Photo credit: mrsamuraiamv
Audio on the web is changing in a big way. The future of the web is loud and I like it.
We've come a long way in recent years and audio on the web has grown in leaps and bounds. From the humble beginnings of background sounds and flash-powered clicks and beeps to fully immersive and generative audio soundscapes. In February of this year we launched AudioCrawl, a website that showcases best-in-class creative uses of audio on the web and the community is just getting started.
We've come full circle
A colleague of mine recently noted the irony of the full circle the web community has travelled. From the strong belief that audio on the web is intrusive and almost evil in some circumstances to celebrating immersive audio experiences with excitement and vigor. He's right, but personally I never felt like that and I believe the community needs to shed it's legacy feeling towards audio on the web as the platform grows and matures.
Now I feel I should preface this by saying that I am not suggesting Wikipedia implements a Dubstep soundtrack, although that would certainly be an “interesting” experience! However, with fully immersive and experiential websites, audio can make the experience complete.
It's all about the technique
Sound design combined with smart animations can make a user interface feel super responsive, just look at native apps. The same should apply to web applications, but it's all in the technique. Interaction feedback sounds should be designed with the same care that goes into animations. It's not just a case of grabbing a click sample from Freesound like designers often did in the flash days. Same goes for the “intrusive” argument. We should design our audio to enhance the experience, an extra layer in the experience stack. It shouldn't take center stage and scream in the users face, unless that's what you are going for of course!
Rich media experiences
Movie trailers, games, interactive music videos, experimental experiences, these are the kinds of applications that can really benefit from soundscapes and clever audio design. In my opinion, this is what is needed to take the medium to the next level and for the web to grow into a mature rich media platform.
Remember, movies didn't used to have sound. Imagine Interstellar without the amazing sound effects and Hans Zimmer's inspiring score. Video games used to have 8bit audio, imagine Call of Duty accompanied by the Tetris soundtrack. As the web grows and matures I believe it will catch up to the level of audio we expect from other media. One day, I'll go online to experience sound like never before.
Making the case for Web Audio
The future of the web is all about context, and when the context is right, pulling a user in deeper with sound is a great technique, especially with over 32% of all time on mobile being spent on gaming. Audio has been engineered to evoke emotion for decades. Read any great book on neuroscience and you'll find a leading purchase driver is emotion. Emotion stimulates the mind thousands of times faster than a standard rational thought and sound is a leading driver of emotion. Brands have invested thousands, if not millions of dollars into using sound to connect multi-sensory brand experiences for their audience. The audio signature, branded sounds, and music are key characteristics of an audio brand. We all recognize the Intel Inside chimes, or Skype's connection and ringing sounds. These are just a few examples of sonic identity in practice. With broadband speeds accelerating, browsers adopting more standards for how they handle rich media, it's only a matter of time until WebAudio continues to be mainstream. It's no surprise Google's Chrome Experiments and other exploratory immersive experiences by brands are taking full advantage of this protocol.
The future of the web isn't just loud, it's connected to all your senses.