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What is your opinion on having a sound jingle when starting the website or the app?

Imagine hearing the brand name spelled out or sung out just once (5 seconds).

The intention would be:

  • evoking emotions on the user
  • make the brandname "stick"

I know about the bad memories and misused effects of sound on websites... but I'm looking for objective opinions from UX-specialists (branding, emotions, etc.).

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This is one of those questions that seem to have an obvious answer (i.e. don't do it) but instead of just answering with subjective opinions, can we try to keep the focus on the reasoning. Bonus points for citing some evidence. –  JonW Dec 11 '12 at 13:32
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Ask yourself how many web and desktop apps (games excepted) that do this. Virtually none. There has to a reason, and the reason is it's annoying and cheesy. –  Alan B Dec 11 '12 at 16:00
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Do it, but only if it's a fart noise. Because that would be funny. –  DA01 Dec 11 '12 at 17:39
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If you do and don't put in an option to turn it off permanently I'm going to TP your house. –  dmckee Dec 11 '12 at 20:02
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Oh, it'll evoke emotions, all right. –  Kyralessa Dec 11 '12 at 21:08
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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

18 Answers

Don't do it.

A lot of people (myself included) open many new tabs rather than browse in a single one. If I suddenly have a noise coming from a tab:

  • I have to find the offending tab
  • When I do find it, I'm annoyed with whichever company / site it is
  • I then close the tab

There is no good reason to do on a website. In an app, I would still argue against this, but seeing as someone would know where the noise is coming from, it's less of an issue.

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Also if you restore the browser, if it crashed for example. The message will be played again, and instead of getting a positive emotions I remember never to visit that website again. –  Igor-G Dec 11 '12 at 13:38
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Also, many users browse the web while listening to music and prefer their browsing to be silent. –  Brian Dec 11 '12 at 14:42
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@deed02392 that's not how tabs work. –  DA01 Dec 11 '12 at 18:44
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+1: I hate tabs that start playing things when I open them in the background. –  Leo Dec 11 '12 at 19:11
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to expand on @leo, I hate websites that start anything without my permission. I may have opened your site, but it doesn't mean I want your info/ads/video/music blaring at me. Some users may be in quiet environments, such as work or at a library. I have blocked entire sites from my browsing simply because they have noise of some sort. –  Sean Cheshire Dec 13 '12 at 16:40
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Don't do this!

Jacob Nielsen listed this in his article "Readers' Comments on the new Top-10 Design Mistakes" where it is being called "intrusive" and "highly annoying".

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That is a good source to use, but does it still hold true? That article was from 1999 so are we sure it is still accurate? Heck, IE6 didn't even exist back then! Things do move on, and - while it may well still hold true - can we be sure stuff we knew 13 years ago still holds up today? –  JonW Dec 11 '12 at 15:08
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The arguments given in the article regard the way the human hearing apparatus works and multi-user environments like workplaces. So if human ears still work the same way as 13 years ago and we still work with colleagues in the same room, I'd reckon the arguments still stand. Admittedly at that time "apps" weren't included in the article and one could perhaps getting away with playing a sound effect at the start of an app because they imply a different user experience by definition. –  Bazzz Dec 11 '12 at 15:20
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Yes, I didn't mean to invalidate your answer - Nielsen makes some very good points, I am more interested to see if he's retested it in the past few years. He does go back and re-evaluate previous 'truths' so it'd be interesting if he's going to do the same for this, or maybe he just feels it's just a given that it will still be annoying! –  JonW Dec 11 '12 at 15:48
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Why do we need a study to conclude this is highly intrusive and annoying? It's just highly !@#$ing intrusive and highly !@#$ing annoying. Who says "Oh joy, one of my myriad tabs is jingling at me!" Unasked for sounds are a nag. End of story. This is the sort of thing that makes UI devs wary of the whole 'UX' thing. –  Erik Reppen Dec 13 '12 at 4:40
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@ErikReppen The reason why it is good to have a study into such things, even if it's something we all think is obvious, is because when you have to tell the project stakeholders that it is a bad idea to play annoying music you can back it up with actual research and not just your own opinion. –  JonW Dec 13 '12 at 15:15
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Please never ever do this unless you have a solid reason for do so(For example its part of your branding and you wants to make it more popular and recognizable). In that case Please fade it out after few seconds or may be you can just have a play and stop controls with initially set at stop status so whoever wants to listen it can play it. Users love maximum control over the things they wanted to experience.

