Google Night Walk plays with Sound and it’s cool

Google Night walk

A new website experience by Google has been built from the work of Julie de Muer, a french urban storyteller who started the project Promenades Sonores, a series of audiowalks created all around the city of Marseille by artists, local people and film storymakers.

Night Walk with Google consists of an immersive in-browser-journey where you have to explore and collect 34 hotspots, composed of stories about Marseille in form of videos, descriptive cards and images.

But the difference is there: the use of Sound. The whole experience is based on a stereo soundscape changing according to the navigation, including ambient noises, outdoor recordings and customized music. In few words: audio stories.

It’s been a long time we say that Sound is ready to go mainstream on the web, but it’s uncommon to see a new product (different from a videogame or a virtual instrument) which was designed with a responsible audio strategy in mind.

Google Night Walk

Indeed I have to say that websites with sound maps are mostly boring, because they lack for one of the most relevant elements to provide a compelling storytelling in a browser. I am not only talking about a good match with images, which many mobile apps startups are trying to propose trying to create the Instagram of Sound (impossible, they need innovation there), but I am pointing to all the modern technologies we can use today in a web environment to create an immersive experience, which has to be different from the one provided by the ever-winnning video.

The recent article Is This Thing On? by Stan Alcorn reports a deep analysis about the reasons why audio (not music) never goes mainstream. People listen to audio sources while doing other things at the same time, but there is not a widely recognized method to share this experience easily with other people across the Internet. In the era of big data and content curation is there a way to condense audio messages? Could 2 seconds of sound say more than a video with the same duration?

Ok, we have podcasts, but this is old technology. Ok, we have SoundCloud, but that is the king of music, not of audio (and mainstream) storytelling.


Nightwalk with Google starts from the real experience of a passionate artist who does not want to use only sounds, but she starts from them (and maybe she ends with them too). So here the direction is more open to be contaminated with other technologies, which for this case are all the best Google products, such as Google Maps, Google Knowledge Graph and Google App Engine.

It’s not only a straight edge attitude in sound design or field recording practise. It’s more focused on exploiting the best techniques to give birth to immersive stories, even if consume them on a mobile or a desktop device.

Maybe only a company like Google could develop such an integration like this today. Indeed I did not expect something like that from Larry’s and Sergey’s company, but I rather would have been less surprised to see Apple or Facebook making it. But, we are glad anyway to see this…

Is this a new direction to Sound in the Internet? No, this is not new, but this could be an alternative model for sound professionals to work for creating something compelling on the web nowadays.

As usual I invite anyone who is interested to share ideas and opinions about this project in the comments below.

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Gianpaolo D'Amico

Editor-in-chief at sounDesign
Gianpaolo D'Amico is an independent creative technologist for digital media. He is the founder of sounDesign and a music obsessed since he was 0 years old.


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