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Designing Web Audio & CD-ROM by Dylan Thede, Josh Beggs

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What you can do with sound on the Web

The advent of web audio opens up more channels for information delivery with narration, interviews, music, sound effects, and radio broadcasts. Among a huge list of benefits, web audio can be used to:

  • Communicate ideas through informative dialogue, narration, and voice content

  • Improve site navigation with interface-oriented sound effects such as audio button rollover cues

  • Enliven your entertainment content and presentations with background music

  • Generate revenue through online music sales and distribution of digitized audio clips

Here are some of the ways audio can effectively be used in web site development:

  • Webcasts. Local radio stations are widening their audience base (and their advertising appeal) by simulcasting on the Internet. Every major league baseball game is broadcast live around the world. Concert promoters are using webcasting as a major promotional and distribution scheme. Consider for example NetAid, a multinational series of concerts and webcasts designed to raise funds for people in developing countries. The NetAid Foundation and the UN Development Program view webcasts as a way to build visibility for their web sites, which will serve as a primary, long-term fundraising vehicle. (It should be noted, however, that the concerts were webcast on the cutting-edge Internet2, and not the freely available Web. However, Internet users were able to download some footage in RealMedia format.)

  • Web soundtracks.Audio can greatly enhance your online multimedia presentations. As more sites incorporate Macromedia’s Flash technology (see Chapter 9 for more information) or RealNetwork’s G2 technology with SMIL, a new standard multimedia markup language (see Chapter 7), audio is becoming an integral component to animation, graphics, and text on the Web.

  • E-commerce.Online record stores such as CDNow, Tower Records, Music Boulevard, eMusic, and MP3.com as well as thousands of small, independent record labels and musicians broadcast free streaming audio previews as a shopping service to their customers. Making album clips available as samples often leads a customer to purchase the CD. These on-demand music clips not only allow users to try before they buy, but they are also a powerful tool for helping an online store to sell more.

  • On-demand audio archives. You can use the Web to affordably categorize and rebroadcast audio content such as sounds effects, speech files, educational content, and even music clips targeted at specialized audiences. For example, http://bobdylan.com offers exclusive unreleased material available only from the web site. If the customers are diehard Dylan fans, these on-demand audio exclusives will keep them coming back.

  • Voice-over narration.Like webcasts and interviews, rechanneling text explanations into voice-over narration frees up the visual elements to do other jobs within the site. Narration can enable more interactive storytelling. For navigational and educational purposes, narration can also serve as a guide through the site or through a tutorial.

  • Content layers. There is only so much information a user can absorb at once. Splitting up or layering content and funneling some of it through an audio track reduces the amount of information to scroll through. Some sites tack on sound bites as column sidebars. C|net’s News.com (http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1002.html) offers a more ambitious approach to divvying up its content: it broadcasts top stories with three daily webcasts. Readers can browse the rest of the site while a six- to twelve-minute audio show continues in the background. You can also include advertising spots in a webcast. They are less obtrusive than a rotating banner ad, but still get the URL out to the audience.

  • Audio interviews. Another way to layer a large amount of content is with audio interviews. Instead of scrolling through lengthy Q & A documents like the author interviews at http://www.amazon.com/, for example, users get the information more quickly while working on other things. Because users are hearing the insider’s actual voice, the audio also adds personality and makes the content more robust and enjoyable.

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