This is part 1 of a 4 part blog series where Erk explains the events at the end of January/start of February 2012 which led him to stop recording podcasts for a week. As will become clear while reading, many podcasters were affected. As a bonus & for other reasons to be explained in the blog series, each post will feature an unedited podcast episode from an affected podcaster. This Erk FM Special episode (Alpha) will be episode 210 of the Ourobouros podcast hosted by Colin.
Note – warning applies to the audio podcast only.
The week commencing Sunday 22 January 2012 was always going to be a busy week. Little did I know at the time how the events at the end of that week would effect the following week for me & many others.
Since being diagnosed with a severe case of sleep apnoea, I have not been fit to do my paid employment task of being a train driver here in Sydney. I have been at home since November 2011. I have been producing podcast episodes earlier in the week & then going to see live music on some Thursday nights, every Friday & Saturday night & some Sunday afternoons/nights. On an average week, podcast production including creating playlists, recording & editing & uploading shows. Depending on my mood, I would be finished for the week by Tuesday or Wednesday.
The week in question was different. I was expecting renovations at the rear of my house on Tuesday, Wednesday & possibly Thursday so I did not want to be recording podcasts on those days. The plan was to record podcasts on Sunday & Monday. The renovations would occur Tuesday/Wednesday. Thursday was Australia Day & I was going to a long afternoon/evening gig. Friday & Saturday were gig nights as was Sunday afternoon of January 29.
It was my plan to record Erk FM: Metal Monday episode 18 on Sunday January 29 instead of earlier in the week. In the meantime on Saturday, I had heard from other podcasters that they could not upload to their Mevio accounts. Mevio (formerly Podshow) has been my audio host since late 2007. During that time, I had experienced very few problems. Some people reported that their accounts were suspended while others reported that they could seemingly upload only to fail at the last hurdle. Having Erk FM: Australia episode 212 successfully download the day before, my next concern was the yet to be recorded Erk FM: Metal Monday episode 18. I did a text upload & found that the website would go through the motions of uploading the file to 99% then go to a failure screen.
Hoping that it would be a temporary problem, I went out to my Saturday night gig then my Sunday afternoon gig the next day. After all, what website has 100% up time? In the meantime, various podcasters started reporting problems with uploading. Again, some were reporting that they were suspended, others not. No one could confirm anything from a trusted source however there were rumours over the weekend that people not on advertising deals were being cut, including people like me. Not that I publicised this at the time but in late 2008/early 2009, I signed a contract to have Mevio based advertisements in my podcast. I never did a campaign, however, because the company had no deals suitable for my Australian audiences.
After returning home on Sunday afternoon, I recorded Metal Monday 18 as planned, unsure that I would be able to upload the file. By this stage, the files I test uploaded were visible on the statistics section of the website. As far as I knew, I would be able to upload the episode and everything would be OK. This turned out to be very optimistic with the benefit of hindsight. I uploaded the file and the experience with the test files were the same. I would get an error message and the file would later appear on the statistics.
Going to bed on Sunday night, I was hopeful that in the early hours of of Monday morning that Metal Monday 18 would appear as normal on iTunes like it always does. The episode’s show notes would appear on the website at 8am Sydney time, regardless of if the file was uploaded. Because the upload process did not complete, I could not copy & paste the MP3 link into the show notes that creates the episode player. There was a real possibility that shownotes minus the MP3 links might be published.
Somewhat luckily for me, I woke up before 8am and discovered that the episode’s file had not appeared on my Pocket Casts application. If it did not appear on Pocket Casts, it would not be on iTunes. All things being equal, I normally wake up around lunchtime. Often, I am not on Twitter or Facebook in the morning. The tweet on the left clearly shows my frustration with no episode of Metal Monday.
Not long after checking iTunes & Pocket Casts, I thought that the episode had not uploaded so it could not be downloaded. On Monday morning, I made a difficult decision to make. Already, other podcasters & I were unable to upload. By the hour, more podcasters were realising that they too were affected. The occasional person (presumably with ad deals) reported that they could upload. The main website was available and audio on my website appeared to be working. As a podcaster that releases set shows on set days, I want Metal Monday to be able to be downloaded on Monday. Not difficult, so I thought.
By this stage, it was day 3 for me not being able to upload podcast episodes. Based on my time zone in Sydney, the problem had existed on Saturday, Sunday and now Monday. However, Mevio is physically located in California. So while I’m trying to figure out on Monday where Metal Monday is, in California it was still Sunday night. Still slightly optimistic, I was hoping that the end of the American weekend would see the problem solved. Still no word from anyone in the company and people who were not affected were not really talking about it.
I made a difficult decision not to record any podcasts that entire week. My major aim was to see if Metal Monday 18 could be uploaded but the writing was on the wall. I had used Mevio for nearly 5 years at no cost to me which I can not really complain about. With very few free options in the marketplace, I was now looking at paying for audio hosting. My website (this one) is separate from the audio host so even if the audio host was to completely go down, I still have a website.
At that time, I had to let people know what was going on. Podcasters with Mevio accounts obviously knew in many cases but not all. Podcasters with other hosts might have heard people with Mevio accounts complaining. Many listeners to many podcasts had no idea what was going on – that Erk guy was just slack and had not put out a show. So I put out messages on Twitter, Facebook & the website trying to warn people.
