keep the project going. Simply put, the more money that the project has to pay for development, the more time I am able to dedicate to the project. It also helps me pay contributors such as web developers, designers, and other coders to help make the project even better.

All I ask is that if you enjoy using Vocal, and have the means to do so, please consider a small donation. $1, $2, $5- no matter what the amount, it all makes a big difference.

The best way to support the project is to become a Patron. Patreon is a platform where you can give creators a certain amount of money each month, in return for the stuff they make. You also get cool bonuses. Specifically for me, I send out riddles each month that you can solve and input the solution into my apps for a nifty easter egg (this beta release supports the codes I have already sent out). I also send out early development builds to my top level backers (they have been using Vocal 2.0 for about three weeks now). You can subscribe at any level you want- a quarter a month, a dollar a month, five bucks a month- it’s up to you. It helps you get cool stuff and helps keep me doing what I love.

If Patreon isn’t your style, we of course accept one-time donations by Bitcoin, Paypal, or pretty much any other method you want to use.

##Installing Vocal 2.0

Okay, okay, I know what you’re here for. Here’s how to install Vocal 2.0 on elementary OS 0.3 “Freya”:

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:nathandyer/vocal-daily
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install vocal

If you have already added the unstable PPA you don’t need to add it again. Just check for updates and you should see the new version.

I hope you enjoy! Be sure and let me know what you think on Google+, Twitter, Email, or by leaving a comment here.

- Nathan

6 July 2015

Vocal Has a New Website

Following our last blog post several developers reached out to us and offered to help with moving our website from Squarespace over to GitHub Pages. We want to thank everyone for their willingness to help, and most of all we wish to say a huge thanks to Martin Peter (also known as quassy) for doing an outstanding job on our initial port! He has done some great work and his attention to detail is evident when you notice how similar our new site is to our old one.

That said, the work is far from over! There are still some rough spots here and there, such as the screenshot slideshow on our front page. If you think you know of a way to polish up the site our repository is hosted on GitHub and we welcome any and all pull requests! If you notice a problem with our site, please feel free to report an issue.

This also opens up the possibility for website translations, which our international users have been requesting for a while now. We will be looking into the best way of doing that over the coming weeks, so if you are interested in helping us translate our site, please stay tuned.

Thank you all again!

21 May 2015

Developer Q&A

If you missed the live developer Q&A over the weekend the entire hangout was archived on YouTube and is embedded below. For best results we recommend skipping to 5:45 to avoid the initial setup and technical hiccups. This Q&A session covers lots of questions about our IndieGoGo Crowdfunding Campaign, plans for Vocal 2.0, Birdie 2.0, and more.

Please let us know in the comments if you would like to do another live Q&A session. In the meantime, please enjoy the archived video and consider contributing to our campaign if you like what you hear.

3 May 2015

Clarifying A Few Points About Vocal 2.0 and Our Fundraising Campaign

Hi, everyone! Nathan here. I’m the lead developer for Vocal. In case you didn’t know, I kicked off a crowdfunding campaign for the project a few days ago. I wanted to take this opportunity to clear up some questions and make a few statements in regards to some of the questions and comments I’ve received in the past few days.

Where’s the money going? Isn’t $14,000 too much?

On our IndieGoGo page I mentioned that all costs so far have been funded out of pocket. This past year I’ve spent somewhere between $200-$300 on the project through things like domain registration, website hosting and bandwidth, and a few (very small) donations to people that have helped us with design work or code in some way.

First and foremost, if we meet our goal the money will be used to pay those costs for the upcoming year(s). We also want to pay our designers and other contributors more money. They’ve done great work, and they deserve to be compensated.

Although that’s top priority, that’s obviously not where the bulk of the money will be going. I plan to quit my primary job and focus on open source development semi full-time. Vocal 1.0 took well over a year to create. I genuinely spent hundreds of hours on it, entirely unpaid.

Vocal 2.0 has some huge features planned that will also take hundreds of hours, probably even more than 1.0 did. Adding a new podcast directory with search support, and baking it in to work seamlessly with the rest of your library, is a giant undertaking. Device syncing is also a monumental effort. These are really important features, but they will take a ton of work. The only way I can get a great product out in a reasonable amount of time is to focus on it nearly full time.

So, here’s the exact breakdown of the $14,000 goal:

$14,000 - 4% IndieGoGo fee - costs to operate the campaign = ~$12,000 remaining

That’s $1000 per month for me to live on for one year. When you figure in rent of ~$500/month, phone/internet/electricity bills of around ~200/month, that just leaves $300 for groceries, fuel, insurance, and other expenses. It really is the absolute bare minimum for me to live.

Keep in mind that that goal is below minimum wage in my home state of Tennessee, USA. This isn’t a get rich quick scheme. I’m not filling my bathtub with cash (although I think I would look cool in a monocle and top hat). I’m just wanting a decent meal and a place to sleep while I work on something that I am truly, truly passionate about.

