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Communications Google

GOOG-411's "Biddy-Biddy-Boop" Sound Backstory 194

Posted by kdawson
from the party-to-whom-i'm-speaking dept.
Chris Albrecht writes "The bippedy-bippedy-bippedy sound you hear when using 1-800-GOOG-411 is actually a senior voice designer at Google. (Here's the sound.) The technical term for that noise is the 'fetch audio,' and it's more complicated to design than you'd think. For the first time, the voice of GOOG-411 talks about how he came up with it, how important that sound is, and how people now ask him to 'perform' it."
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GOOG-411's "Biddy-Biddy-Boop" Sound Backstory

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  • Twiki? (Score:5, Funny)

    by yourpusher (161612) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @05:31PM (#21308997) Homepage Journal
    Is that you?
    • Re:free phone call? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dhanson865 (1134161)
      I know the odds of finding a pay phone nowdays are slim but does this allow you to make a free phone call or does the phone ask for money when the goog-411 transfer occurs?
      • Re:free phone call? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by bev_tech_rob (313485) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:12PM (#21309261)
        It doesn't allow you to make a free phone call, it is a free alternative to the 411 service that the phone companies change you ($1.50 per call on Alltel). I put it on my speed dial just now and gonna start using it. Tried several numbers to see if I could hear the sound, but the response to my query was instantaneous and thus heard no sound....
  • by larry bagina (561269) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @05:32PM (#21309001) Journal
    that gives me flashbacks to the .com bubble days.
    • by metlin (258108) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @05:49PM (#21309115) Journal

      > "senior voice expert"?

      > that gives me flashbacks to the .com bubble days.

      Ummm, obviously you don't work in telecom.

      Almost every automated system has the equivalent of a voice expert or a speech scientist whose job is to do things like this.

      Every time you call an IVR or reach an automated speech system, someone's worked at it to make it not just functional, but also usable and friendly.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by wfberg (24378)
        Almost every automated system has the equivalent of a voice expert or a speech scientist whose job is to do things like this.

        Every time you call an IVR or reach an automated speech system, someone's worked at it to make it not just functional, but also usable and friendly.


        Give it a rest. It's only the audio equivalent of an hourglass cursor.
        • by obarel (670863) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:23PM (#21309323)
          ... created by the senior hourglass expert.
          • by BorgCopyeditor (590345) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:39PM (#21309377)

            Actually, the audio hourglass cursor first created by the senior hourglass expert was green-lighted by the Senior VP for Cursors, but nixed by the Chief Audio Officer or CAO. External audio/cursor mediation consultants were brought in and a compromise was reached by which the same sound would be re-recorded, but this time under the auspices of the CAO's handpicked Special Cursor Liaison Officer to the office of the Senior VP for Cursors.

            <caseykasem>and that boy grew up to be ... Paul Allen.<caseykasem>

            • by inKubus (199753) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:10PM (#21310463) Homepage Journal
              and that boy grew up to be ... Paul Allen.

              Brilliant! Someone should recommend Casey Kasem tags to the W3 committee next meeting. I can think of thousands of uses.
              • by naoursla (99850)
                <caseykasem>Hi. I'm Casey Kasem and I'll be your waiter tonight.</caseykasem>

                Hey, W3C, how about adding the caseykasem tag to the spec?

                No really, do it.

                No, no, no, no, no. Do it.

                Do it, come on.

                Do it.

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by Erpo (237853)
              </caseykasem>

              You really need to be more careful. The entire rest of the page was rendered in a warm and fatherly voice thanks to you. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but I kept thinking, "Get back to the music already!"
        • Good grief, "only" a busy cursor?

          I'm guessing you're the sort of unperceptive mouthbreather who doesn't mind using Windows, and can't understand why others so resent its interface. Or is it some tasteless Linux derivative you prefer? In any case, people like you should never be in charge of designing user interfaces.
      • by crossmr (957846) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:42PM (#21309395) Journal
        shouldn't this be modded funny? These systems are rarely usable or friendly. Especially the new ones that try to do voice recognition..
        • by volkris (694)
          I find that it varies a lot from company to company.

          When they work well, which is about half the time for me, they're fantastic, but when they don't work well they don't work at all.

