Say 'Hi' to Tweet.
Tweet is a tool to help you easily tag your music library, overcome the genre field and build great playlists. It's a light-weight utility that hangs out in your Windows task tray while iTunes is playing and allows you to quickly tag the currently playing song. Your tags are saved to the "Comment" field of the media file. Once you start tagging your music you can use the smart playlist feature of iTunes to quickly assemble playlists to suit your mood or the occasion, based entirely on contextually meaningful tags that you've supplied.
Tag. You're it.
Media file formats like MP3 and AAC contain structured data fields that allow meta-data to be stored along with the music. There are fields for things like "Artist" and "Genre" which are commonly populated with accurate info (especially if you've purchased the music from a service like iTunes), but there are also more obscure fields that generally aren’t populated with data. Tweet uses one of these fields - "Comment" - to store your list of textual tags. Because the tags are stored in the meta-data of the media file they're persistent (they stay with the file) and non-proprietary (they're not associated with your iTunes library database in any way). The nice thing about this is that if you stop using iTunes or decide that Tweet isn't for you the tags that you've entered aren't lost.
Tweet is a stand-alone application that runs on start-up and sits quietly in your system task tray. When iTunes is running, Tweet attaches itself and displays some basic info about the currently playing track, including any tags you've entered. At any point during playback you can press Tweet's hot-key combination or click the Tweet icon in the task-tray to display the tag window.
The tag window shows the name of the track and the artist, the genre and your rating for the track. The tracks tags (if you've supplied any) are shown in a text-box. Start typing to add more tags, or edit the existing tags to change or delete. You can also edit the track's genre and rating. Hit enter to save your changes, or the escape key to cancel. That's it - simple, but very powerful.
The philosophy behind Tweet has two parts. First, music choice is generally contextual. Sure shuffle-play can be fun, but usually I'm in a *mood* and I want my tunes to match my mood. It's not a particular artist or album I want to hear, it's something more subtle than that. I just want to hear all the tracks in my music library that suit my mood. Unfortunately, there's just no good way to do this easily. Music, like all art, is fundamentally subjective and so categorizing it is largely in the eye, or ear, of the beholder. The genre field was intended to allow this sort of categorization, instead it's simply proven just how subjective the whole thing is, and ultimately, how inadequate that sort of broad classification can be. And that's where the second part of the Tweet philosophy comes in. The best way to categorize music, or any subjective content, is to allow the person on the receiving end (that's you) to provide their own, personalized, arbitrary but meaningful associations. That's what the tags are for. They're a string of discrete but contextually rich descriptive words that you choose. They describe the way a track makes you feel (melancholy, ecstatic, rebellious), or what you think it sounds like (pots-n-pans, pixie-tears, steam-shovel), or an attribute that you think is important (male-vocal, singable, big-guitars, twangy), or ANYTHING else that is descriptive and expressive of the content of the track.
Individual tags are contiguous text, separated by spaces. If you want a compound (that is multi-word) tag then the convention is to hyphenate. For example if you wanted to apply the single tag "big guitar solo" (which suggests that the song contains or is comprised of a big guitar solo, NOT that the song itself is big, has a guitar in it, or is a solo) you would tag it with the text "big-guitar-solo" (no quotes, of course). You could then include it (and any other songs with that tag) in a playlist by filtering on "big-guitar-solo".
Tagging, especially if you're like me and have a lot of music, can be a lot of work. That's why Tweet works the way it does - in real-time. Instead of insisting that you tag your library in grueling marathon tagging sessions, it sits nearby, quietly urging you to JUST tag the currently playing track, anytime you're listening to music. Not only does this neatly integrate the activity of tagging (not much fun) into the activity of listening (fun) but it also breaks the work of tagging into tiny, painless chunks. A new track comes on - listen for a minute, then hit Tweet's hot-key and type the four or five words that come to mind (you can always tweak your tags the next time the track plays). You're done. Another track in your library permanently tagged. The other great thing about this approach is that instead of starting at "A" and working your way to "Z" your favorite music tends to get tagged first (because that's what you listen to most frequently). Only half your library is tagged? No big deal - as long as it's the stuff you really care about.
Tweet also periodically indexes and caches all of your existing tags to make adding new tags even easier. The tag text-box in the tag field provides type-ahead suggestions and there are tag clouds for your frequently used tags and tags by genre, artist and album. To use one of those tags just click on the tag in the tag cloud.
I've started a blog about this whole topic and I'll provide more ideas and observations on tagging in future posts.
One word of warning. Remember that anything already in your comment fields will be kept, but will show up as tags in Tweet (including the words "The", "a", "and", "download", and so on…) If you're seeing weird entries in Tweet's tag clouds, it's because some of your tracks already have data in the comment field. If you find that there's a lot of garbage in there and are feeling *really* gutsy let me know and I'll send you a little script that wipes out the comment field for all songs in your library. Be forewarned though - that kind batch of operation is always risky so BACK UP your library before you run it and know that there's a chance that something really bad could happen to it when you use this script (which is why you have to e-mail me to get it - I want one last chance to warn you about it and disclaim responsibility for bad things happening before you go to town with it).
