Category Archives: Community

Wrapping up Google Code‐in 2016

As Google has now announced the finalists of this round of Google Code-in, it feels only right that we also take a look back at what’s been taking up a large chunk of our time the last couple of months.

Divya Prakash Mittal (India – returning from last year!), Daniel Theis (Germany), and Tigran Kostandyan (Russia) all made it to the finalists, with Anshuman Agarwal (India) and Daniel Hsing (Hong Kong) additionally taking home the Grand Prize Winner positions! Congratulations to all of you and thank you so much for your contributions this year. 🙂 Continue reading

September, October, and November 2015 Community Recap

Jeez. This has been overdue! So a lot of things happened, and this Community Recap series kind of got put on the back burner, which obviously means a lot of things have piled up, so if I forgot something you thought should have been mentioned, please share it in the comments below. 🙂 I will be doing a few months at a time until I’ve caught up to the now().

With that said, let’s proceed!
Continue reading

State of the Onion: MetaBrainz

In the past few weeks we’ve been hit with several traffic increases to MusicBrainz which is putting considerably more strain on our aging infrastructure than we’re happy with. If it seems that we’re not doing anything about it, that is because we’ve been busy behind the scenes trying to keep things moving forward. This sometimes doesn’t leave us a lot of time to keep the public informed on our work. Hopefully this blog post will fix this in the short term:

In 2011 we started to make plans to move MusicBrainz hosting into the cloud, but then out of the blue we were donated a pile of machines. There were so many machines that I postponed the cloud plans and prepared the donated machines for service. That has carried us for 4+ years with almost no hardware cost, which was really great. The plan was to move to the cloud sometime around 2015, but then I spent most of 2014/2015 dealing with conflicts in the team, putting us seriously behind schedule while our hardware decayed.

On top of that, we’ve recently had some “bad luck”. We have had some disrespectful commercial customers hit us really hard and we had to find and block them. We have had unexpected traffic spikes and when trying to address these unexpected traffic spikes, we had two more machines fail on us. These were the donated machines that we kept in reserve for just this moment. The loss of two machines caught us short on capacity to handle the increased demands on our servers.

So, now we face the tough question: Do we buy expensive hardware that we might use for 6 months (~$5000) or do we try and save the money and tough it out? I’d rather not spend so much money on such short term use if we can avoid it. We’re going to try and move to a new hosting facility somewhere in the EU, since that is where most of our users are.

Moving to a new hosting facility has an incredible number of dependencies that Christina (our Biz Dev manager), Zas and I have been working through. It may not seem like we have a plan, but we do, and we’re incredibly busy trying to make the plan happen. To give you a taste of what we’re up against:

  1. We want to move our hosting to Europe and have a business presence in Europe in order to reduce the costs and inefficiencies of being a solely US based business. A lot of our traffic, customers and contractors are in the EU and it simply makes sense to have a presence here.
  2. To establish a presence in the EU I needed local help to help with the business matters as well as researching and establishing an EU organization. So I needed to find a Biz Dev manager and that person is Christina.
  3. Once Christina was on board she researched our options about what was suited for us. Getting that process moving involved getting certified documents from California, board approval for spending funds to establish the organization, EU labor law research, (and we needed to swap a board member, too!), hiring help to establish the org. and generally navigating the Spanish bureaucracy. (See this only slightly exaggerated short film for some clues of our ordeal.)
  4. Once the org. had been established we needed to convince the bank to open a bank account for us. The draconian US banking laws extend worldwide and the local bank had to ensure that they were not opening themselves up to thousands of $$$ in accounting hassles just to allow a tiny non-profit to open a bank account. We finally have a bank account and have started paying our contractors with it!
  5. At the same time we’re also working to set up an office for the growing team here in Barcelona. That required a byzantine process that barely started when you sign the lease. Getting power, internet and water set up has taken a frustratingly long time. Had I known how long, I would have stayed at my co-working space for a while longer while addressing hosting issues.
  6. While Christina has been focused on the hardcore paperwork, Zas is keeping the site running, which itself requires many heroics. Zas and I have started planning the move to the EU hosting provider. We’ve got a 5-page document that collects some of the open questions and requirements around this process: https://docs.google.com/document/d/16KNm4KksNwz29Opk1aILOMtCmPIeXFuxxUjMoPT3th0/edit#heading=h.dpfvoz1idcro. Right now Zas and Bitmap are here in Barcelona and we’re going to work on establishing a formal plan for moving to the new hosting company. We’re currently comparing hosting company offerings – see what we’ve collected so far if you care to follow along. The amount of work required to make this happen is making my head hurt. (A special shoutout to KodeStar, lead developer of FanArt.tv, for providing a lot of useful feedback about our various options.)
  7. While Christina, Zas and I have our hands full, Bitmap and Gentlecat continue to release new features and work on the schema change. Not to mention all the contributions from Freso and Reosarevok to keep the community happy and polite while we deal with less than optimal site conditions. That said, I am really happy and proud of my team, trying to keep things running in sub-optimal conditions.

