Yahoo! Audio Search, a Music Pioneer?

How long have you waited for a professional internet search to index audio files on the internet? Well, now Yahoo! will help music related websites find their audience and help music lovers find their fix. The Y! keeps delivering new features and services to the web, determined and inspired to outdo Google. With enough luck and a little creativity, they have a shot here.

This new Yahoo! Music Search (http://audio.search.yahoo.com) is still in beta form, but is basically functional. It indexes music and sound sharing sites, so you can locate both favorite pop tunes and weird sound effects you may use for Windows noises or who knows what. There is an error reporting board for people to explain their concerns, which may be extensive. It’s clear the new service isn’t nearly a final release, but it’s still extremely unique.

Y! has beaten Google, MSN Search, and AOL to this punch. While the others may have music services, they aren’t anything like this. AOL has a music search, but that is more or less an index of iTunes. The only music sources I could find were, “Buy this album directly from AOL,” “iTunes,” and “Sheet Music.” It only serves to make Yahoo! look better. Both Google and MSN haven’t published any functional music searches yet.

It’s also important to note this is different that the recent Yahoo! Music Unlimited. For a subscription fee, Y! Music Unlimited delivers music files to subscribers (like Napster or Rhapsody). The new Yahoo! Audio Search does not have a subscription fee and does not host any music. What it does is index and list all the music files across any subscription services and also some freebies across the web.

The sources that the audio search lists as being primary elements of its indexes are the following:

That’s the basic idea of the search, now let’s see how well it works.

The strangest thing about the Y! Audio Search is that all the search refinement tools are presented on the results page. The search is initiated simply by entering some text, as there are no other options. However, the top of the results page lists the following:

The top set of links is pretty useful on the results page. In an ideal world, Music would list all the subscription music services that match your search criteria; Podcasts would list any podcasts including songs or speeches that match; Other Audio would list web results that cannot be classified in the earlier sets. At least that’s my impression, since there doesn’t seem to be any other logic to it yet. In reality, podcasts works pretty well, but the other two blur together too much. Music contains subscription music, freebies, and occasionally random web results. Other Audio has a large share of music results from subscription sites. This spill over that makes these two categories too similar is probably an issue Y! needs to fix before they take the search engine out of beta.

The other options above, the blue box of radio buttons, is a bit more questionable. Sure, it’s good to set those features, but the fact they are radio buttons is truly annoying. It means you can only select one at a time. Using checkboxes would be more effective, as I’d like to select all file formats except RAM.

It’s odd that Y! chose to put these refinement tools on the results page only. After performing the search, users have to then select file format and wait for the page to reload, then select duration or source and wait for the page to reload. It’s nice to be able to refine results without restarting a search, but this doesn’t make sense. Why didn’t Y! put the search refinement tools on the front page of the search too. I want to get the most relevant results right at the start, instead of refining repeatedly to get them better yet, set the search to remember my preferences: no Real Audio and files less than 1 minute.

It would also be nice to have a way to order the results, like listing with the highest bitrate first or the smallest file size first. But there are deeper issues with the results pages that may need to be resolved first.

There’s certainly room to grow for Yahoo!’s initial offering. Results like the ones below aren’t much help to music-hungry searchers.

If anyone can tell the difference between the five identical results, I’d like to know what it is. The others are only really distinctive because of the track time (or lack thereof). Results like the ones above are really no help at all, forcing you to click into every one of them to see what they contain.

Even if the result listings stay broken up with no apparent logic, they could at least declare the URL instead of just saying how many download locations there are. Maybe they could also say what the file size is, or better the bitrate of the content. Currently, you need to click into each of the similar though separate result listings to see any of his information.

One last note on search results: after clicking one of the links from the list on the last page, you get a listing like the following:

These are from the Music results. The trouble is that the results don’t list all the paid services where songs appear (or maybe I just couldn’t find them because of the problem on the previous page). A more fundamental issue is that some of these services require subscriptions. For those who subscribe, why don’t they just search the service they subscribe to? Yahoo! isn’t that much better at indexing third party content. And if I don’t subscribe to those services, I want an option to exclude those results.

If you search the Other Audio, you may find something like this:

The weird and troublesome thing you may notice is that these two results are the same song. It’s the same URL, the same file format, the same length, and the same file size. Yes, the quality is different, but anyone knows a song with the same length and file size is not going to be different quality (unless it’s VBR). After visiting the site, I can say it’s not VBR and there was only one file with that name. Y! will have to work on the aggregation tools to remove duplicate listings like this. It might also help to have an actual bitrate listed instead of a vague quality slider setting.

Want to get your band’s or clients’ audio indexed? That’s no trouble if you know RSS. Y! only seems to index specific sites for audio and gives individuals a chance to add their own content using an RSS feed submission. This search will be great and can take off when it starts adding content from more web sources. There’s already a lot of audio available on the web that will never have RSS, though Yahoo! might be worried about how to classify it or questions of legality.

Worse, forming an RSS feed is more trouble for bands than it may be worth, especially if they don’t know anything about it yet. Third party optimizers may find some fresh work by helping bands build working feeds for their content. Small bands may not find much better promotion than getting their freebies visible in such a venue.

If Y! can pull this search together, it will be the first functional one of its kind. The most possibility here lies in how well it can index and drill through web results, though perhaps Yahoo! Music Unlimited might get a few more subscribers once Yahoo! actually starts getting its own service into the results more consistently.

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