          I seem to recall that Verizon's system is the worse at understanding me, and I had bad luck with American Express yesterday. On the other hand, Earthlink works well 90% of the time, and same for T-Mobile.
      • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday November 10, 2007 @08:29PM (#21309947) Homepage Journal

        The technical term for that noise is the 'fetch audio,' and it's more complicated to design than you'd think.
        As a sound designer, I can tell you that this really is not much more complicated than it sounds. We sound designers and music producers work very hard to give the impression that there is some very sophisticated techno-magic in what we do and that it not only requires extremely complex procedures but superhuman "ears". A great deal of it is just playing around with the bits and pieces, seeing what works. That, and having a very good sound engineer buddy.

        Sometimes, the best sounds are ones that were made in the most simple manner, with a stoned guy in front of a mic going "biddy biddy boop" for example.
        • by metlin (258108) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:12PM (#21310473) Journal
          Sound engineering is a little different than what goes on in IVR design. I do understand that a lot of the IVRs are unusable, but a lot of that goes back to the fact that the applications that need to be IVR enabled are designed first, making the design of the IVR a tricky proposition.

          Secondly, a speech scientist or a voice expert is quite different than a sound engineer - the latter's task includes making sure that the IVR has the same or similar sounding voice patterns all over, that the accents and terms used are standard, simple and understandable to that region, that the TTS (text to speech, if used) is set to configurations that are acceptable to the target audience and that volumes and amplitudes are all normalized (this one is probably the only thing that a sound engineer could also probably do).

          Also, a speech scientist works on the voice recognition piece of things, including deciding which language models to use, designing the grammars for recognition, utilizing various tools to tune the recognizer, using various machine-learning techniques to help evolve the language models (e.g. SLMs [wikipedia.org]) and so on.

          On top of this, you have to do usability analysis to see how best your system is working out. If a lot of people are zeroing out, or if there is an alarmingly high percentage of recognition errors, then there is something wrong with your system. Also, the ease of use in accomplishing a thing is also considered (e.g. how many steps does it take to get a task done and can you minimize this somehow?). Additionally, you have to ensure that unique elements being used in your IVR (e.g. the biddy biddy boop) is understandable in the context to the target audience.

          Other task include determining where voice is appropriate and where DTMF would work and finding ways of notifying the user of what's going on at the background without resorting to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata for the 37th time (which could be a challenge in its own way).

          So, no, I doubt if you could equate a sound engineer with a speech scientist. Most of the speech scientists [jhu.edu] that I work with would probably feel insulted by that term.
      • Every time you call an IVR or reach an automated speech system, someone's worked at it to make it not just functional, but also usable and friendly.
        That person must have gotten fired at United Airlines in the last bankruptcy. I've never been able to get its voice system to recognize anything I'm saying, even in a quiet room, let alone a noisy airport terminal.

        I never thought I'd beg to have my call transferred to India.
      • by JonTurner (178845) on Sunday November 11, 2007 @12:29AM (#21311043) Journal
        >>Every time you call an IVR or reach an automated speech system, someone's worked at it to make it not just functional, but also usable and friendly.

        Well, except for the system used by the Cable TV, credit card, bank, telco, computer tech support, university admissions, etc. company. 'Cause those systems seem like they're designed with the sole purpose of making it as difficult as possible to actually speak to a human being. The end result is I'm typically about as happy as Alanis Morissette on a blind date by the time I get to speak to someone with a funny accent who knows even less than I do about the subject matter.
        • I try to maintain pristine language, really I do, but on a really bad day I had to talk to Sprint customer service and the automated voice system really started to get on my nerves the second or third time I had to talk to it and I let slip a few choice non-G-rated phrases. I was transferred to a person faster than any other method I'd tried before or come up with since.

      • by instarx (615765)
        Ummm, obviously you don't work in telecom.
        Every time you call an IVR or reach an automated speech system, someone's worked at it to make it not just functional, but also usable and friendly.

        Given the quality of the automated voice interction I always get from telecoms I think every one of these people should be fired and some competent "senior voice specialists" hired. Functional, usable and friendly!? You gotta be kidding. Barely functional, annoying and irritating I say.
    • by enomar (601942)
      A little googling revealed that his actual title is:

      Senior Voice Interface Engineer
      http://www.linkedin.com/in/billb [linkedin.com]

  • When I play this on my Mac, it seems to be silent. Am I the only one who hears nothing, or is it really high pitched? I have quite a bit of hearing loss, especially in the upper ranges.
    • It's not THAT high, although the recording is quite quiet (although i can't tell that well, becuase my computer has volume control, the media player has sound control, the amp has volume control >_)
    • Turn up the volume.
      It's quite quiet.
      • by Buran (150348)
        I did. I guess I'll have to either edit the file to boost the volume or try amplified speakers (laptop speakers aren't great).
    • by rueger (210566) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:20PM (#21309317) Homepage
      It is quiet, but possibly the problem is that your Mac defaults to a rather low sound level out of the speakers. My G4 certainly did, and even listening to music was annoying because it was so quiet, even with the audio turned up full.