This is just a snapshot of everything that is happening behind the scenes that will culminate with the goal of moving to a new hosting company and being set up in the EU. And mind you, we’re doing this with a minuscule budget trying to be careful of how we spent our money.

Temporary autoeditor election procedure

Hello people,

In former days, new autoeditor elections were announced on the autoeditor mailing list that all autoeditors were automatically subscribed to. However, all our mailing lists, including the autoeditor one, died in September 2015 when the server they were hosted on took its last breath. This effectively halted the election of new autoeditors. It was always the plan that our new forums should be able to handle this, but our recent issues have meant development on the features necessary to completely replace the autoeditor mailing list has been slow. Thus Nicolás (reosarevok) and I had a talk about how to handle elections going forward, and we came up with this procedure:

  1. The proposer nominates the editor normally (starting an election), and then adds a post in the Autoeditors category of the forum linking to the election and asking for seconders. Like with the mailing list, this should also contain the proposer’s reasoning for proposing the candidate.
  2. Nicolás (reosarevok) will then mail out to all autoeditors with a link to the election topic (and possibly a link to this blog post).
  3. The proposer, Nicolás or me (or another autoeditor, if they’re faster) will update the thread once a 2nd seconder is found and the voting has started, and again when the voting has ended and the results are in.

We have added most autoeditors who are already signed up on the new forums to the @MB_Autoeditors group, but not all autoeditors have signed in to Discourse yet, and some have spaces or other “weird” characters in their username that make Discourse not able to parse them. If you find that you’re not in the @MB_Autoeditors group and you think you should be, please write a message to me (Freso) or Nicolás (reosarevok) via MusicBrainz and ask us to add you to the group. (Sending your message via MusicBrainz will let us know that it is indeed you/your account, so please don’t poke us on IRC or elsewhere about it.)

This is all obviously intended to be temporary, just until we’re able to get the process fully automated again. If you have any Ruby experience/know-how and would like to help out, please check out OTHER-248 (and possibly OTHER-254). There’s also MBS-8836 on the MusicBrainz server side for the Perl-istas.

Let us know if you have any concerns or questions about this (reminder: temporary) approach, either in the comments or on the forums. I personally hope it’ll work well enough to carry us through for a while longer until everything is ready.

Say hello to Discourse!

Hello all members of the *Brainz community, I have got something in store just for you!

Some people may have noted talks and whispers about a grand and glorious move to use Discourse for various discussions related to MusicBrainz and all other MetaBrainz projects. The intention of it is to replace and unify both the now-dead mailing lists (R.I.P.) and our current forums. Guess what? The day has come at last!

The MetaBrainz Community Discourse can be found at https://community.metabrainz.org/ and is our new home for all discussions about MusicBrainz, BookBrainz, AcousticBrainz, and whatever other kind of *Brainz you want to talk about.

One of its major features is that it does not require yet another user (like the current forums, our ticket tracker, the wiki, …). When you press “Sign Up” or “Log In” it will ask you to authenticate with MusicBrainz to access some basic information. Once given permission, it will direct you back to the Discourse site and you’re logged in. (You can revoke the permission at a later point, should you need to.) No more having a dozen username/password combinations, just to participate in the community!

The site does still have some rough edges though, and various things are likely to get tweaked over the coming weeks, but today being the 1st day of (N. hemisphere) spring, I thought we should enjoy this season of “rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal, resurrection and regrowth” with this new baby of the MetaBrainz community.

A couple of people have already gone and started some discussions there, but feel free to go there yourself and start your own discussion. If you have started a discussion on the current/old forums, now is also a good time to restart/continue/move that discussion to the Discourse site as the forums will be put into read-only mode any day (posts will not be moved over).

