Aural System Event Notifications

By Deane Barker on April 2, 2004

Last year, we talked about a system that translated network traffic through your speakers so you could hear what was going on. Once you got used to it, you could begin to discover and react to network problems through sound alone.

Why not take this a step further and into other business operations? For instance, my company tracks sales transactions in a database. Why not develop a system that would play a subtle “cha-ching” sound through the office speakers whenever a transaction was added?

This isn’t very original — variations of it are all over the place. The last company I worked for had a telemarketing department. Whenever someone made a sale, they came up to the front of the department and rang a bell. It was part cheesy motivational tactic, but one of the managers told me that if they didn’t hear the bell for a while, they’d start walking the floor to figure out what’s going on.

The hospital where all my kids have been born plays the hosptial theme over the loudspeaker whenever there’s a birth. Yes, it’s just meant to invoke warm fuzzies, but the concept is solid. If an administrator hears this 30 times in one hour, maybe it’s time to shift some more nurses over to the maternity ward?

My company tracks commercial properties in a database. Why not have a public sound to indicate a new record had been added? You could just subconciously gauge the volume of data being entered throughout the day. If nothing is going into the database, you could make a phone call to find out why rather than reacting the next day when the numbers come out.

We have a general email address for sales inquiries (“info@…”). Why not play a public sound whenever an email comes into that address? If you hear it, you should jump back to your desk to be sure we answer these inquiries as quickly as possible.

The basic point is that there’s too much information to keep track of these days. And most information in an organization is tracked visually. You have to read emails, or read spreadsheets, or read instant messages. Why not branch off into the other sense groups? A sound played over a speaker can be unobtrusive, and can subconciously be registered by a user without interuppting their immediate workflow.

There’s potential here.