Julian and I (amongst others) have been looking at and thinking about sound for a fair while now and just recently it struck me – facebook is mute. Apple has an instantly recognisable portfolio of sounds, from the unlock click to Siri’s annoyingly overdriven booboop. Skype has that weird space echo ringtone and the breathy startup noise, and Nokia’s ringtones are part of everyone’s mental landscape. But facebook is seemingly mute, aside from a single lonely chat notification file I managed to dig out of the code: pling.
Why? It seems such a missed opportunity. What does a friend request sound like? Is it an annoying tug at the shirt or a shout from across the room? Or how about a status update – is that some sort telegram or memo? Photo tagging, event notifications, reminders and comments could all have layers of audio texture, but instead we’re left with a silent movie. Perhaps the decision is to leave clicks and pops to the standard audio portfolio of the current OS, but the opportunity to look at soundscaping facebook is definitely there. Last year Facebook added tab notifications to their setup, allowing for some low intensity visual notification. This could be a good place to start a sonically rich experience.
Next to the facebook logo are three icons which notify the user of new friend requests, new messages and new comments. I see a clear hierarchy of importance between the three. Friend requests happen infrequently, but when they do, they are typically worth responding to, so warrant a higher level of notification intensity. For this quick mock up I’ve chosen a light bell sound. This conjures up mental images of desk bells or doorbells, and is more insistant than some other notifications. Next in importance heirarchy is message notification, indicating a direct connection between two people. These happen more frequently, yet often relate to direct interpersonal conversation, and therefore warrant a matching notification. I’ve chosen a quiet tap-tap sound, which has the right connotations of interruption or attention grabbing. The final alert is the comment. These happen regularly and are often made by friends of friends. Whilst sometimes important, comments are often frivolous or irrelevant. Therefore this notification is the most subtle and calm, almost blending into the general fabric of life online.
Below is a quick demo, which feels a little over simplified, but I think subtlety is the key here.
(NB: for a lovely piece on sound design I recommend listening to this Radiolab episode)