Doing creative work in the browser has, over the years, delivered a fair bit of hype. What it hasn’t delivered is a tool with any real apparent staying power. And as we watch the meltdown of creative Web poster child Aviary’s music suite, caught between changing business models and evolving standards, there’s reason for concern. That’s not to say that Web-based music making can’t work. But it certainly isn’t working like this.

Aviary had been a key example of powerful in-browser editing tools, with an extensive suite of tools built in Flash. But Aviary switched their business model, focusing instead on providing editing tools to other developers on mobile. And the transition from Flash to “HTML5″ isn’t helping, either. Flash has done a great job of exiting, but HTML5 hasn’t made the same confident entrance. The plug-in Flash, for all its flaws, at least delivered the same experience across operating systems and browsers. HTML5, which is really just a name being (somewhat inaccurately) applied to a bundle of Web standards and codecs provided in-browser, is still evolving.

Aviary is just one example, but the way in which cloud services shut down is itself worth some attention. Whereas a defunct native application might still run on your machine, the “cloud” service here just shuts off. It’s gone. Not only is your data gone, but it’s as though the whole application never existed. Now, in fairness, with OS updates and the like, a native app may not fare a whole lot better. But part of the appeal of doing work online is supposed to be not having to worry about maintaining software; here, it’s quite the opposite. One possible remedy, standard file interchange formats, seems generally an afterthought in online services even more than in desktop software.

In fact, whatever the bigger trends, in browser software as with any software, let the buyer (user) beware. You may want to be cautious about protecting your work. Albert Santoni, who writes us with this tip, puts it this way:

I just received the following email from the creators of Aviary, the flash-based online audio editor “in the cloud” that has over 180,000 users in the Chrome Web Store alone.

The audio editor has had a presence as the most popular audio application in the Chrome Web Store since its launch, and is available here: http://advanced.aviary.com/tools/audio-editor

I think this might be worth warning your readers about – If you store your music creations in the cloud (especially for free), you’re susceptible to losing all your work if the company decides to change directions or goes out of business. This is maybe the first time a cloud-based music production application has died, but it certainly won’t be the last.

At the moment, I’m more optimistic about free and open source software solutions. Free software can for some be a philosophical choice. But here, you can make a more practical argument. CDM has run on WordPress for nearly eight years; we’re now investing in Create Digital Noise as a forum on another open platform. Part of the reason is, those tools can be more future-proof. I’ve frequently gone in and modified code to make it work the way we need, and a well-run community and updates, a community who is collectively invested in keeping something alive, can make this stuff outlast proprietary solutions. (By way of comparison, a lot of the commercial tools we might have used have since died, as their business models failed to survive.)

Proprietary software and stables businesses can provide software with a longer life, sometimes in ways that provide superior support to free software. But at the moment, it seems the Web itself may be moving so fast as to require collective effort by developers of free tools.

There, too, HTML5 technology is moving forward, with work on everything from codecs to better audio support.

But for now, the reality on the ground for users of these tools seems a long way from being able to compete with more powerful, better-supported, more-usable, more-understandable, more-flexible desktop tools. And the obituary from Aviary is sobering.

If you’re out there and do believe in browser-based tools, as a user, a developer, or both, it’s not a bad place to begin as a cautionary tale. Whatever you do, do better than this.

And for Aviary, at least, the business was much better in apps – iOS, in particular – than on the browser, and better in supporting someone else’s apps than their own.

With Flash’s general decline as a platform over the last few years, it is becoming more and more of a time sink for our team to fix and support these issues.
We therefore have made the difficult decision to retire the advanced suite of multimedia Flash apps for artists (located at advanced.aviary.com) on September 15th, 2012. Between now and this time period, you are encouraged to download (and/or export) any files currently residing on the system as they may not be available after that time.
We will unfortunately no longer be able to offer additional support for this suite between now and then, though you are welcome to continue to use it without support until it officially closes.
This is obviously a very difficult and sad announcement for us to make – much love, sweat, passion, investment and energy went into building our advanced suite of multimedia Flash apps. But our team, board and investors all recognize that continuing to support and develop a suite of legacy products on a platform that is declining would be a tremendous waste of resources, in addition to being too big a distraction to the success of our current focus.
To answer the obvious question: Will we rebuild the advanced multimedia suite for artists in HTML5 (or natively on mobile)? We have no plans at this time to do so. We feel that we’re currently on the right path to success and it would be too distracting to have to completely rebuild products from scratch that are off that path, at this time.
We have no recommendations for other apps you could use as alternative to our advanced suite of multimedia flash apps for artists right now, but will try to compile some closer to September when we send out a reminder notice. We do recommend that if you are a member of the artist community at advanced.aviary.com, you join the awesome community of artists at Worth1000.com.

Avi Muchnick
CEO / Aviary

Announcement, via email
Aviary’s new direction

Now, I don’t want to be all gloom-and-doom here.

Are there online apps you really are using on a regular basis to make music? (Not just share music, as on excellent tools like SoundCloud – what about creation?)

For those that do interest you, have you checked lately what options they give you for export, and are those tools sufficient?

Here’s a look at what one of the Aviary apps accomplished.