Isn’t $14,000 too much for a podcast app? Podcast apps are pretty simple.

Podcast apps are not remotely simple to design and develop. There are so many pieces that fit together. It’s like an RSS feed reader app + a music player + a video player + library management all put together and talking to each other, and that’s only for 1.0. In 2.0 we’re adding a lot of complexity by communicating with multiple APIs and providers, tons of new UI design and implementation work, and an unholy amount of testing. We want Vocal to work as well on as many Linux distros as possible, and that means individually testing and tweaking the code on each and every one of them. Plus packaging it for each distribution. That’s not to mention the amount of testing needed to ensure the new Android + iOS + multiple desktop sync works as it should.

Also, keep in mind that $14,000 is actually pretty low for a podcast app. The only truly modern desktop podcasts apps that I’m aware of are Instacast and Downcast (both on Mac OS X), and both cost $9.99.

If you assume that the same number of people who downloaded Vocal over the past two weeks bought just one of them, then that app would have already made $20,000.

I’m not asking for $10 from every user (although I think Vocal is worth $10). I’m just asking for people who like the project to give what they can ($1, $2, $5, $20- anything) and help support the project. Small donations add up, and each one is appreciated greatly!

Are You Still Working on Birdie? If you get funded, what will your schedule look like?

Yes! Absolutely. I’m starting to put the final plans together and I intend to begin actual work in the next two or three weeks.

As I said in our IGG profile, I will be developing these apps completely full-time for 5 months out of the year, and then working a couple days a week for the remaining months.

During the full-time months my schedule will probably look something like this:

Mon-Wed - Work on Vocal, ~10 hours per day (~30 hours per week)

Thur-Fri - Work on Birdie, ~10 hours per day (~20 hours per week).

I think Birdie 2.0 will be ready much quicker than Vocal 2.0, so I plan to work entirely on Vocal during those other months. I am probably underestimating that figure, though, so that’s subject to change.

So, really, you get two apps for the price of one!

You keep using the phrase “semi full-time.” What does that mean?

I am a college student (CS major, in case that wasn’t implied) getting ready to start my final year, I have one 5 hour per week on-campus job that pays the remainder of my tuition after scholarships are applied, and I also work semi-full time for a school system as a Mac technician for a 1-to-1 deployment. I have worked there, if you include my initial internship, for over four years now. I work there 5 months full-time, and then one day a week throughout the rest of the year.

Basically, if we get funded I’ll be quitting that job and using that time to work on these two open source projects. Think of it this way: when I’m not in class finishing up my final year (and I’m only in class a couple days a week), I’ll be working on one of the two projects.

I have other questions/concerns/comments. How do I get them to you?

If you have any of the above you can personally reach me in a ton of ways. You can comment here on this blog post, you can Tweet to @nathandyer_me, you can ask me on Google+, and you can send an email to mail [at] nathandyer [dot] me.

I also plan to host a public Hangouts on Air where people can come on and ask questions. That will be coming up in about a week, so stay tuned for more info on that.

Please Consider Supporting Vocal

As I said before, please consider supporting out campaign. Even if you only have a few dollars, they’ll add up. If you have more, then obviously that is appreciated as well. If we all work together I am confident that we can meet/surpass the goal. If you can’t donate, I understand. Please just help spread the word.

Thank you all so much! Support Vocal here:

10 April 2015

Vocal 1.0 Now Available

Our first official release is now publicly available! Some of the features for the 1.0 release include:

  • Audio and video podcast support
  • Built-in video playback
  • Automatic checking for new episodes
  • Episode position saving
  • Streaming and downloading support (works offline)
  • Smart library management
  • Automatic downloads
  • Full system integration
  • Library importing and exporting
  • and much more!

For a more detailed overview of some of the features please visit our home page, and if you need help getting started we have in-depth documentation available as well.

Vocal is designed for elementary OS Freya and will work best there. It has also been tested to work great in Fedora and Ubuntu GNOME Remix, and should also work well in most GTK-based environments running GTK+ 3.14 and above.

Please continue to file bug reports if you encounter any issues. We will keep releasing updates in the 1.x series until we reach 2.0.

If you are new to podcasting, or would just like some suggestions, please check out our official starter guide.

Visit our downloads page for installers and information about our new stable PPA. Also, stay tuned in the next few weeks for a major announcement that I’m sure you’re going to love!

5 April 2015

Vocal 1.0 Release Candidate Now Available

Exactly one year ago, on April 5th, 2014, I announced Vocal to the world. Today I am very excited to announce that the version 1.0 release candidate is now available! This represents the past year of work and is the final stage before our first major release!

The installation packages and instructions can be found here, at our downloads page. If you’re an elementary OS Freya user it’s as simple as downloading the .deb installer and opening it with software center (or from the terminal if that’s your preferred method).