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Web:

For almost all user, it will result pure annoyance.

App:

It is okay, or sometimes it's necesssary for example, edu. apps for kids, games ... etc. But if the main userbase is not kids, NEVER do this.

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How do you know it will be pure annoyance? This is just an assumption, no matter how likely you believe this to be. Also, why is it OK to do on sites for kids? What is it about children that means they have a different tolerance for such a noise? (if they even do have a different tolerance at all) –  JonW Dec 11 '12 at 18:42
    
actually, here by "kids", i tried to imply those who are in the age of "like before 6"; i don't remember the exact english word for that. sorry :( –  kmonsoor Dec 14 '12 at 9:15
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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

Personally, I immediately close and navigate away from sites with music ... with only one exception.

Music web sites ...

If I go to a site for a band, musician or artists it's THE ONLY time I expect to hear music playing from my browser when I haven't explicitly asked it to.

On high traffic web sites it invariably gets the nuts squished out of it through audio and data compression as well leaving behind the audio equivalent of a wet fart.

Don't do it ...

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Do you have any reason for suggesting not to do it other than your personal experience? The OP is looking for objective arguments rather than subjective ones. –  dhmholley Dec 11 '12 at 16:59
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Even if it's a music website, it's better to start the sounds only if the user interacts with the site (klicks, or at least hovers on something), instead of when loading and being possible in the background or on another tab. –  vsz Dec 11 '12 at 17:05
    
@dhmholley I was just trying to add something that hadn't already been said by others. –  Jammer Dec 11 '12 at 17:36
    
@vsz Agreed, it is better to start after some action by the user, but I do expect to hear music on music sites nonetheless< it even more annoying in situations you DONT expect it in. –  Jammer Dec 11 '12 at 17:37
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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

I think @Bazzz and @JohnGB hit the nail on the head. I would also encourage you to not try to sell them once they are on your site. Instead help them buy. They are already there, and unless they see something that interest them, a nice jingle won't get them to come back. Jacob Nielsen put this best when he said the following;

Even though it does little good to run ads on other sites, there are many ways in which the Web can be used fruitfully in marketing. Most important are corporate websites where an entire site can be devoted to promote a company's products. Such sites should not be sales-driven but should focus on customer support and service, including detailed product specs and supporting information to facilitate the buying process. In other words: help customers buy; don't try a hard sell.

I would encourage you to read his entire article on advertising here.

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I don't see any references to sounds in either that quote, or in the linked article. What is your reasoning for linking this article to the OP question about playing a jingle / sound on startup? Jingles are not the same as advertising. –  JonW Dec 11 '12 at 18:47
    
@JonW the question has already been answered sufficiently. I am suggesting the user change their approach/way of thinking about branding. –  n00b Dec 11 '12 at 18:58
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As much as I generally hate About.com, I must prescribe to the opinions here: Pros and Cons of Adding Sound to Web Pages. Even if it is a little dated with its 'Invalid HTML 4.01' commentary!

"You should always be careful when you use sound on web pages. After intrusive advertising, sound that turns on automatically and cannot be turned off is one of the most annoying aspects of poorly designed web pages."

It's something that has bad associations already, mainly because it reminds users of a time when site builders liked to throw everything but the kitchen sink on a site, just because they could! If you're going for cheesy, then by all means go for it.

Also, I believe that a jingle in-of-itself is too easily associated with advertising, and some users will dismiss the tab/page on this basis.

"Music is a very personal choice. What you like may not be to your audience’s preference. Don’t risk alienating readers with sound on your site. Use sound intelligently."

How true. What you may find groovy and awesome, may sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to others. It's the aural equivalent of using garish imagery all over the place. Musical taste is very subjective; you never know what emotional response it will garner.

Music that "just comes out from nowhere" is especially problematic. What if the user is in a situation where noise may be a disturbance to others? You run the risk of completely turning them off. And they may never return.

It was once believed that music added something to a web site that would make it stand out from other sites. The truth is that music or other noisy distractions add nothing of value unless your site has a basis in music. Even then, the decision whether to play music or other sounds should always be left to the user.

As an example, it makes perfect sense for Pandora.com to play the song that was playing during your last visit. The purpose of visiting a site such as Pandora is purely to listen to music.

Lastly, any music that is used in a scenario should only kick in upon a definite call to action, and the fact that music is coming should be forewarned. The best way to achieve this is with video, since video and audio have a historical association.