By this stage on Monday afternoon, I had made the decision to look elsewhere to host the audio. I was also trying to spread the word to other podcasters as well as trying to find out what was going on. You guessed it, still nothing official by the company. I wanted to weigh my hosting options up. Would I continue to have a separate audio host or would I use this website to upload & store the files? My website host’s terms & conditions seemed to rule that out as an option.
I use WordPress to power this website and PowerPress to help create the episode player on each episode’s show notes. Because of the way that I had done things, I was using a separate website host for this website and a different audio host. As I found out by trial and error over the next couple of days, I had finally discovered the hidden power of the plugin. While each show has a relevant WordPress category, until that Monday afternoon, I had little idea what PowerPress could actually do. When I started podcasting in 2007, PowerPress had not been thought of. A school of thought (that I subscribed to at the time) was not to use a service called Feedburner to control the RSS feed. I did not have access to my Mevio RSS feed & without access to the RSS feed or the ability to upload podcasts, I could not continue to produce episodes if no one could hear them.
Because PowerPress is a Blubrry product, I thought about hosting my audio with Blubrry. Many podcasters I know use Libsyn, Blubrry’s more experienced competition. Comparing prices, there was not much of a gap between the two companies in terms of bandwidth & storage. With each company, I could upload around a gig of data a month before the limit would reset at the end of the month. Considering that I was already using the Blubrry product (albeit not to maximum effect), it would be a lot easier to upload the audio to Blubrry rather than basically starting again with Libsyn.
Purchasing a Blubrry paid account, the account itself would be activated within 24 hours. During this time, I was determined that I needed to have a new audio host. Even if Mevio was to return my uploading capabilities after 3 days, I was no longer interested. While chatting with more podcasters, it was clear that anyone with a Mevio account was fair game. Anyone with a Mevio account was a sitting duck & possibly homeless in terms of having a podcast home. Some people even relied on Mevio as their only website. Potentially the site could come back and then disappear again. Since the beginning of my time with Mevio, I was never happy with their show pages so I would always direct people to my website where I’d copied and pasted the audio link to my shownotes.
There was a lot of work to do once the new audio host was activated. In the meantime, however, I had found what seemed a better deal for me. Instead of being restricted to (say) one gig of episodes per month and then get another gig the next month, it would take me a long time to upload all my episodes. At the time of writing, there are 212 Erk FM episodes, 18 Metal Monday episodes, 356 Erk Pod episodes, 140 episodes of Blast From The Past, 125 episodes of Judy’s Blast FM, 17 episodes of A Moment In Time and around 50 episodes at least of Echo Romeo Kilo. It potentially could be months for me to upload every single episode on Blubrry. I want people to be able to at least play and/or download early episode. Later episodes would be in the RSS & iTunes feeds but in time, every episode I have ever released will be available on this website with the new audio host.
I had to think of an alternative. I found an alternative in the form of Amazon S3 Web Services. Instead of paying around $80/month for a gig of data with either Blubrry or Libsyn, I could store data on Amazon for 14 cents/month for a gig of data. Seeing the difference and looking into it more, I decided that I would cancel the Blubrry account – still many hours from being activated. I was able to sign into Amazon within minutes. The upload process to the new host started in earnest on Monday afternoon. During this time, I also set up new RSS & iTunes feeds. I was expecting never to able to access either details any more. Luckily for me, I had kept every episode on my computer network at home so I did have episodes to upload.
On Monday afternoon, I had passed the point of no return with Mevio. I was finally able to upload Metal Monday 18 to the new host and release the episode only on the website until I finished setting up the feeds. Earlier in the afternoon, Metal Monday 18 was only available on Facebook & Soundcloud because I was able to upload on Soundcloud. So while the episode was late, every recorded episode was now available.
My next step was to make sure that people could resubscribe via iTunes & RSS. The website was uploaded as needed during Monday afternoon. The website would be in for some serious work with every single episode needing to be uploaded and show notes changed to reflect the new location of the new host. By now, you would not be surprised that the Mevio podcasters were still in the dark Monday afternoon my time.
In the next part, we continue the story with some reactions to the ongoing drama.
About the featured podcast
The featured podcast for this post is the Ourobouros podcast. Colin was one of two people who inspired (and continue to inspire) me to becoming a music podcaster in the first place. He has been a long term supporter of me & indie music. He is also a podcaster with a few years of experience with having Mevio as an audio host. Apart from some great music, Colin rants extensively on the issue. As Dave from The Bugcast would say, Colin could rant for England. It’s not safe for work as Colin turns the air somewhat blue on the episode I am featuring, episode 210. Colin was one of the first people that I knew about who asked the question about what has happened to Mevio as he relates in his episode.
The podcast is produced (basically) weekly by Colin in Bath, England. I was pleased to be able to finally meet him in person during my trip to London in August 2011. You can hear from all of the podcasters featured in this special series on Erk FM episode 180 (Erk FM: Specials Alpha, Bravo & Charlie – Colin, Rowley & Peter) and Erk FM episode 182 (Erk FM: Special Delta – Dave & Caroline).
In the next instalment of this series, Erk FM: Special Bravo features Pete Cogle’s (PC Podcast among others) Space Invaders attack on Mevio & more including the rebuilding of this website & the continuation of the outage.