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The dawning audio web

“We’re at the beginning of an effort to make the audio web as relevant and as useful as the text web has become.”

This year, podcasts turned 15 years old, and while we are squarely in digital audio’s awkward adolescence, we’re also witnessing the dawn of the audio web.

Podcasting has allowed millions of creators to reach audiences around the world and all of us to listen to what we want when we want it — but that’s just the beginning.

Audio devices like smartphones, smart speakers, and headphones are now everywhere. But today, audio is one-dimensional — you can’t ask questions of a podcast and get answers. Audio isn’t yet interactive, personally relevant, or intelligent. It isn’t easily shareable, and it’s been next to impossible to discover a podcast about the neighborhood you’re walking through or a town you’re driving through. With Andrew Mason’s startup Detour it was possible to imagine what it would be like to stumble across rich audio stories about the world you were traveling through in Google Maps. But that reality hasn’t quite materialized — at least not yet.

Still, what a podcast “can be” and what digital audio “can do” are both expanding. And at Google, we’re at the beginning of an effort to make the audio web as relevant and as useful as the text web has become.

At Google, we’ve taken the first steps to understanding audio and making it searchable and discoverable online. Today, we are indexing and transcribing every story in audio news. This allows us to share audio stories about events that are changing the world right at this moment.

This same technology also allows people to search for podcasts on the web — not just by a show’s title but by searching for whatever they’re curious about. Search for a podcast about CRISPR or the Dirty Kanza gravel bike race and Google will suggest podcasts to answer those questions. Searching through the world’s audio instantly is becoming possible.

We also launched Google’s Your News Update, which we see as a smarter way to listen to the news on the Google Assistant. This approach focuses on discrete, short-form audio stories on an open platform. Today, if you ask Google to play the news, we’ll create a playlist that keeps you up to date with the most important stories in your world. That means, for example, if you’re from Pittsburgh but live in San Francisco, you can get Steelers news along with your breaking national and world news. The product is interactive — you can skip stories — and lets you tell us what you’re interested in so that, over time, we learn what works for you. And you can explore further. Publishers can promote longer podcasts or shows at the end of their stories and people can choose their own listening adventure.

Audio is becoming interactive — this is just the beginning. And these interactive playlists don’t have to be limited to hard news. Imagine how this could work for education, or professional training, or even storytime for children.

As the audio web starts to grow, we want to ensure developers and creators everywhere can take advantage of what’s on offer by enabling an open ecosystem, with open standards and robust analytics. We’re committed to building the tools creators need to set up sustainable businesses that support beautiful and important work — a place where everyone is welcome.

Steve Henn is content strategy lead for audio news at Google.

This year, podcasts turned 15 years old, and while we are squarely in digital audio’s awkward adolescence, we’re also witnessing the dawn of the audio web.

Podcasting has allowed millions of creators to reach audiences around the world and all of us to listen to what we want when we want it — but that’s just the beginning.

Audio devices like smartphones, smart speakers, and headphones are now everywhere. But today, audio is one-dimensional — you can’t ask questions of a podcast and get answers. Audio isn’t yet interactive, personally relevant, or intelligent. It isn’t easily shareable, and it’s been next to impossible to discover a podcast about the neighborhood you’re walking through or a town you’re driving through. With Andrew Mason’s startup Detour it was possible to imagine what it would be like to stumble across rich audio stories about the world you were traveling through in Google Maps. But that reality hasn’t quite materialized — at least not yet.

Still, what a podcast “can be” and what digital audio “can do” are both expanding. And at Google, we’re at the beginning of an effort to make the audio web as relevant and as useful as the text web has become.

At Google, we’ve taken the first steps to understanding audio and making it searchable and discoverable online. Today, we are indexing and transcribing every story in audio news. This allows us to share audio stories about events that are changing the world right at this moment.

This same technology also allows people to search for podcasts on the web — not just by a show’s title but by searching for whatever they’re curious about. Search for a podcast about CRISPR or the Dirty Kanza gravel bike race and Google will suggest podcasts to answer those questions. Searching through the world’s audio instantly is becoming possible.

We also launched Google’s Your News Update, which we see as a smarter way to listen to the news on the Google Assistant. This approach focuses on discrete, short-form audio stories on an open platform. Today, if you ask Google to play the news, we’ll create a playlist that keeps you up to date with the most important stories in your world. That means, for example, if you’re from Pittsburgh but live in San Francisco, you can get Steelers news along with your breaking national and world news. The product is interactive — you can skip stories — and lets you tell us what you’re interested in so that, over time, we learn what works for you. And you can explore further. Publishers can promote longer podcasts or shows at the end of their stories and people can choose their own listening adventure.

Audio is becoming interactive — this is just the beginning. And these interactive playlists don’t have to be limited to hard news. Imagine how this could work for education, or professional training, or even storytime for children.

As the audio web starts to grow, we want to ensure developers and creators everywhere can take advantage of what’s on offer by enabling an open ecosystem, with open standards and robust analytics. We’re committed to building the tools creators need to set up sustainable businesses that support beautiful and important work — a place where everyone is welcome.

Steve Henn is content strategy lead for audio news at Google.

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