      The fix is of course simple and entirely intuitive, as are all things on a Mac.

      a) open iTunes

      b) In the Window menu, choose Equalizer

      c) Crank the Pre-amp setting to 12

      Now all of the audio on your Mac will not only be loud enough to hear, it will be louder than the same audio on a PC, which can only be turned up 10
      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:57PM (#21309481)
        c) Crank the Pre-amp setting to 12

        Somehow, "This one goes to twelve," doesn't have quite the same ring as, "This one goes to eleven."
        • by Alsee (515537)
          It's one more than eleven!

          -
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by xPsi (851544) *

          c) Crank the Pre-amp setting to 12

          Somehow, "This one goes to twelve," doesn't have quite the same ring as, "This one goes to eleven."
          Ah, but this is slashdot. He was using base 9.
      • by Belial6 (794905)
        That was awsome. You had me going with the all things intuitive, AND you actually gave useful information. Bravo.
  • Huh? (Score:3, Informative)

    by croddy (659025) * on Saturday November 10, 2007 @05:34PM (#21309025)
    What, is this article a joke? I hear no such sound when I call 1-800-GOOG-411. I even went through a complete (and unfortunately fruitless) search for a Mongolian barbecue in Atlanta.
    • by RobFlynn (127703)
      It doesn't seem to play the sound every time. I used GOOG-411 today and heard the sound, but the time before that it responded almost immediately.

    • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Dahamma (304068) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @08:00PM (#21309803)
      Well there's you problem... who ever heard of FRUIT at a Mongolian barbeque!?
    • Maybe you're hearing it, but it sounds too much like garbled cell phone speech for you to be sure it's Google and not your phone.

      I mean WTF, why don't they just play the Jeopardy theme or something like that. Then everyone would be going around humming the "Google Theme" and we'd have a gen-yoo-wyne meme on our hands.

      More proof it's 1999 again - already, co-workers are flipping Google stock instead of working (and losing thousands of dollars last week.) Time to sell everything!

    • Mongolian barbeque? hell do what Genghis did. Find the nearest yak, rip one of its legs off with your bare hands. Order the nearest underling to kill himself, take his two leg bones rub together to make fire and roast the yak leg and wash it down with the underlings blood. It will give you strength for the battle.
  • by TractorBarry (788340) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @05:37PM (#21309039) Homepage
    Well I speak Swedish and all I can say is that is one big potty mouth he's got there.

    No wonder his sister got bitten by a moose.

  • by TorKlingberg (599697) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @05:38PM (#21309049)
    If you are also not American, or just haven't hear of it, Wikipedia article here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GOOG-411 [wikipedia.org]

    Basically, GOOG-411 is an experimental Google telephone service. Users can call and use speech regocnition to do local business search. I think American phones have letters on the number buttons, so 1-800-GOOG-411 means 1-800-466-4411.
    • by pbhj (607776) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:29PM (#21309339) Homepage Journal
      At least someone realises that we're not all Americans.
      • by owlnation (858981) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @07:15PM (#21309579)
        Um, why has someone modded the parent redundant? Actually it is a very valid point. The summary does a poor job of explaining what on earth this article is about if you are not American. My guess is that hardly anyone outside the US knew what this was about before the previous poster linked the article explaining it.

        It seems on topic and valid to me to point this failing out the to the editor of the article. It is good that people remember Slashdot reaches every country everywhere (um, except N. Korea and maybe China -- it's probably secretly censored and monitored by the UK too, and archived by the Germans). Remember folks, those tubes are trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific too.

        Obviously, in South Korea, only old people read Slashdot.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by nomadic (141991)
          The summary does a poor job of explaining what on earth this article is about if you are not American.

