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Yahoo Releases Audio Search Engine

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Yahoo has just launched a beta release of Yahoo Audio Search (YAS).

Speaking as both a searcher and a music/audio junkie, Yahoo has done some impressive work with this first beta release but there is still room for improvement.

First, some background about audio search on the web.

Specialized databases that provide access to audio files found on the "open web" are not a new idea. For example, AltaVista and AllTheWeb began offering them many years ago. Even today, both sites (now a part of Yahoo) continue to provide these services. FindSounds is another example of a specialty database providing access to "open web" audio material.

At the same time other search providers like GoFish provide searchable access to downloadable files (fee-based) from various digital music merchants while Blinkx offers access to streaming audio material (including podcasts) from several sources.

However, what Yahoo is releasing today is different. It's a one-stop, comprehensive service (metasearch, sort of) that allows the user to search, find, and access both "open web" audio files (via a Yahoo crawl) AND audio files from numerous music/audio (fee-based) services from Yahoo's own Music Unlimited, iTunes, Napster, Rhapsody, Emusic, GarageBand.com, and several other services. Of course, to download these tracks you'll need to pay.

According to the the company, Yahoo Audio Search currently offers access and/or info to more than 50 million audio files.

Yahoo Audio Search also allows content producers to submit material using the Yahoo MediaRSS format.

Yahoo Audio Search can be accessed at http://audio.search.yahoo.com or via Yahoo's MyWeb social search service at: http://myweb2.search.yahoo.com/. MyWeb users will be able to easily share favorite music searches and pages with others.

YAS not only offers access to audio files but also to music reviews, music videos, and related material licensed from various well-known sources including Billboard, Rolling Stone, and one of my favorite specialty databases, AllMusic.com.

Yesterday, I was able to spend some time checking out a demo of Yahoo Audio Search. Here are a few of the things that I noticed.

  • Currently, results pages do not show paid listings. No word if/when paid links will be visible
  • Users can select a preferred "audio service." For example, my preferred service was ITunes.
  • If selected, a direct link to this service is listed next to the title for easy access. Of course, this link will not be visible if the song/content is unavailable from your preferred service.
  • You'll find links to preview many songs located next to each title on a results page. Useful!!!
  • There are numerous ways to limit and refine your search results. Impressive.

Results Pages
Below and to the left of the search box, on every results page, you'll find three options to refine your result sets to music, podcasts, or "other" audio. Another link allows you to toggle even more limits/refinements onto the page. Clicking the "more options" link allows you to limit by:
+ Audio Format: AAC, MP3, RAM, WMA, and/or MIDI
+ Duration: Files greater than or less than one minute
+ Source: Either Web (aka open web) and Audio Services (ITunes, Rhapsody, etc.)
+ Releases: Include alternates, imports, EPs, etc. or only "major" releases
+ You can also sort your results by song title, album title

Entries--Web Audio
Each entry for "open web" audio includes the files
+ Title (if available, I found many files with no title)
+ File length (for example, 20 seconds, 5 minutes, etc.)
+ You'll also see how many sources are available where you can download a song or file. This info is hyperlinked to page(s) that offers more file info as well as a direct link to the specific page(s) where you'll find the file.

Entries--Audio Services
Each entry for tracks from an audio service include:
+ Artist
+ Title
+ Track Length
Clicking the title link will take you to another page the shows what services offer the song, the cost to download, and if the track can be burned or copied. Yes, you can now comparison shop for downloadable music. (-: The page also lists related songs. I'm curious to learn how a related songs are determined. For example, Yahoo Audio Search tells me that White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane is related to Bruce Springsteen's, Born to Run.

On some results page you'll find a matching artist links on the right side of the page. Clicking these links allow you to see all of the material from a music group or solo artist listed in a single location. These pages also include links to images, videos and other material. You can even sort albums by release date and title. Another link takes you to Yahoo Shopping, if you're interested in purchasing the entire disc.

Disappointments and Work to Be Done
A major disappointment was clicking the link labeled "reviews" below each entry. Yahoo do better here. Clicking the link runs a web search that includes the word "reviews" and the title of the entry. Results were very poor. If Yahoo is licensing material (including reviews) from various sources (see above) this material should also be available here. Also, lots of "open web" results have "unknown" listed as the artist/performer and almost no other info about why a result is listed. Of course, this is as much an issue of poor metadata (not Yahoo's fault) as it is anything else. Nevertheless, I hope Yahoo works to make improvements. For example, transcripts created using speech recognition might really help for some types of material. However, scalability is also an issue with the amount of web content out there. Yes, content producers using MediaRSS would also help. Finally, Yahoo needs to work on better methods for determining where a file should fall when the music, podcast, and other audio sort option is used. I found lots of problems but again some of this is due to a lack of metadata about each file.

One feature that I would like to see added is the ability to search by song lyrics. GoFish recently started to offer this feature and it can be very useful when attempting to find a song. Trust me on this one, I used to work at a music shop. Also, I would like to see an option to only see results from the "open web."

Bottom Line
Again, I'm impressed with this first release of Yahoo Audio Search. However, improvements are still needed. I'm looking forward to seeing what the next release offers in terms of features, relevancy, and organization of results.

I'm also interested to see how Yahoo handles tracks that might be available on the "open web" illegally but also available from a legal, music service.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I'm a music and audio junkie so I plan to spend more quality time with YAS in the very near future. I'll post my findings to the blog. Of course,
I'll also continue to use other audio search services.

Oh, in case you're wondering if Google working on a music service? No idea, but I wouldn't doubt it. Btw, they registered the domain GoogleMusic.com a couple of years ago. (-:


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