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A Closer Look at Yahoo Audio Search

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Yahoo's recently released audio search engine is an impressive tool for both searcher and music/audio junkies, but this first beta release has rough edges and there is still room for improvement.

Yahoo Audio Search (YAS) is relatively unique in that it's a meta search of numerous online audio sources, unlike most other search tools that focus exclusively on their own music libraries, such as Yahoo Music.

That said, specialized databases that provide access to audio files found on the "open web" are not a new idea. For example, AltaVista and AllTheWeb offered music search 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.

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, Yahoo Audio Search is different. It's a one-stop, comprehensive service 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 company, Yahoo Audio Search currently offers access to more than 50 million audio files.

Yahoo Audio Search is available 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 results include audio files, 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.

Currently, results pages do not show paid listings. No word if or when paid links will be visible.

You can select a preferred audio service and save that as a preference. For example, my preferred service is iTunes. If selected, a direct link to this service is listed next to the title of a song in search results for easy access. Of course, this link will not be visible if the song/content is unavailable from your preferred service.

You'll also find links to preview many songs located next to each title on a results page, and there are numerous ways to limit and refine your search results. These features are useful and impressive.

Below and to the left of the search box on every search result page you'll find three options to refine your result sets to music, podcasts, or "other" audio formats. 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

For audio files found on the open web, each result includes:

  • Title (if available, I found many files with no title)
  • File length (for example, 20 seconds, 5 minutes, etc.)
  • Sources providing downloads of a song or file. This info is hyperlinked to page(s) that offer more file info as well as a direct link to the specific page(s) where you'll find the file.

Each result for tracks from an audio service include:

  • Artist
  • Title
  • Track length

Clicking the title link displays another page that shows what services offer the song, the cost to download, and if the track can be burned or copied. This means 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 pages you'll find "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. 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.

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

Disappointments and work to be done

A major disappointment were the "reviews" offered for each entry. Yahoo can do much better here. Clicking a "reviews" 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 this material should also be available here.

To make matters worse, many 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.

How? Well, for example, transcripts created using speech recognition might really help for some types of material. However, salability is also an issue with the amount of web content out there. 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. Also, I would like to see an option to only see results from the open web, excluding offerings from online music stores.

Despite these issues, bottom line 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.

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