          I am an American and I have no freaking clue what they're talking about. GOOG-411? I'm assuming that's some sort of information number that google does, but like the vast majority of Americans I'm sure, I've never used it.
          • by sammy baby (14909)
            You're not alone. I'd like to think that I'm at least moderately clued in to technology trends, but I had no idea that GOOG-411 existed either.
        • My guess is that hardly anyone outside the US knew what this was about
          And nobody anywhere was interested. The story's a total waste of tubeflow.
        • I'm not american, and I'd never heard of it. But when I clicked on the article, the article had a link to google's page about it, which explains it all.
      • by writermike (57327)

        At least someone realises that we're not all Americans.
        There's a not-American? When? I just finished watching the news and they never said nothing about other countries. (What is that?!) ;-)
        • by Dogtanian (588974)

          There's a not-American? When? I just finished watching the news and they never said nothing about other countries. (What is that?!) ;-)
          Look it up on the map; it's the bit that says "here be dragons".
      • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:36PM (#21310601)
        At least someone realises that we're not all Americans ... YET! Muahahaha!
      • by Scaba (183684)

        At least someone realises that we're not all Americans.

        Someone had better tell the French [google.com].

    • by Mike89 (1006497)

      I think American phones have letters on the number buttons
      Don't all phones? (Coming from Australia here..)
  • lol (Score:3, Funny)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @05:48PM (#21309099)
    this is what $600 a share gets you...
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @05:53PM (#21309147)
    If you slow it down, or play it backwards (or both) is there is hidden message?
  • by Adeptus_Luminati (634274) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:04PM (#21309217)
    ... I'd be changing carriers.

    Google - we expect much better from $600/share.
  • by WK2 (1072560) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:10PM (#21309257) Homepage
    Wouldn't it have been easier to have just made that sound by audio recording a dying cat?
  • by andy314159pi (787550) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:25PM (#21309331) Journal
    To me it sounds more like "giggety giggety."
  • by ComputerPhreak (1057874) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:31PM (#21309353)
    The revealing backstory about the Googleplex's custom-made toilet paper. The technical term is actual 'bathroom tissue', and it's more complicated to design than you'd think. For the first time, Sergey Brin discusses the choices of materials and the unparalleled softness, and how often he gets thanked by Google employees after they wipe their asses.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Temporal (96070)
      Actually, all the toilets at Google HQ are the Japanese kind that wash your ass for you.

      No joke.
  • by davygrvy (868500) <davygrvy@pobox.com> on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:32PM (#21309357)
    advertising hidden as a news article. Gee, tanks editors.
    • by jorghis (1000092)
      This is slashdot, whether or not something is advertising depends on the company. Here is a quick explanation of terms used:

      Google: News
      Apple: Major Announcement
      Microsoft: Astroturfing
      Everyone Else: Advertisement
  • What the Flip? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by camperdave (969942) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:47PM (#21309419) Journal
    I'm fairly sure others will join me in asking: What is GOOG-411'?
    Why do they have a "Biddy-Biddy-Boop" Sound?
    Why would I want to know the Backstory?
    How is this in any way important, newsworthy, or even interesting?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Daimanta (1140543)
      News for diggers, stuff that nobody cares about.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Parent got modded Flaimbait? He expressed my thoughts exactly!

      Even as a /.'er I've never even heard of GOOG-411 and now some biddy-biddy-boop sound used in this phone service is News For Nerds? TFA doesn't even elaborate on why the sound is supposedly "more complicated to design than you'd think"; which was the sole reason I even read the article.

      What a waste of time. This damn Google worship is really starting to piss me off.
    • by eclectic4 (665330)
      It's not. It's an advertisement not so cleverly hidden in a slashdot article. Horrible, yes, shocking, no.
      • That just begs the question: Why would you advertise a bibbity sound? It's not like it would make a great ring tone. If it is an advertisement, it is so cleverly hidden that it's been missed altogether.
  • by noidentity (188756) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:56PM (#21309477)

    YouTube video [youtube.com]

    Dark Helmet: Now what is it?

    Radar Technician: I'm having trouble with the radar, sir.

    Dark Helmet: What's wrong with it?

    Radar Technician: I've lost the bleeps, the sweeps, and the creeps.

    Dark Helmet: The what?

    Colonel Sandurz: The what?

    Dark Helmet: And the what?

    Radar Technician: You know. The bleeps. [makes bleep sound effect]

    Radar Technician: The sweeps. [makes sweep sound]

    Radar Technician: And the creeps. [makes creep sound]

    Dark Helmet: [to Colonel Sandurz] That's not all he's lost.