OK. How do I try this thing out?
Well first and foremost it requires a bit of courage. Tweet is in Beta. It's stable, but it's not perfect by any means. I definitely want to hear your feedback, and I will do my very best to provide support and troubleshoot any issues, but I can't make any promises either. At this point I'm looking for mavens and early-adopters who are *really* into their music and are desperate for an intuitive way to tag their library. If beta software makes you uncomfortable or you're just not sure about the whole tagging thing then now might not be the right time for you to try Tweet. I don't want to scare you off, but I do want to correctly set expectations about where Tweet is at.
As for the technical stuff, you'll need:
- Windows XP SP2 or Vista
- iTunes 220.127.116.11 or later
Also, Tweet has a very particular look and feel to it. Part of that is thanks to a lovely new font called Calibri that Microsoft provides with Office 2007 and Vista. If you don't have Calibri on your machine (that is, you're not running Office '07 or Vista) then Tweet will use Arial instead. Just know that Tweet looks best with the right font. If you want Calibri, and the six other beautiful new "C" fonts that MS has introduced to replace the aging stand-bys, the easiest (and cheapest) way to get them is to download the free Microsoft PowerPoint Viewer utility.
To get started with Tweet all you have to do is download and run the installer.
Yes, Tweet is absolutely free. I wanted an easy way to tag my music and I couldn't find anything out there (free or not) that did the job. So I did the only thing I could think of, I built my own. Beta or not, I have no plans to charge for Tweet in the future. Of course I'm not making any promises that I won't change my mind at some point, but I seriously doubt it (and don't forget that the tags stay with your music - you don't need to keep using Tweet to keep your tags).
Ultimately, I just want people to use Tweet and give me feedback and ideas about how I can make it better. The benefit I get from using it myself more than outweighs the effort I've expended so far developing it. That's not to say that I don't have bigger plans for Tweet, just that they don't involve charging money to use it.
In the interest of total honesty (and to continue to set realistic expectations): Tweet is also free because it comes with absolutely no warranties, guaranties, protections, or anything else. I'll try my very best to help sort out issues you're having and fix bugs that show up, but I can't promise anything. In other words: use it for free, but use it at your own risk.
The future of Tweet.
I've already got a short list of bugs (none of them critical, and most of them cosmetic), and a long list of additional features that should keep me busy with new versions for a while. And it's inevitable that both will grow once *you* start using it (again - I really do want to hear about your issues, bugs and ideas). Since I'm a daily user of Tweet I can assure you that I'm going to continue to develop it as long as it's practical and feasible for me to do so. I've got some "big ideas" too, but those are still somewhere in the future, once I've assured myself that I'm not the only person who finds Tweet useful. Here's a short list of things I think would be useful to add to Tweet:
- Support for other players: iTunes isn't the only media player I use. It would be great if Tweet worked with WMP, WinAmp and some other popular apps out there.
- Support for other OSes: I'm a Windows guy, but there are a LOT of people out there on Macs and various flavors of Linux who would probably like a native version of Tweet for their OS.
- Support for other media types: The tagging thing works for music, why not photos, movies, TV shows or whatever.
- Additional meta-data editing: Instead of just displaying Artist, Track Title, etc. why not make those editable too?
- A tag-based playlist builder: Right now Tweet handles the tagging, but it relies on iTunes' "smart-playlist" feature to actually build playlists based on your tags. It would be nice to have a really sweet, intuitive tag-based playlist builder inside of Tweet that let's you interactively combine tags and preview the resulting playlist.
- Additional tag clouds: Tweet has "Frequently Used", "By Artist", "By Album" and "By Genre", but I'm sure there are other possibilities too.
- Multi-tagging: Tag-while-you-listen is the default mode for Tweet, but it might be useful to be able to easily tag a whole group of tracks at the same time (another thing that iTunes does, but not particularly well).
- Tag groups or clusters: Something that allows the creation of groups of related tags to speed tagging (with some kind of tag cluster type-ahead expansion doo-hicky to make the UI super-usable).
- The big, exciting super-secret idea: It wouldn't be much of a secret if I told you what it was, now would it?
I'll say it one more time, the important thing here is that you share your thoughts about Tweet with me: comments, complaints, ideas - anything that you think will make Tweet better. Just hearing from users will give me some much needed feedback (and inspiration) to keep tweaking, tuning and adding features.
Why "Tweet" and what's with the parrot?
It's a silly thing, actually. Parrots are some of the most intelligent of all bird species and have a remarkable ability to mimic a wide variety of sounds, including the tweet of a bird.
Who's behind this whole thing?
Just me. My name is Jake Foster and I'm a technology consultant, music enthusiast and moody tagger living in San Francisco, California. Tweet is a pet project but one that I'm passionate about. I'm doing this because I enjoy it and I think it solves a real problem. If you're interested in finding out more about my daytime activities you can check out my resume.