Sound on the Web - Whats Your Take? | April 26, 2004

I have to say that I really don’t like sound on the web. I usually surf while listening to iTunes, so any site with it’s own sound track just interferes with the music I’m already listening to. I frequently have numerous tabs open at any one time, so whenever these kind of clashes occur, it’s a mad scramble through all on my tabs to find the culprit. The cacophony is usually so great that my initial instinct is to close that site down as soon as possible. Sometimes I do look for a mute button, but usually can’t bear to wait that long.

More often than not, a sound track detracts from the user experience rather than add to it. It’s like elevator music or hold music. If I want to listen to music while I shop, I’ll bring an iPod. I don’t want to be force fed a 20 second loop of Vivaldi or Moby illegally downloaded of the web. And I definitely don’t want to hear some badly composed drum and base loop bought for $10 from annoying-flash-loops.com.

I was pretty surprised a few years back when D&AD decided not to hand out a website award because none of the sites made enough use of sound. For me this shows more about the judges lack of understanding of how people use the web, than a problem with any of the submissions.

I’m not saying that all sound is bad. Used intelligently it can make GUI’s feel more responsive and help brand a site. However, 9 times out of 10, sound on the web is just irritating. I’ve seen so many badly designed and useless sites that use sound that I immediately associate these negative qualities with any site that force feeds me a loop. Another reason why I’m quick to shut these sites down.

However, I realise that this is a very personal and subjective feeling, so I’m curious as to other peoples take on the subject. Do you likes sites with sound or do you find them irritating? If you like sites that use sound can you point to any that use audio intelligently?

Posted at April 26, 2004 2:50 PM

Comments

colin said on April 26, 2004 7:46 PM

I hate websites that force sound upon me. Just let me choose (with it off by default), that’s all I ask for.

Luckily, I recently discovered Detour which lets you selectively filter which applications can bother you or not with sound.

Geoff said on April 26, 2004 7:47 PM

Sound on the web seems mostly out of place. What if books or magazines had little speakers in them that played music while you read them? Who would stand for that? With the exception of music sites, film previews, and other obvious functional uses of audio, I ALWAYS hit the mute button on my keyboard.

David Schafer said on April 26, 2004 7:47 PM

Andy,
I feel the same way you do. I wish there was a browser setting to turn background music on or off. Even a volume setting specifically for the browser would be nice.
Banner ads with sounds are the worst.

Milan Negovan said on April 26, 2004 7:52 PM

Personally, I find the use of unsolicited sound intrusive. It robs me of hoice and wastes my bandwidth. It’s like one of those hidden charges they tack on your bill. The best approach to use sound on the web that I’ve seen is at asterisk*. Very cool. A nice little player and you crank it up if you want to.

Chris Pederick said on April 26, 2004 8:00 PM

I agree with you whole-heartedly about music on web sites.

However, I think there is a difference between music and sound. Sound when clicking on items on a web page can be a useful piece of feedback to the user as long as it’s simple and non-invasive.

Lee said on April 26, 2004 8:20 PM

Generally I’d agree wholeheartedly, but every now and again I find a site that makes use of sound in a clever, constructive way and it just blows you away.

Sound on the web is still rare (thankfully in the case of those ringtone-eque versions of greensleeves), but I think it could be used far more, but only where used effectively.

It could really make a site stand out too.

Rafal said on April 26, 2004 8:26 PM

Fully Flashed up sites = evil
Forcing sound on visitors = evil

No mute button on sites with sound = eviler

Alex said on April 26, 2004 8:33 PM

Very few sites manage to actually enchance the user experience using sound, sometimes it is actually helpfull (subtle sounds tied to UI elements and such). Looped music is mostly horrible and of low quality due to bandwidth concerns.

I am sure you’ve seen drummachine, which makes very nice use of music and sounds. But it is a showcase of Flash skills and not a site built to deliver information.

I am generalizing here, but most sites that use sound still remind me of 1990’s when “everyone” had some horrible MIDI playing in the background, so yes the use of sound on the web is in needs more refinement.

Richard Hiscutt said on April 26, 2004 8:34 PM

Sound in websites can greatly enhance user experience when done properly, and if it’s relevant to the content and target audience.

You only need to look at sites like Vodafone Futures and Eardrum to see how sound can work really well.

Obviously, sound for sounds sake isn’t useful, and rarely adds to the website.

David Ely said on April 26, 2004 8:52 PM

I think that noisy websites are still hanging on to the late-90s’ view of the web as a mega-multi-media distribution center, which it hasn’t really proved to be. Websites mirror magazines and differ only in that they have hyperlinks, allow downloads, and can display animations.

Music/sound/noise on the web is based on the thought model that people want to “interact” with a site, which I don’t think they do. They want to read a site. Get information from it.

