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Yahoo Launches Audio Search Beta

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Yahoo has begun testing the new audio search feature dedicated to music and other digital audio files available for download on the net.

The free service, available at audio.search.yahoo.com, boasts an index of more than 50 million audio files, including newscasts, speeches and interviews posted online, as well as the internet’s deepening pool of "podcasts." The index identifies the content by reading metadata embedded in the files.

Other Internet search engines, such as America Online’s Singing Fish and Blinkx, already find audio files, but Yahoo is touting its as the most comprehensive, largely because it has received permission to index downloadable songs offered by virtually all of the Internet’s top music services.

"It’s really one-stop shopping for the music fan," said Bradley Horowitz, Yahoo’s director of technology development, search and marketplace group.

The audio search feature won’t favor Yahoo’s songs over the others, Horowitz said. "When it comes to search, we’re like Switzerland. We can’t show bias in search."

Yahoo will have an incentive to drive traffic to other music services because it will get a small commission for songs downloaded by people coming from its Web site.

The expansion into audio search coincides with an increasing emphasis by Yahoo and other top search engines on indexing online video. The diversification beyond searching simple text online reflects the Web’s evolution into a multimedia hub -- a shift that the top search engines hope to parlay into profits.

``Obviously, music is huge on the Internet today. It’s a big part of what people are using search engines to get to,’’ said Bradley Horowitz, director of Yahoo technology. ``It’s a significant enough category, which begs the question, `Why don’t we deliver a search experience that’s tailored to music?’ ’’

The company’s audio search simplifies the process of finding podcasts, the popular Internet audio programs that can be automatically downloaded to iPods and other portable music players. Yahoo now carries its own index of podcasts; however, subscribers still need special software to automatically receive the audio files and save them to a portable MP3 player.

Apple was the first to streamline the podcast experience. But its directory of 3,000 or so audio broadcasts is limited to iPod owners who use iTunes.

Yahoo’s Audio Search also makes it possible to find newscasts and spoken word recordings on the Internet, such as National Public Radio’s ``All Things Considered,’’ as well as individual segments on stories like President Bush’s nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court. The audio search leads directly to the audio recording on NPR’s Web site.

Charlene Li, principal analyst for Forrester Research, said audio search has been a daunting challenge. But Yahoo’s search engine uses the labels, known as metatags, that describe the name of a song, the artist and other details. It also finds and categorizes content through descriptive tags people assign to audio files, photos or video using Yahoo’s My Web feature.

``It’s not enough to just aggregate the content,’’ said Li. ``Audio and video search are ways to extend the experience further.’’