As you may have heard, Yahoo recently launched a
new search service that attempts to track down audio files—music tracks, podcasts, and such audio odds and ends as interviews, speeches, and radio broadcasts—posted on the Web. Claiming an index that exceeds 50 million files, files are identified by each file’s metadata (essentially data about data). Although it’s possible to rummage through the web for audio files with Google and other search engines, Yahoo’s service is unique because Yahoo has been granted permission to index downloadable tracks from the major music services—ArtistDirect, AudioLunchbox, BuyMusic, dMusic, eMusic, Epitonic, GarageBand, iTunes, Livedownloads, MP34U, MSN Music, Musicmatch, Napster, PassAlong, Rhapsody, RealPlayer Music Store, Rhapsody, SoundClick, and Yahoo! Music Unlimited included.
How it works
Currently in beta, the service works pretty much like any plain vanilla search engine. Enter the name of a song or artist, click Search, and view a list of links that may or may not accurately answer your query. Some tracks in the results page are accompanied by a Sample link that allows you to listen to a short preview in Windows Media Player. Click a link associated with a song file and you’re taken to a page that lists services from which you can purchase the track along with the track’s price, compatible computer platform, file format (wma or aac, for example), and digital rights limitations (whether you can copy and burn the track to CD, for example).
Should you care to limit your results to particular music service—a service that provides tracks compatible with the iPod, for example—you can click a Change Your Preferred Audio Service link and select that service. Regrettably, you can choose multiple services—its all of them or just one. You can also ask the search engine to find songs in a particular format—MP3, WMA, AAC, or MIDI. Again, it’s all or one.
Clicking the podcasts link displays a list of links to websites hosting the podcast as well as an XML link for adding the feed to your podcast aggregator (
iPodderX or iTunes, for example). If you’re looking for the odds and ends, click the Other Audio link to be taken to a page of links to interviews and the like.
What it could be
As this entry’s headline indicates, I think this is a reasonable start in that it exists at all, but it could—and should—be so much more.
While I’m happy to have Yahoo make money on the service, I’d also like them to understand that they’ll earn their place in heaven should they provide a complete index to the world’s audio—not just tracks you can buy from Downloads R Us, but everything ; obscure blues, recordings of historic speeches, classical catalogs, field recordings of bird calls, the soundtrack of my kid’s grammar school Christmas play… everything available on the Web.
And if they’re going to do this, I pray they’ll hire a team of people who put some serious thought into the search engine’s interface. What’s offered now is little better than any other Yahoo search—enter a couple of search terms, click Search, and be prepared to weed through a lot of dead ends. If Yahoo’s engineers are looking for inspiration, I hope they’ll take a gander at the iTunes Music Store’s Power Search—a feature that lets you specify Song, Artist, Album, Genre, and Composer criteria in a single search—and then take it several steps further.
This will, of course, require those who put audio on the Web to tag it properly so it can be picked up by Yahoo’s engine. If Yahoo hasn’t yet put together a simple list of directions for doing just that, it’s time to start. Going after the commercial providers makes sense, now let’s also think about the little guys who want to share their audio with the world.
Yahoo has the opportunity to do great work here. I hope they’re up to the challenge.