One of the things that makes the GOOG-411 directory service awesome — besides the fact that it’s free — is that cool “bippedy-bippedy-bippedy” sound it makes while searching. And now, for the first time ever, the man behind the “bips” (and the voice of 1-800-GOOG-411) breaks his silence to talk about that famous sound.
“We call it the ‘biddy-biddy-boop’ sound,” said Bill Byrne, whose official title at Google (GOOG) is senior voice expert. “The technical term is the ‘fetch audio.'”
The fetch audio is precisely what its name implies, the sound the service makes to let you know that it’s working on retrieving the information you’ve requested. Putting the fetch together, however, isn’t as easy as you’d think.
“The system working sound is a particularly difficult sound to do. You have to have just the right tone, the right mood, the right signal. It can’t be busy or too monotonous,” explained Byrne. “It has to be a quick noise to evoke efficiency. It can’t be too uniform, like a ticking clock.”
Byrne has been designing audio interfaces used by people to interact with speech services for the past 10 years, and in that time, he’s gone through a lot of different tones and sounds. While it would be fun to say he locked himself in a room for weeks to come up with the perfect prompt, the truth is much more simple. “I needed something quickly,” said Byrne. “So I decided to just imitate the various sounds I had worked with over the years.” It was supposed to be a placeholder.
But the human-mimicking-a-machine, “biddy-biddy-boop” sound stuck. In fact, what you hear is the original recording (with a little engineering to lower the volume and add fades). It beat out numerous other ideas, including “Jeopardy”-like hold music, and (gratefully) an aborted attempt at replicating human conversation (as in an automated voice telling you “One sec, I had it right here” as you hear papers rustling in a simulated “search”).
Byrne and his team wanted something “different than an over-produced jingle,” he said. “We wanted slightly playful, within Google branding experience, and not corny.”
The evidence proves that Byrne made the right choice. “All the user data and studies show it’s overwhelmingly a
piece that people tend to enjoy,” he said. It’s become so popular that his co-workers now ask him to perform it.
But Byrne doesn’t want the sound to be around forever. In fact, he’s trying to get rid of it — but it’s all for your benefit. “The goal is to get rid of the noise to get rid of any latency,” he said. In other words, as GOOG-411 improves, its searches will become so quick that Byrne’s biddy-biddy-boop sound will be a thing of the past.