Although Vocal is designed primarily for elementary OS it should also work well in other distributions. Ubuntu-based systems can install using the provided .deb packages as well, although you will also need to install a few additional packages. For now, if you’re using a distro that is not based on Debian you’ll have to install from source. Packages for Fedora (RPMs) and Arch will be available for the final release, but for our release candidate I’m still trying to keep things simple. Please note: Vocal requires GTK 3.14 or higher to run, so you’ll need a recent release of your distribution.

The release candidate stage means that the first stable release is almost here! We believe Vocal is starting to feel pretty stable, so we want to get it in the hands of as many users as possible for them to kick the tires before we declare that it’s ready for everyone. If you run into any issues please report them here so we can fix any high-priority bugs before the release.

Also, if you speak multiple languages please consider helping us translate Vocal! We want as many people as possible to be able to use it in their own native language.

Assuming the release candidate period goes well, we’re aiming to release our final version on Sunday, April 19th. If we get several critical bugs we may have to push that date back, but for now that’s our goal.

Please enjoy the release candidate, and be sure to let us know how it goes! You can leave a comment here, tag us in a post on Google+, or send me a message on Twitter (@nathandyer_me).

Thanks to all the people who contributed artwork or patches during our first cycle! I hope you all enjoy!

31 January 2015

Some Growing Pains

If you are a beta tester, this post might be of interest to you. First, let me start off with the good news. Over the past few weeks we’ve been getting reports of segfault errors when trying to launch Vocal, but I believe that problem was fixed last night.

Unfortunately, that fix led us to discover another bug, and this one is pretty critical. Due to a single overlooked comma in the source code, album art wasn’t getting saved correctly in the database. If you start to notice either that your album art is suddenly missing, or you are unable to add a new podcast feed, please do the following steps:

  1. Open Vocal, click on the gear menu, and select export subscriptions. Save the backup file somewhere where you will be able to find it.

  2. Open terminal and enter the following commands (or remove the folders using a file browser if you feel confident in navigating to hidden directories inside your home folder). Please copy and paste these, as entering them incorrectly could lead to potential data lose.

<pre> rm -rf ~/.config/vocal rm -rf ~/.local/share/vocal </pre>

  1. Open Vocal again. Everything should be reset. Select the import option and choose the file you exported in step one.

We apologize for the inconvenience. We absolutely hate ever having to tell users to delete their configs, unfortunately this bug was at the database level and just too important to leave alone.

As always, if you find any other issues, please report them at our Launchpad page.

29 January 2015

Vocal is One Year Old Today!

It’s hard to say exactly when a project is “born”. Is it when the idea first hits? After the initial planning stages? At the first line of code? The public announcement? It’s hard to say, and there’s no definitive answer.

A year ago I started working on what would eventually become Vocal. I had some functional code, and I knew where I wanted it to go, but I didn’t have a name. Then, while sitting on the couch in my Fourth Doctor Decorative Bath Robe (It was the Winter holiday, after all), the name just came to me. I immediately grabbed my laptop and registered the project on Launchpad.

That was a year ago today.

So what’s ahead for Vocal? For now, let’s just say we have huge plans for version 2.0. I think you will absolutely love it. More information about that will come in the next few months. But for now, we’re focused on polishing up 1.0 and getting a stable release out to users. Right now there are 6 confirmed bugs remaining, as well as some additional issues that need to be given a closer look, and some code cleanup before it’s ready for the masses. We should have a release candidate available before too long, with the official stable release not far behind.

Thanks for an amazing year! There has been a ton of support and feedback, and it all has been greatly appreciated. Here’s to an even bigger, crazier year two.

  • Nathan
8 November 2014

New Features Available, Feature and Translation Freezes Coming Soon

Yesterday we landed one of our last big features for the 1.0 release: new episode count banners on top of podcast cover art. These banners dynamically change so you can easily see which podcasts have fresh content for you to enjoy. Check it out:

Vocal also made a switch from using Gtk.IconView to Gtk.FlowBox, which means podcasts rearrange themselves automatically as the window grows.

This was one of out last main features, meaning there is now only one major new feature in development: implementing MPRIS2. As you can see, that is also currently being worked on:

Once the MPRIS2 implementation is complete we will enter feature and translations freeze. During that time we will only be focused on finding and squashing as many bugs as possible. No new major features will be added. In-app text will also remain unchanged so translators can go ahead and work their magic without having to worry that the text will change (for more information about helping out with translations visit our Get Involved page). It’s hard to say how long the feature freeze period will last before we reach our release candidate stage, but I expect it to be at least a month, if not longer.

We are getting closer and closer to our first release!