  • Bjørn Nesby

    Actually, it’s in the name: a cloud forms and then eventually dissipates? Some services are “born” for the cloud (SoundCloud, to name one), and it just makes sense for them to be there. But for productivity tools, an important part of the HTML5 specification deals with an “offline” mode, which I think would make sense in that context. After all, we are talking about a tool (Aviary) which does not seem to rely on the cloud to do the heavy lifting, most of what’s happening is calculated using your computer’s CPU.

    So, IMO if a cloud service doesn’t offer something which is substantially “better” than what a desktop software could pull off, I am not really keen to use it. Not just because the company might go out of business, but also that on a
    day-to-day basis they, or my ISP might experience server problems, which would prevent my from writing my song when inspiration strikes

    • http://www.facebook.com/espitalier Jean-Denis Espitalier

      http://www.ohmstudio.com/
      It’s really the next step on cloud composing :)

  • http://twitter.com/regend REGEND

    i recall in late 99 early 2000 a company called mH20 sponsored some of the streaming video content i produced. their website was global community driven and allowed for something that was like Sound Forge’s Acid environment via a webpage with chat and forums. that disappeared a few years later. 
    i have always felt that a lot of the dot com boom the US experienced in the late 90′s early 00′s was driven by the promise of 100mb per minute download fiber infrastructure similar to the bandwidth experienced in other countries. i argue, that as a result of the desire by internet providers, their lobbyists, and politicians, this was halted or delayed in order to milk every penny from copper. meanwhile, advances in wireless and mobile technology improved rapid enough that fiber was forgotten. as profits on copper use wane, and consumers favor the mobile internet experience, a in mobile app technology is the result. this has had a profound effect on venture capitalist behavior and many web products failed due to the transition from wired internet to mobile and funds diverting to mobile ventures. i too lost interest in web-based tools/production and sought out the open source community for music creation and still feel this is a good avenue.

  • Jim Aikin

    Granted, I’m just an old curmudgeon, but I have long felt that “cloud computing” was a hoax. Just as I would never trust any important files to cloud storage, I would never rely on a cloud app to do any meaningful creative work. I routinely use Dropbox to share large files with others, but only an idiot would fail to make local backups to their own machine. The same with apps. If you’re looking for a gee-whiz non-serious amateur fun experience, I’m sure a cloud app would be fine. But only an idiot would try to do any serious creative work on a cloud app.

    –Jim Aikin

    • Oscar

      Jim, I’d hate to turn your argument upside down but only an idiot would fail to backup their files on the cloud.  I don’t nearly have the amount of redundancy of cloud storage at home or the time to make duplicates regularly.  Please read: 
      https://www.dropbox.com/help/122/en

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Right, but he’s essentially advocating local and remote backup. That makes sense for a whole lot of reasons.

      That said, Dropbox backup and the fact that it has some versioning is very useful.

  • bathyscaaf

    Flash is pretty powerful, and getting more so in some areas (e.g. 3D).  I’m not sure why they didn’t just package their apps up as AIR applications (or export them as mobile apps) and continue using their cloud service, then they could avoid any browser issues. “HTML5″ just isn’t ready for prime time in some areas, notably sound and video — it may be fleshed out on one browser, but not so much on the other (and that’s not even counting IE). Sound hasn’t really been addressed yet.

    I’m curious to know how many people were actually using Aviary on a regular basis.Anyway, this looks like a compelling replacement with more of a hook than running it in your browser (you install a client app on your machine, I don’t know what it was written in), and it can use VST plugins:

    http://www.ohmstudio.com/

    I love Ohm’s plugins (which come with), hopefully this works out for them. I haven’t tried it, BTW.

  • Grumpy

    The cloud – the latest way for the IT industry to extract money from us!

    Long, long ago there were these big machines called mainframes. But they were so big and expensive that only companies could afford them so the IT industry decided we all needed personal computers.

    That was great because they persuaded us to buy these machines and the software. Developments meant we had to keep upgrading thus ensuring a constant flow of money into their coffers. But then PCs got so powerful and software to mature that people realised that they didn’t have to keep upgrading, actually what they had was fine.

    Oh dear, the money isn’t flowing in so fast now so the IT industry has to invent something to get it flowing again.  So they come up with what is essentially mainframes with better pictures. They give it a nice fluffy name ‘the cloud’ and everything is rosy agian.

    The other good thing about ‘the cloud’ from the point of view of the IT industry is they are getting control back again. The great unintended effect of introducing PCs to everybody was that it actually gave them freedom to write what software they liked, use the machine in ways not envisaged by its’ makers, keep their data private… the cloud brings it all back into some big machine again.

  • gesslr

    Funny. I thought I followed this stuff closely, but I never heard of them….’course I’m in the Mac ecosystem so maybe that’s why? OhmStudio Is a neat platform that is evolving in capabilities. Howevet for me it ic currently a niche platform useful for collaborating with a couple of long time friends who live far away. (Serial jamming via Dropbox gets old.) I just purchased OhmStudio lifetime more in hope and as a vote of confidence in the OhmBoys. These guys have really staked out a position and are pushing the envelope on what can be done online. They deserve support (if this kind of stuff is of interest to you).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1437338463 David Vass

    Bitwig will have on line projects standard it seems.

  • Lets make music

    If you liked Myna your are going to love http://www.soundation.com.
    And yes you can of course save everything locally as well as on the cloud.