Sites where interaction is expected are clearly different from those where it isn’t. http://www.homestarrunner.com/ is a good example because you expect to hear sound. The noise is so distracting on the other sites because it isn’t at all what you’re looking for and so will almost always detract from your experience.

nakedwebmonkey said on April 26, 2004 9:11 PM

I generally make a distinction between involuntary website sounds/music (e.g. blackground music, flash splash pages using sound effects, anner ad’s audio, etc.) vs. voluntarily clicking on a/v files. If the user clicks on a .swf or .mpg, or .mp3 link it’s reasonable to expect that sound will come with that. But merely opening a homepage is a different story; there I want a choice.

Browsers allow the user to decide things like whether to override sites’ link colors, permit their applets to launch, whether popup windows will be launched, and how many times an animated GIF can loop. It’s surprising that controlling browsers’ sound playback, which is potentially just as disruptive, is still not a mainstream option.

As with PDFs, I’d appreciate some metadata first to decide whether clicking is a good idea, e.g. what song will be played, how long it is, how large the file is. A song that may seem brilliantly apropos to the author may seem more like an gawdawful annoyance or bandwidth hog (keeping in mind that there are people in many countries who are still on low-bandwidth connections that charge by the minute) from the user’s perspective. In a workplace, it can be downright embarrassing when your colleagues hear Britney Spears playing from your workstation, or your computer farting, or whatever other random bit of audio the site author happened to impose on you. Turning off the speakers solves that problem, but the user shouldn’t be forced to suppress legitimate OS aural feedback, iTunes, et al just to keep website noise down.

nakedcodemonkey said on April 26, 2004 9:29 PM

(continuing my previous comment, with username corrected)

Narration tracks are another tricky issue. It can be done well, but it’s hard to pull that off. Many times I wind up having figure out how to restart a video walkthrough or tutorial without its audio track, so that I can focus on comprehending all the text and video that’s whizzing by. Other times the audio is paced too slowly (IMO) and so I get impatient with the long pauses between fragments of information. Again, giving the user easy access to playback controls is a good thing. If the sound is getting on my nerves and the right adjustment control can’t be identified pretty quickly, I too just close the window and look for the info elsewhere. It’s not worth the hassle.

dusoft said on April 26, 2004 10:20 PM

I don’t really like sound via browser, since I often listen to mp3’s or audio CD. Don’t like that Flash sounds either. Sounds important for me are: - new emails alert and music ;-)

dusoft said on April 26, 2004 10:21 PM

I don’t really like sound via browser, since I often listen to mp3’s or audio CD. Don’t like that Flash sounds either. Sounds important for me are: - new emails alert and music ;-)

And Andy:

The preview thing is just gorgeous.

Chris Vincent said on April 26, 2004 10:25 PM

I can see both sides of this issue. I too surf with iTunes playing (Judas Priest right now). I’m also irritated when an annoying loop starts playing.

At the same time, so many sites have done it right and pulled it off so well that I would actually pause iTunes for their site.

One wouldn’t want to start everything up sans music… Most users might not even realize there was music and would miss it completely. It might be better to ask whether to play the music before doing anything. And then saving it as a preference.

Or, here’s another one. Flash adds a feature where a developer can mark a sound as an effect or a loop or whatever. Then, the plug-in just reads the user’s preference over whether to play it or not.

Ian said on April 26, 2004 11:54 PM

I agree with you Andy. Though there are always some exceptions.

Drew McLellan said on April 27, 2004 12:50 AM

My thinking on this is very much in line with your own, Andy.

Of the sites I visit and use on a regular basis (either daily, weekly or whatever), precisely none use sound by default. This isn’t due to a lack of creativity or knowing how to use the tools available. For general use, sound adds nothing to a site. In specific cases it can be used to tremendous effect, but those case are few and far between.

Shaun Inman said on April 27, 2004 2:01 AM

Just in case it went overlooked (it was in the first comment but who reads those?) I’ll second the endorsement for Detour. If you’re on OS X and are sick of applications hijacking your speakers you are obligated to check this app out. It provides complete control over the volume level of any application. Now you can turn up your tunes, reduce the volume of email or IM notifications and just plain mute obnoxious Flash loops. Firefox takes back the web, Detour takes back your speakers.

Now, where’s my big fat endorsement check? ;D

xtian said on April 27, 2004 2:43 AM

“I think that noisy websites are still hanging on to the late-90s’ view of the web as a mega-multi-media distribution center…”

I’d like to see a real example of a late 90’s disasterous use of audio.

Audio is a neutral subject—not intrinsically bad, just bad uses. I see this as an issue of increasing uses surrounding the desktop. Any time the computer takes an automatic action not part of the user’s focused task, there is a high potential for disrupting users. Files installed where you don’t want them installed, error dialogs, or audio-encrusted-web sites, whatever constitutes an unwanted intrusion is a bad use. I feel this way using Windows all the time. :P

Richard Rutter said on April 27, 2004 10:08 AM

As you say Andy, unsolicited background sound on Web sites is bad simply because it is irritating.

