When you’re at a major industry conference, there’s always the possibility you’ll find out some piece of information you didn’t already know. (Actually, that’s the whole point of a conference, as I understand it.) One thing I picked up on Monday is the news that Webmaster Radio, one of the top locations for web industry news and interviews, is in the process of launching their second generation website – which will include complete text transcriptions of their two years of audio archives.

Now, their motivation isn’t really accessibility. However, with audio files, as in live streaming audio sites or podcasting, text becomes a real problem from a search perspective. Do search spiders know what you’ve talked about? No – they’re as deaf as a POST. Adding an audio transcription provides access for the deaf as well as feeding the search crawler what they really want: text.

You can put gobs of text in ID3 tags which are prepended to your audio file. These tags are crawlable, since they are actually text documents attached to the audio file. They have their own problems, however – they can’t generally be separated from the audio file for a visual reading unless the user has software with ID3 tag editing capabilities, such as iTunes. Many people do have iTunes – but is it at all reasonable to expect somebody to download your file, import it to their audio editor or iTunes, and go to edit the tags on the off hand chance that this file has a transcription? Probably not.

Separate text transcriptions provide the easiest, most natural way for an audio file to be accessed by the deaf – this is a great move on the part of Webmaster Radio. Being deaf prevents you from doing very little on the web – but listening to talk radio is not an available option.