The internet finds its voice
Voice-interface technologies and the rise of audio- and video-driven websites are a key trend for 2020 and beyond.
A series of voice-interface technologies are emerging to allow websites to audibly talk to users, and to respond when users talk back.
Websites are becoming full-blown multimedia products with audio and video dominating the user experience. This will be a key trend in 2020 and beyond, taking the World Wide Web by storm. Similar to the one in which the internet made the newspaper a nostalgia item. Websites, as we know them today, will ultimately switch from being a text-heavy medium to becoming networked and self-contained multimedia hubs. The echo of this change will be felt across various domains, including web readership, designers, and advertisers.
The technological storm expected to hit the shores of the global web has been slowly brewing. It came about as a slow but game-changing shift taking place over the past decade in which the inclusion of audio and video changed the website user experience and expectations for good. The rise of smart home devices (such assmart speakers) and virtual assistants ranging from Google Home and Amazon Alexa to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, and the lasting popularity of podcasts made the web a much louder and bolder place, which the publishers must adapt to or risk slipping into silent oblivion.
Key drivers shaping the current trends
Far-seeing publishers who can tell a fad from a game-changer are already increasingly looking to implement audio widgets and similar web scripts capable of reading the text for their visitors. This happened in parallel with the increasing popularity of audio-heavy web interfaces and voice search capabilities. This technological tectonicshift was shaped by three key trends:
Website design has come under a slow but steady influence of other media, such as video games. The quality audio and video design of game menus have been recognized as an important part of the user experience, leading the publishers and web designers down the path of emulating the design elements of successful user interfaces found in games, particularly in the sound segment.
Technology has come a long way from the looping sounds found on websites in the 1990s and early 2000s. Instead of serving as the source of irritation and background nuisance, advanced streaming technology and more powerful hardware have made sound design of a website an optional but vital part of its identity.
Finally, tweaking one’s website to turn it into a memorable audio-visual experience means transforming it into a more welcoming place for the users with disabilities, which account for as much as 25 percent of the U.S. population. Just imagine what a simple screen reader with support for reading alternative text (alt text) out loud can do for the users suffering from visual impairments who want to “see” images and text with their ears and imagination.
These drivers have all led to the emergence of several rapidly expanding companies that offer to transform websites into multimedia powerhouses with their turnkey technological solutions:
Trinity Audio allows publishers to transform their textual content into audio. The whole idea promoted by the Trinity team rests on the assumption that web content should become readily available when users do not have time to sit in front of their computers/phones and interact with it. This is intended to have an impact on not only content consumers and publishers but advertisers as well, as the monetization of audiences with the help of Trinity should become much easier with increased levels of their onsite engagement. In addition to making your content better heard, Trinity will keep an eye on the users’ habits and seamlessly align the ads on offer with their content consumption preferences.
AccessiBe approaches the issue of enriching web content with audio options from another angle, but its importance is foreseen to grow in the future because of the legal obligations to make websites accessible to people with disabilities. The tool optimizes websites to work with screen readers with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). As tools allow dyslexic and visually impaired users to consume textual content on a website in the form of audio, readers are now becoming capable of reading alt text for images as well, making even this type of content accessible to this user population.
Newscaster voice is a new feature of Amazon Polly, based on the implementation of the newsperson content narration style, suitable for both media outlets and mainstream websites. The goal is to make the sound of the content being presented more realistic, as the initial feedback from the content consumer shows that more natural sounding human voices are preferred to synthetic computerized speech across the board. The newscaster voice resembles one used by TV and radio anchors, and it has already been implemented by media giants such as The Globe and Mail and Gannett. The former uses text-to-voice artificial intelligence powered by Amazon and is available in various languages.
What are the main implications of this trend?
Ripples are being felt across the industries as websites move toward becoming sources of independent multimedia experiences, particularly in the world of audio. This will surely have several key implications for the global web and its actors.
With the mainstreaming of virtual assistants, voice-capable interfaces are poised to become the next big thing in providing websites with a touch of personality. Also, living in an age of efficiency and fleeting attention spans means being able to offer access to the content and services in the fastest manner possible, and entering queries with a keyboard will simply become too slow to keep up with the pace of modernity. For example, CapitalOne, a U.S.-based bank, has integrated its website with Alexa, allowing its clients to make payments and check their accounts via voice commands.
Designing for audio in all aspects of web development will lead to greater demand for sound experts and engineers, particularly for those with proven track records in other media, such as video games.
Quality audio will be capable of conveying as much information as the relevant text without the risk of scaring the users away with dreaded text blocks. Visit Humboldt tourism promotional website, for instance, uses audio to create a sort of narrative-driven experience to pull the users into its world.
Due to being more personal compared to text, audio brings a sense of familiarity to the triangle of publishers, their content, and consumers. The world of advertising is taking note of trends in this segment, as some research has shown that podcast listeners, for example, respond more favorably to auditory ads in the shows they follow, compared to other advertising media. Rooster Teeth is a gaming and pop-culture podcast whose hosts lace the ads they present with personal anecdotes and commentaries related to the brands they promote. Based on this, the advertisers can integrate their brand message with the show content in a rather seamless manner.