If you don’t know where to start, start with reading the FAQ and after that, you could post to the introduction thread and introduce yourself. To get an overview about what’s going on, https://community.metabrainz.org/categories has a list of the categories currently in use and https://community.metabrainz.org/tags has a list of the tags in use. You could also just go to the front page, https://community.metabrainz.org/, and see what discussions are active right now and join in there. 🙂

I hope to see a lot of lively and friendly and constructive discussion going on there, so head over there and start making it happen. 😉

Your friendly neighbourhood community manager,
Freso

Wrapping up Google Code-in 2015

The Google Code-in Google Code‐in is pretty much over for this time, and we’ve had a blast in our first year with the competition in MetaBrainz with a total of 116 students completing tasks. In the end we had to pick five finalists from these, and two of these as our grand prize winners getting a trip to the Googleplex in June. It was a really, really tough decision, as we have had an amazing roster of students for our first year. In the end we picked Ohm Patel (US) and Caroline Gschwend (US) as our grand prize winners, closely followed by Stanisław Szcześniak (Poland), Divya Prakash Mittal (India), and Nurul Ariessa Norramli (Malaysia). Congratulations and thank you to all of you, as well as all our other students! We’ve been very excited to work with you and look forwards to seeing you again before, during, and after coming Google Code-ins as well! 🙂

Rayna Kanapuram MusicBrainz presentation

Indian student Rayne presenting MusicBrainz to her classmates.

In all we had 275 tasks completed during the Google Code-in. These tasks were divided among the various MetaBrainz projects as well as a few for beets. We ended up having 29 tasks done for BookBrainz, 124(!) tasks for CritiqueBrainz, 95 tasks for MusicBrainz, 1 task for Cover Art Archive, 6 tasks for MusicBrainz Picard, 3 tasks for beets, and 17 generic or MetaBrainz related tasks.

Some examples of the tasks that were done include:

Ariessa MetaBrainz infographic

Finalist Nurul Ariessa Norramli’s MetaBrainz infographic.

In all, I’m really darn happy with the outcome of this Google Code-in and how some of our finalists continue to be active on IRC and help out. Stanisław is continuing work on BookBrainz, including having started writing a Python library for BB’s API/web service, and Caroline is currently working on a new icon set for the MusicBrainz.org redesign that can currently be seen at beta.MusicBrainz.org.

Again, congratulations to our winners and finalists, and THANK YOU! to all of the students having worked on tasks for MetaBrainz. It’s really been an amazing ride and we’re definitely looking forward to our next foray into Google Code-in!

Notifications and messaging in MetaBrainz projects

During the last MusicBrainz summit in Barcelona we decided to start working on finding possible ways to implement two features that have been requested for a long time:

  1. Messaging between users
  2. Notifications about various actions in MetaBrainz projects

Since MetaBrainz is more than just MusicBrainz these days, we also want to integrate these features into other projects. That, for example, means when a user is reading reviews on CritiqueBrainz they can see notifications about comments on their edits on MusicBrainz. Same applies to messaging. These features are intended to encourage our communities to communicate more easily with each other.

Messaging

http://tickets.musicbrainz.org/browse/MBS-8721

The only ways of communication we have right now are two IRC channels, forums that we plan to replace with Discourse, and comments on individual edits. Sometimes we end up sending private emails to editors for one reason or another. Perhaps it is better to have our own messaging system for this purpose? I imagine it being similar to messaging systems on forums, reddit, etc. We would like to know what you think potential uses are for this and how it might look like to be useful.

Notifications

http://tickets.musicbrainz.org/browse/MBS-1801

Site-based notifications are another thing that people have been asking for a long time. For example, these notifications can be related to edits on MusicBrainz, reviews on CritiqueBrainz, datasets in AcousticBrainz, etc. It can be an addition or replacement for email notifications that we currently have in MusicBrainz. Maybe something similar to the inbox feature that the Stack Exchange network has. People should be able to choose if they want to keep receiving email notifications or only use the new site-based notifications.

Progress so far

We looked at a couple of ways to implement this functionality.

First suggestion was to use the Layer toolkit. The problem with it is that we don’t want to be dependent on closed software and another company’s infrastructure, especially in case of such important features.

Second was to use the XMPP protocol to handle communication and notifications. We tried to implement a proof of concept using this protocol and encountered several issues at the start:

  • It’s unclear how to store messages and process them later;
  • It can be problematic to reuse the same connection in different browser;
  • There are plenty of things that we’ll need to implement on top of this protocol ourselves (like authentication, storage, notifications).

Repository with everything that was implemented so far is at https://github.com/metabrainz/xmpp-messaging-server. Given these problems we started considering implementing our own server(s) for this purpose.

You can take a look at the document where we collect most information about current progress.

Feedback

There’s plenty of feedback on the site-based notifications feature request, and we have a pretty good understanding of what’s needed. This is not the case with the messaging feature. We explored several options for implementing this kind of functionality and decided that it’s time to refresh the list of requirements to get an idea of what needs to be done.

The goal of this blog post is to encourage discussion and gather ideas. If you are interested in these features, please share your thoughts and suggestions.