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Issue #604: February 17-23, 2019

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Q: I record the audio of meetings for a community organization. I use a PC laptop and third-party software that records a .wav file. I then convert the .wav file to .mp3 and place it on a website as a downloadable file. Depending on the length of the meeting this file can get quite large, e.g. 80+ mb. The file plays fine on PCs, desktop and laptop, using IE, Firefox, and Chrome browsers, or any other player that handles .mp3 files. However, it does not work on IPhones and IPads and tablets. It starts and plays for about 2-3 minutes and then either loops back to the beginning or just hangs. Any ideas?

– Bob S.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A:  I took a peek at your website to see how you have things configured.  I think you may be surprised to learn that what you intended and what you implemented are two different things, and that iPhones and iPads react to your files differently because, although they are, at their cores, computing devices, they are designed for a different type of use than a desktop or even laptop computer system.

First things first.  You obviously intended to set up a library of podcasts so the members of your association would have archival audio access to each of your meetings.  In fact, you even went so far as to give a definition of “PodCasts” at the top of the page full of audio files.  The problem is that you are describing what is called media streaming but what you set up is simply links to the audio files.  That leaves it up to the client side to decide how to handle the linked media, and each client (usually a web browser) does something different.  For example, Microsoft Edge offers the option to either Save or Open the file.  Saving it will store a local copy on your PC, while Open will download the entire file to a temporary directory, then open it with the system’s default audio player.  On the other hand, Apple Safari, found on the two iDevices you mentioned, is not designed to store a local copy of the file in the device, so it begins to play it after it’s partially downloaded.  At some point, either the system decides that too much of your data plan is going to be used on this activity, or the device’s download buffer overflows, since surely the speed at which the file is arriving far exceeds the playback rate.  You’ve seen the results for yourself in the form of the errors you described.

To have a true PodCast library, these files need to be streamed, rather than simply downloaded.  You can see a good example of this implementation over at National Public Radio’s website, at TinyURL.com/IGTM-0604.  Note that when you click the “Listen” link on one of their podcasts, it opens a player window right in the browser.  Rather than download the entire file, it buffers some quantity, then plays it, while buffering more.  That’s the essence of media streaming.  Sites like YouTube do the same thing with video.  One other reason I chose to hold up NPR as a good example of audio streaming is because they support a wide variety of streaming types.  You can see them for yourself by visiting the page, and clicking one of the podcasts.

To fully solve your issue, you need to go farther than just posting links to the files on your website. You need an audio streaming solution of some sort.  That could be as simple as uploading your files to website like SoundCloud and linking them from your own site; or as complex as implementing a streaming server on your web host, and having your own site perform the streaming.  That’s a choice for you to make, which will be guided, I suspect, by the technical abilities of your site’s webmaster, and whether your web host supports streaming media services.  You could also do nothing at all, and simply post a notice on your podcasts page informing visitors that that your podcasts are not streamable, and so portable devices are not well-supported.

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