Introducing Picobel.js – an audio player you can style with css

I’ve launched my first open source project. Well, okay, so it’s not my first and it’s also not 100% launched yet. Maybe I should explain…

What is Picobel.js?

Picobel.js (pronounced peek-o-bell, as in decibel) is a lightweight dependency-free Javascript tool that converts html <audio> tags into styleable markup.

Why I built it

Back in the day, I ran a music-review blog1 that made heavy use of on-page audio players. At the time I was also diving deep into css. If you could style it, I would style it. Few things were more satisfying than getting a raw html element to look exactly how I wanted it to look. Before long most elements were bending to my will. Checkboxes and select inputs presented no problems. Range selectors were tricky, but eventually looked exactly how I wanted them. But the <audio> element always eluded me.

Picobel is my attempt to get around the restrictions of the native html5 audio player. In it’s simplest form, Picobel finds any audio elements on a page and replaces them with “regular” markup (divs and spans etc.). I can then apply my own styles, and avoid the cross-browser inconsistencies of the “shadow DOM”.

For good measure I’ve also included a selection of optional “themes”. If css trickery isn’t something that excites you, then you can pick a pre-made style and use that.

My open source debut

Ever since I first joined GitHub I’ve been storing the code for my personal projects “in the open”. But there is a big difference between technically public and actually launching something. This is the first time I’ve moved beyond “something that works for me” towards “something others can use”.

With Picobel.js I’ve thought a lot about ease of use. Rather than being tightly coupled to my esoteric workflow, it works in any situation. I’ve also made a conscious effort to document my process. Rather than needing to examine the inside of my head, potential users can now simply read the docs.

Picobel has a demo page complete with detailed installation instructions. There’s also a CodePen collection that serves as a gallery for all the pre-made themes2. The GitHub project includes an official open source license (the MIT one, for now). And there is a widget built into the README that shows the current build-status. That’s right; this project even has tests!

How far off is version 1.0?

In my mind Picobel is almost feature-complete. The only gaps I can think of involve edge-cases and failure states. The “buffering” state is currently rather primitive. There’s also no catch for when a file fails to load completely. But I’m happy to save these enhancements for Version 2.0. As it stands, Picobel works. It’s much better to get it published and in the hands of users.

So Picobel is on the cusp of hitting the 1.0 milestone. I “soft launched” it on Reddit a couple of weeks ago and gained a few early users. With another week or so of beta testing I’ll be ready to call version one of Picobel finished. Now I need your help. If you could try out Picobel and let me know what you think (good or bad), I’ll be eternally grateful.

  1. Eaten by Monsters ran for about five years. Slowly customising every aspect of that site is what drew me into web-development. So it’s got a lot to answer for… 
  2. Picobel lets developers create their own css styles for audio players. But by providing a range of pre-made themes the utility of this project is much increased. Having a “plug and play” option allows people to get results without mucking around with any css first. 

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Mar 2017 What is a decibel, anyway? After years of taking the decibel unit for granted, I finally did some research, and it turns out the decibel is actually pretty interesting.Read time: a little over six minutes.