Remember the audio slideshow? Once one of the most compelling editorial formats – and a truly web-native one at that – it is now rare to see them on a news website. And a whole wave of audio slideshow work is starting to disappear from the web.
The page for BBC’s Jazz junctions – riding New York’s A Train now lacks the audio slideshow it once held, while The Guardian is awash with pages showing gaps where a slideshow should be – like After the riots and Timbuktu’s ancient manuscripts (both from 2007), error messages about Flash (from 2010 and 2011) – or no pages at all in the case of Shrimp fishing in the Wash or Somalia’s refugee camps.2012 seems to have been the last time audio slideshows were part of the fabric in the UK: most of the work on the Guardian’s Audio Slideshows section is from that year, while it represents the peak of production at the BBC. Here’s just a selection:
- South Africa under apartheid in the 1970s
- Could Africa save China’s tigers?
- Snapshots of Jewish life in the UK
- If Britain were Greece…
- A history of British homes – Sarah Beeny
- How war stories inspire children to learn
- Working with Lucian Freud
- Titanic 100: We survived
- West Midlands – motors and music
After then, production tails off. The Guardian slideshows page hasn’t been updated since 2013 (although you can find some elsewhere on the site from 2014). The latest audio slideshow I can find on the Telegraph – this D-Day anniversary audio slideshow – dates from 2014. And I can only find one audio slideshow on the BBC website this year: this piece on Drakelow Tunnels published by BBC Hereford and Worcester in August (although this is due in part to the absence of a key producer).
Soundslides, the go-to software for so many years when it came to audio slideshow creation, seems to have lost its puff too: although it re-launched a HTML5 version it hasn’t updated its blog in almost a year.
So what happened?
Flash and Snow Fall
Firstly, Flash. Google Chrome was never particularly supportive of the technology, which was used to create many audio slideshows. Safari stopped supporting Flash in June this year; a month later Firefox stopped supporting it too. That’s partly why so much old content no longer works.
As for why there are fewer new slideshows? Perhaps the answer lies in the only piece on The Guardian’s ‘In Pictures’ section to mention audio: an “audio-photo essay” by photographer Martine Perret: instead of reaching for an audio slideshow, the publishers have chosen to separate images and audio on the page. Users can choose to play clips while they look at the images, or they can explore it in another way.This format of mixing large images with in-text audio players and clean text will be familiar: it’s sometimes called immersive journalism; but is also known as snowfalling.
It may be coincidence that the New York Times published Snow Fall in 2012, the point at which audio slideshow production appears to have begun to slow. Perhaps journalists interested in engaging users in an ‘immersive’ narrative began to reach for the new format at the expense of slideshows. Perhaps the metrics for a long page of text broken up by multiple images, audio and video were better. Perhaps, as bandwidth improved, video became a more practical option. Perhaps it’s a combination of these things.
The audio slideshow is dead, long live the multimedia slideshow
But the format isn’t dead. Perhaps it is just the phrase ‘audio slideshow’ that has passed into disuse: after all, an audio slideshow is, technically, just a video.
As bandwidth and recording technology has improved, slideshows have become much more varied, mixing still images with video, for example.
Social video on platforms like Facebook and Instagram have also adopted some of the techniques of audio slideshows. See, for example, this BBC Instagram video on a London art project:
We now know that captions work much better than narration, but also that pure audio formats work better when complemented with visuals: WNYC has been adding images and video as ‘audiograms’, while TapeWrite makes it easy to add a series of images to your audio stories.
And tools like Flipagram have opened up slideshow creation to users (as ‘photo-video stories’).
Indeed, one of the few audio slideshows I can find for this year is an ITV piece which uses a slideshow including Flipagram elements.Perhaps the biggest influence in this area is Snapchat Stories.
Snapchat stories allow you to combine still and moving images to create a story. Essentially: a slideshow. And it has inspired other platforms to launch their own slideshow tools: this year Instagram Stories and Twitter Moments brought the same functionality to their users too.
So perhaps the audio slideshow is about to find a new lease of life: as visual storytelling tools become more aural, and audio tools become more visual, we may end up right back where we started.