Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Audio Search: Selling Picks and Shovels at the Podcast Gold Rush

Search is rapidly evolving beyond the HTML pages indexed by Google, Yahoo and the other general purpose search engines. This well attended presentation at the first Search SIG (Special Interest Group) for the SDForum, a leading nonprofit for the technology community in Silicon Valley, highlighted emerging companies providing the infrastructure for audio search. Appropriately enough, the program, with the usual tech pizza, was held at the Sunnyvale campus of Yahoo, which released Yahoo Audio Search in August, to mixed reviews, primarily related to issues of available metadata, not the technology. Unlike text which already contains words, audio needs tags to be "findable" and and it's that process that is in its infancy. Audio music needs artist, album and lyrics at the very minimum, while podcasts need dates, station and show identifiers just as a radio program would be cataloged.

Doug Kaye, the Poderator, led the panel in discussing the companies and their business models, as well as issues inherent in the media. Doug's organization is ITConversations, a non-profit based on volunteers who do the sound engineering and editing to provide "listener supported audio programs, interviews and important events", a worthy cause recruiting experienced assistants. Eric Rice, founder of AudioBlog has a positive cash flow by providing basic tools--for $4.95 a month, anyone can be a blogger, pundit, podcaster or rockstar, requiring minimal time, equipment and technical skills. Equipment is as simple as a telephone or mobile phone, plus a blog! Business models were not as clear for the other two startups, since they intend to become advertising based, but do not yet have a defined audience. Loomia , represented by David Marks, Founder/CEO is an aggregator of podcasts and videocasts. Their model is the community of interest, which has recommendations and personalization features, to be supported by future advertising. Odeo, represented by Ev Williams, Founder/CEO is still in beta and focused on podcasting, for both aggregating subscriptions and Odeo Studio to provide tools for creating podcasts.

The good news in audio is that the production costs are dropping rapidly, more tools are becoming available, and the compression is better. Coupled with the increase in broadband access in homes, user generated content is growing rapidly. Yet, there are still thorny intellectual property issues, such as music licensed to NPR that can't be included in ITConversations audio. Jeff Harms, Yahoo Audio Search, clearly articulated the challenges of aggregating audio from different sources, each with their own metadata scheme, if it exists at all. There is already a relatively orderly set of identifiers which exist for books and print publications, so utilizing the resources of the highly regarded institution just down Highway 101 at San Jose State University School of Library and Information Sciences would greatly benefit the world of audio searching!
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