  • I think I can live with that sound, 2600 this quarter has a great hack for goog411 to make free calls. (Technically so people can make free calls to you, but if you and some friends got together and did the hack you could call then from say a pay phone for free and not get a ridiculous collect charge.)
  • by lpangelrob (714473) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @07:56PM (#21309775)
    If you call up GOOG-411 for free (compared to the ripoff that is cell phone carriers 411 at $1.75 a pop), it always asks you for the city and state first. Sometimes the city and state are easy to parse, like "Reno" or "Keokuk". Sometimes it's not, like "Glen Ellyn, Illinois" (and the other one I've tried, Glenallen, Alaska). If you mumble, your voice is otherwise hard to parse, or the city is obscure, GOOG-411 will take about 3 seconds to figure what the hell you're saying, which is when it'll play this sound.

    Same thing with the business name - if you say something like "Restaurant", that's easily parsed, but if you say something specific like "Bed Bath and Beyond", it could take up to 3 seconds to parse, search for, and find your match. You'll hear the sound, and then the list of results.

    I don't know why the Johnny Carson theme (or similar) could have sufficed, because the sounded reminded me of logging onto AOL at 56.6 Kbps. Or make up a Google Jingle or something.

    I use GOOG-411 at least once a week nowadays, and the feature to text message you details of what you're looking for has proven (mostly) invaluable while I've used it. There's the problem that sometimes, Google's information on businesses just isn't up to date. But that's a Google-wide issue.
  • This has to be one of the stupidest things ever posted! Someone was paid big bucks by Google to make a sound like a bad scat musician on... oh nevermind, it's not even worth completing the joke.
  • by saikou (211301) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @08:28PM (#21309941) Homepage
    Well, this sound suspiciously sounds like a re-work of old sound Tell Me systems play while trying to decipher what the beep user tried to say. Just try to call 1-800-555-TELL (1-800-555-8355) and play with the menu.
    That sound is also a sure sign that you're dealing with Tell Me designed system -- for example Fandango uses their back-end, some banks and some other interactive voice systems.

    Of course Tell Me was bought by Microsoft so now it's inevitably evil :) Even though they were before Google in voice stuff :)
  • "It's all very complicated and difficult, so we used the first thing I muttered into the microphone."
  • Coming up next, a history of the dial tone.

  • Dumb sound. Dumb story. What the fuck?
    • by DaveCBio (659840)
      Agreed. Google is the new Apple and anything they do is newsworthy apparently. I've done sound design for 10 years now and sounds usually get lumped in with music and VO if they get mentioned at all. Yeah, I'm a little bitter, but this sound isn't ground breaking or even all that interesting IMO.
  • by xPsi (851544) * on Saturday November 10, 2007 @10:19PM (#21310501)
    The article is well written but has this annoyingly casual tone like "of course you know what this super-famous ubiquitous sound is and obviously, as someone 'in the know,' you care about its origins." No. In fact, I have no freaking idea what you are talking about. This makes me wonder if it isn't an attempt at a viral marketing scheme. Sadly, now when I finally do hear the otherwise amusing little sound (which would be much more amusing if I had no idea where it came from), I'll only think "this is a self-important hyper-over-engineered sound that was too self-consciously created for it's purpose."
  • I'm impressed and excited. My cellular phone provider, Fido/Rogers, is terrible for their 4-1-1 service. It's expensive and it was only recently that they started sending a text message with information about the destination requested. My mother has a Blackberry through Bell, and they actually block Google Maps without even having a competing service available!

    With google, it's free, the response system is interactive (it doesn't charge me for a miss, and it presents more than just one option), and it ha
  • You cannot view this page because this group has exceeded its bandwidth quota.
    That's what I get when I try to play the wav file [googlegroups.com].
  • Personally, I've stopped using Goog-411 for now.
    Mainly because it sucks balls and I don't care if it's free if I find it frustrating and gladly pay $1.50 for the information I need quickly without hassle.

    But I while I was drinking some espresso trying to use Goog-411 to get a specific cab company that is one of the major providers here in sf and getting listings for every other major cab company, and even smaller ones, but not the one I specifically asked for and then telling it to go back, try again etc et
    • by sam1am (753369)
      Just wondering why you didn't use the map search or google itself on your iPhone...

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