While reading from Derek Siver’s O’Reilly blog, I came across Mark Hedlund’s talk Entrepreneuring for Geeks which described how the more technically minded can move into making companies of our own. He started out the talk with a set of proverbs.
The three proverbs that struck close to home for me were:
- pay attention to the idea that won’t leave you alone.
- build what you know
- momentum builds on itself
Pay attention to the idea that won’t leave you alone
Several events have occurred in the past two weeks which have echoed these words in my mind.
During the BarCampBoston I spoke with other geek entrepreneurs about the problem of finding live music, and the guys from tourb.us told me about how they are scraping venue’s sites to get concert listings. They are providing a service that answers a particular need – when is my favorite band coming to town?
This triggered a memory of an exchange I had more than a year ago with trombonist Phil Wilson at the Jazz Journalists Association panel at Schullers Jazz Club. Jon Hammond organized a panel discussion on the topic of Boston as a Launching Pad for a Jazz Career. I asked the panel what kind of online tools or services could be provided to re-ignite the jazz scene in Boston. And Phil said that he would like to see a service that would notify him when a musician was going to be performing.
Then at the last Python meetup, Dan Milstein raved about the python scraping library BeautifulSoup and described how capable it was at scraping baseball scores off a website. I played around with BeautifulSoup awhile ago, but never actually built anything using it.
Scratch an itch
“Build what you know” affirms that the most basic advice of idea generation is to scratch an itch you have yourself. Now I have an itch to scratch. I love going out to hear live music, especially jazz – but there is no single site that aggregates the concert listings. There are several sites I must visit:
- MyRootdown Improv Music Calendar is a great site built by graphic designer and improv enthusiast Shawn dos Santo. Shawn is doing a great job of posting events he hears about, but there’s no way for people to post their own gigs
- The WGBH Jazz Calendar is good but again, it doesn’t have an RSS/iCal feed so I have to manually visit the site everytime I want to see who’s playing.
- Each and every venue has their own concert listing page (Scullers, Regattabar, Wallys, Berklee, Reel Bar, etc.) and of course, none of them have RSS or iCal feeds.
- I’m sure there are others that I don’t know about
The basic problem here is that there is a fragmentation of information. Since none of the sites publish their event listings in any sort of structured way (RSS, iCal, hCalendar), it’s tedious to monitor these listings and thus hard to stay on top of what’s going on in the Boston jazz scene.
The “Pull” method
Immediately after hearing Phil’s suggestion, my technical mind started churning as I thought about generating dynamic RSS feeds based on artist or band name, and then using something like Feedblitz to turn those RSS feeds into email notifcations. As much as us geeks would like to think it’s true, the average person still has no idea what an RSS feed is or how to use it. Email is still the lowest common denominator.
But the question still remains how to get the data into a system in the first place. It is not likely one can expect musicians to enter their gig listings themselves. And here is where Beautiful Soup comes in – if I scrape the event listing sites, I can put the data into a system, extract the metadata (band, location, date/time, cost, etc.) and syndicate these concert listings as RSS feeds and subsequently email notifications.
There is even a python script called Scrape ‘n’ Feed which will automatically turn a page scraped with BeautifulSoup into an RSS feed. This is why I love python – there is almost always a library that does exactly what you want. And there is also a python script to convert iCal into RSS.
The “Push” method
Now suppose for a moment that one could get musicians to enter their gigs into some sort of system, and what if you could offer a service, let’s call it GigBlast, which would push their gig information out to a bunch of event listing services: WGBH, eventful.com, upcoming.org, boston.craigslist.org, meetup.com, etc. using the API provided by those services or in the case of WGBH which has no API, use python libraries such as clientform to submit the form.
This would make it easier for musicians to get the word out about their gigs, give fans a tool to be informed when these musicians are performing, and ultimately get more people to go out to hear music which would create more demand for live music. Maybe I’m an idealist to think that it will have such far reaching effects, but even if no one else uses this service, at least I’ll be scratching my itch!
Stay tuned for more thoughts on publishing events to the web using Apple’s iCal. This will simplify the data entry process even more as musicians can simply add their event info to iCal, and in the background it’s it’s transparently uploaded to their website and automatically pushed out to the event listing services.
I also want to explore the use of microformats, such as hCalendar, which I think have a better chance of being adopted among musicians, venues and bloggers since it is fairly easy to implement – just a few changes to the HTML template. Pages formatted with hCalendar are a breeze to scrape using Technorati’s events feed service and can be searched using Technorati’s experimental Event Search tool.
Well, after many days of sideways rain, the sun has finally come out in Boston, so I’m going for a jog in the Fens.
Technorati Tags: boston, hcalendar, jazz, microformats, python, rss, technorati