Interview: Bossa for iTunes

BossaI haven’t done very many, but I occasionally do an interview when I’m intrigued by a product. This one’s with Barry Paul of Swami Systems, who I know through a mutual email list. They’ve launched this new iTunes add-on called Bossa. I’m not sure about the functionality, but it looks pretty deadly.

1. Why did you build Bossa? What’s it doing for me that iTunes isn’t?

Bossa started life as a custom app we built for our local ski area. They wanted to play music on a schedule where they could control what type of music was played at different times of the day. I.E. they wanted the music to be mellow in the morning, family oriented during the day and upbeat/rocky at night.

We came up with a solution that allowed them play what we now call Mixes on a schedule. For us a Mix is just a combination of Artists, Albums and Genres which can be used to randomly select and play tracks from your music library.

Even before we had finished this version we realized a couple of things. Firstly that not only did this fill a need for businesses but it was also a lot of fun for personal use either at home or at work. The other realization was that we had come up with a powerful new way of managing/listening to really large music libraries.

As for what Bossa does that iTunes doesn’t:

Music scheduling. This was our starting point. The Automator allows you schedule different Mixes at different times of the day. It’s pretty extensive. You can have one schedule that plays every day or a different schedule for weekdays and weekends or a different schedule for every day of the week.

Playlist generation. There are many other ways of generating playlists but none of them work quite like Bossa. In the Generator you can build playlists up to 12 hours using scheduling Mixes to define the type of music to play at different points in the playlist.

Here’s a concrete example to show how powerful this is. I like to ride my bike, I usually go for about a 2 hour ride and listen to my iPod while riding. So I set up a 2 hour playlist in Bossa’s generator. For the first 15 mins I am warming up so I put a mellow mix of downbeat, lounge, etc.. For the next 90 mins I am really riding so I have an upbeat mix which includes electronica, rock and pop. Then finally I go back to the mellow mix for a 15 min warm down.

That’s pretty cool, but what’s really cool is the next time I go for a ride I open the Bossa Generator, load my biking playlist and click “re-generate”. This rebuilds the playlist in iTunes based on the same warmup-ride-warmdown format but with a new selection of music. So with one click I have new music every time I go for a bike ride…

The other big addition is we go out and get up-to-date information about your music. In the Lab we get the latest artist pictures from Flickr and Bio information from Wikipedia.

2. For a desktop app, Bossa has a pretty distinctive design aesthetic. Why did you go that way?

We wanted it to look sophisticated but lightweight, more like a widget/gadget than a traditional application.

We also knew that we didn’t have the design skills to pull it off! We were lucky enough to persuade Nate Retzlaff of skydsgn.com to work with us. He was able to translate our wants and needs into color, icons and the overall aesthetic that you refer to.

From a technical point of view, I had built a few C++ applications with HTML based user interfaces and I wanted to see how far we could push this technique. It was quite a challenge but we ended up with an interesting architecture. A presentation layer written in DHTML/JavaScript, the logic is in the C++ layer and a SQL backend provided by SQLite.

3. Are there plans to use more of my iTunes metadata? For example, I’ve invested a lot of time in rating my songs, and Bossa seems to ignore that information.

Short answer – yes! We need to mine all the information we can get about your music. Ratings are a great example of another type of tag we can automatically attach to your music. We are also interested in metadata we can extract from the music itself (like beats per minute).

4. Talk a little about the lab functionality. What motivated that?

The Lab is actually the last piece of Bossa that we built but I think it is the piece with the most potential…

The Lab is a place for people who really like to get into their music. Firstly it’s the place where you can tag your music. You can navigate through your library by artist, album, genre and mix tagging as you go. The more you tag your music easier it is to select the music you want to hear. To help with this we use AudioScrobbler’s web services to suggest tags for tracks.

The other use for the lab is to find out more about your music. We thought about doing some of this ourselves but then we realized there are so many Web 2.0 type services out there would be value in just pulling some of them together in one place. Right now we use Flickr to get the latest artist photos and Wikipedia for background information.

Once I hooked the Flickr search to the currently playing song I was blown away. The photos were so recent. Invariably, if the artist was touring, someone would upload concert photos and we would pick them up right away. Now, if I’m playing Bossa I just leave the Lab window open on Flickr all the time and see what comes up as my music plays.

5. Any plans to integrate video?

Yes, adding a video service like YouTube to the lab is part of our short-term plan. Long term I could imagine doing a full screen mode where montages of photos and videos relating to the current track would be displayed…

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