19 October 2014

Feature Freeze, Translations Freeze In Effect

“Snowcone?” (Pixar)

Vocal is fast approaching its first stable release, and an important step on the path to 1.0 is the feature and translations freeze. This freeze gives translators time to translate the text inside Vocal into multiple languages with a guarantee that the text won’t change before the release. It also marks the end of new features, meaning all development will be focused on fixing bugs and making the experience as stable as possible. Only in situations where new features absolutely must be added or strings must be altered will we do so.

This freeze comes on the tail end of adding MPRIS2 support, which means that Vocal can be controlled by the sound menu. MPRIS2 support was the most-requested feature from commentors at OMG! Ubuntu! when the site ran an article about our beta release, so I’m very happy to have this working for the 1.0 release. It still needs some polish, but it is functional. Not only does it allow for sound menu support in elementary OS, but it also allows for deeper system integration on any desktop environment that controls media via dbus and the MPRIS2 specification. Here’s a picture of it in action:

As always, please report any bugs you come across over at our Launchpad page. Fixing bugs is our focus from now up until the stable release! Stay tuned!

12 September 2014

New Features Available, New Album Art Chosen

I want to start this post by saying a giant thank you to Alexander Wilms and Mashnoon Ibtesum for submitting artwork for us to use when podcast album art can’t be found! Both submissions were stunning and would fit wonderfully in Vocal, but ultimately only one could be included, so we decided to use this art by Mashnoon Ibtesum (the red border is only used here to make it stand out against the background):

While most podcast feeds have album art enclosed in them, occasionally you might encounter some without it. Before now, missing artwork would have caused the app to completely break. As of last night, feeds without included cover art behave just like any other feed. There are still many improvements to be made, but this marks yet another critical bug fixed that otherwise caused a small number of users to not be able to use Vocal.

There are some other great bug fixes and new features that have been added lately that you might like. For one, a new option to Download All Episodes is available by right-clicking the album art in the library. Perhaps the other most significant improvement is the new downloads popover. Previously, multiple downloads caused the popover to keep expanding without any scrolling capabilities. Now you can move up and down between downloads seamlessly.

Additional bug fixes include a patch for an issue where episodes with absurdly long titles caused the entire window to expand, download progress information enhancements, and more work with translations support. We are aware that translations aren’t being applied for users on non-English systems, and are working hard to get that fixed for you. Stay tuned!

1 September 2014

Vocal is in Need of Generic Podcast Feed Album Art

Most podcast feeds provide their own album art, but there are times when such artwork is not available for one reason or another. Since browsing through your library is done by clicking on album art the entire experience breaks when Vocal can’t find any to use.

That’s why we need generic podcast feed album art. We would greatly appreciate any and all submissions from icon designers who would be interested in making an important contribution to the project. There aren’t many requirements, it just needs to have square dimensions, have a license that allows us to use it and distribute it freely, and most of all, it needs to look great inside the app. I feel like a lot of generic art is bland and boring, so bonus points for color!

Here are some examples of what the generic art looks like in iTunes and Music (Noise):

If we end up using your artwork we’ll feature your name in the about dialog for the app. You can send us your submissions in the usual ways: comment here on this post, tag us on Google+, mention @nathandyer_me on Twitter, or email it to mail@nathandyer.me.

31 August 2014

New Saved State Features Now Available

Good news for fans of long podcasts: Vocal now remembers exactly where you leave off in each episode, and starts playback at the same position. That means no more hunting around trying to find your place.

Not only that, but it also picks back up to the same episode and position as the last time you used it. Just hit play and continue enjoying your podcast without missing a beat.

See for yourself (sorry, the audio didn’t record properly):

Several other new features and bug fixes have landed this past week, including confirming that you want to quit if you have episodes downloading, and some improvements to text in the playback area for users of different themes and systems.

These new features are fresh out of the oven and guaranteed to have bugs. Please report them in the usual way.

24 August 2014

Welcome to Vocal's New Home

As many of you know, from the very beginning of this project I have been posting all the development updates and announcements on my own personal blog. It has served me well, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed a different solution. It was too difficult for people to learn more about Vocal. I wanted a site that would showcase some of the features it had to offer, give potential users a simple way to figure out how to download it and try it for themselves, and also make it easy for contributors to discover how to get involved.

As luck would have it, I received an email early on from a web developer named Matt Harwood who wanted to help out with the project. Although this isn’t the site he was working on, much of its design and functionality is heavily influenced by the original work he put in. I just want to take a moment and publicly thank him for his help. Thanks Matt!

From now on you will be able to find all development updates, official announcements, and other project-specific posts here on our new blog. You will probably notice that the “Team” listing on the about page only has my ugly mug on it. I would love to see more and more faces added to that page. If you want to get involved and start making significant contributions to the project, our new Get Involved page is a good place to start. And as always, donations make a huge difference and are greatly appreciated.

So go kick the tires and enjoy our new site.

Shiny!