Obviously where sound is the point then it is entirely acceptable. People have already mentioned the SotW player on *asterisk as a good example. Another obvious example would be Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man - a site for the album Out of Season which lets you play the album while browsing the site - a perfect application of sound on a Web site.

Paul said on April 27, 2004 2:45 PM

“If I wanted your website to make noise I’d lick the screen” - Unknown

Not sure where I first heard that, but it just about sums my feelings on the subject up.

timo said on April 27, 2004 6:11 PM

I avoid sites with sound…it really bothers me. In most cases I try to shut down the site ASAP.

Jenn said on April 27, 2004 9:50 PM

I’m like you. I don’t like sites with sound. If you’re going to have sound on your site, let me turn it on at my discretion.

Michael said on April 27, 2004 11:56 PM

1. I don’t like background music for a website. That’s not wht a website is for. I don’t like MIDI music. I don’t like Flash used only for background music.

2. I don’t like sound effects for webpages. I don’t like rollover sound effects.

charles stuart said on April 28, 2004 7:48 AM

urban 9 - check out phase 03.

buck 65 - square

there’s a time and place for everything. second example is a bit obvious (you can listen to the entire album).

gaston said on April 29, 2004 2:40 AM

The same happens to me, I’m always listening to music, so it really bugs me when sites just give me their audio. They should just ask.

And another thing I’ve noticed is this: when you create a new Sound object in flash, the default volume is 100%, which is pretty loud. Developers should at least set the volume to 25% or something, because if not, the volume will be really annoying.

Janet said on April 29, 2004 3:14 PM

I don’t mind the occasional mouse over sound clip, say in a flash interface, but music on a page is quite annoying

Janet said on April 29, 2004 3:14 PM

I don’t mind the occasional mouse over sound clip, say in a flash interface, but music on a page is quite annoying

Erik said on April 29, 2004 6:27 PM

I agree with xtian that any automatic action that a computer takes without allowing the user to stop it is almost always going to annoy people. That is one of the reasons that I like Opera so much. It gives you control over the many things that most browsers just let website authors dictate to you. This inclides an option to “Turn off sound in web pages” in two keystrokes. Though I believe this feature may only work 100% right on 7.50 beta 1. Anyways, options like this should be part of every browser. Why let a total stranger control your internet experience? Give control back to the user!

xtian said on April 29, 2004 6:36 PM

“…by effective design, we can reduce the noise component and increase the information-providing potential of sound.” (Buxton, Gaver & Bly)

There is a line between using your computer effectively and designed audio implementations. The issue of interrupting your iTunes experience is just a technical issue as pointed out by the first comment. Mr. Budd is perturbed by the intrusion of badly designed sites and he has every right to be annoyed.

I’m surprised at the majority negative opinions. One comment asked, what if magazines had audio. That is a perfect example. Magazines are driven by the numbers to support ad revenues. While novel use of audiocould increase sales temporarily, garish misuse would absolutely hurt future sales. Not a good place to be if you’re a magazine. How many of these annoying web sites are major news and culture sites and how many are random links to destinations you will never intentionally return?

Let’s ignore issues of good vs. bad—too subjective. An easier determination may be, does this implementation of audio on this web site constitute “noise” or “information”?

Gaz said on April 29, 2004 7:35 PM

It’s reet annoying when listening to music on my puter and some crazy site starts playing something that sounds like it should be coming out of my old Commodore 64.

I notice it is usually if not always flash sites that are the culprits for stupid sound and crappy music. On a computer game site I suppose it can be forgiven..

Coos said on May 2, 2004 1:03 AM

Listen, I’m in agreeance with nearly everything that’s been said so far… you’ve all made some valid points.

HOWEVER, if you’re building websites and have AWESOME taste in music, (and there’s a lot of us out there!) you get the opportunity to share your music.
On top of that, that fact that the music we listen to is SOOOO good, it compliments all our hard work for the eyes. Why not let the ears wander for a bit- you might find some gems!

I’ve followed a few links about from in here, so I could repeat a few links, but these are what I’ve been enjoying for the last half an hour (reading your great blogs…)

An old favourite of mine (for good measure ;)):

http://www.flexxe.com/ and anything else by http://www.group94.com/… (sorry don’t know if these hyperlinks are automatically picked up!)
http://www.benningdesign.com/ and apparently anthing by http://www.pushobject.com/ (NICE site matey!)

there are loads more, but I have a habit of going on!

Only been doing web design for 18months and I’m in AWE of what goes on.

Respect to everyone!

Coos

http://www.benningdesign.com/