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Answer this first: Is the user expecting it?

To cite some actual recommendations rather than opinions, the punkchip article Autoplay is bad for all users is 3 years old but as valid as ever.

The article should be read in it's entirety, but quotes the W3C’s specification for accessibility (WCAG 2.0).

There is a small note in one of the audio criterion, that really should be applied to all multimedia:

Note: Playing audio automatically when landing on a page may affect a screen reader user’s ability to find the mechanism to stop it because they navigate by listening and automatically started sounds might interfere with that navigation. Therefore, we discourage the practice of automatically starting sounds (especially if they last more than 3 seconds), and encourage that the sound be started by an action initiated by the user after they reach the page, rather than requiring that the sound be stopped by an action of the user after they land on the page.

‘Understanding Success Criterion 1.4.2 [Audio Control]‘


To save some legwork - Here's the current W3C Understanding Success Criterion 1.4.2 page.

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I'll answer the question from a slightly different angle...

The intention would be - evoking emotions on the user - make the brandname "stick"

I think that's what needs the focus. There's two issues here:

evoke emotion

Sound can certainly evoke emotion. However, in the context of a user trying to accomplish a task, what are the emotions they'd typically have when encountering sounds? I think in terms of using software, sounds other than alerts would evoke an emotion of annoyance/anger/frustration.

make the brandname "stick"

There's 'sticky' and then there's 'obnoxious earworms'. ;)

I don't want my fridge to sing "Frigidaire" every time I open it nor do I want my TV to say "Brought to you by Sharp" every time I turn it on.

But, we are talking about software, and one could argue that's slightly different.

MOST software is blissfully silent upon startup. But there are exceptions. Lots of gaming apps will have a 'studio bug' animation/sound upon startup. Is that annoying? Well, I seem to tolerate it. But, then again, the task at hand is entertainment--typically a game, so I'm already prepped to deal with sound. If it were, say, accounting software, that'd be a different story.

In the end, I think for you to achieve your goals of 'brand stickiness' and 'evoking emotion' the 'startup sound' approach is too risky. I'd suggest putting your efforts into the visual side of things and overal user experience.

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One could argue that software is different, but one would be wrong. :) I love this answer. You mention games - I don't tolerate the apparent Federal regulation that requires every flash game out there to blare audio at high volume. I disable sound for that browser, first. In fact, this single issue has somewhat soured me on Windows 8's Modern UI because they don't allow you to block audio similarly without just muting everything. –  Mark Allen Dec 11 '12 at 21:31
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My DVD player does say HELLO (in text) every time I turn it on, which kind of makes me smile I don't know why –  eskimo Dec 12 '12 at 18:20
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Check out amount of "remove unskippable logos" patches for different games to get idea about how people "like" it. –  Oleg V. Volkov Dec 14 '12 at 12:36
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Of course you can - but you probably shouldn't...

Sound is an important design element, but it's very difficult to get it right.

In general, users will find such sound elements annoying.
A subtle notification can, however, be part of the branding you're after.

The Windows Skype client is one example of an application with a noticeable startup/login sound.
This sound is neither annoying nor intrusive and it's definitely building the brand.
(It can be argued, though, whether this sound is an audible notification or a startup branding sound...)

A few other examples of non-annoying startup notifications:

You'll find a nice example of how sound can affect the mood by opening both of these webpages:


As I said: Sound is a very fragile area, and you must get it right.

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Actually the first thing I do after installing skype is turn off that noise. :P –  shadow Dec 12 '12 at 3:16
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Skype's startup sound IS annoying AND intrusive. And worse, there is no option to turn it off in the mobile client. There's a reason I get nervous every single time I need to start Skype. –  Lie Ryan Dec 12 '12 at 4:47
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+1 - every time I hear it I think "F**K OFF!" –  Alan B Dec 13 '12 at 11:14
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The goal of this sound is to associate the brand with the listener's experience on the site. The risks of this going wrong seem to outweigh the benefits.

First, the person ended up on your site hopefully through a conscious decision. So you aren't giving the user any new, useful information by playing a sound.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of scenarios where an unexpected sound could be unpleasant or even dangerous.

  • The site user is using headphones. Is your sound loud and potentially dangerous to their hearing? I know of at least one guy (I could Google up his rant) who is now partially deaf from wearing headphones, listening to music and then having a program kick audio in at high volume. Is surprising your user with audio worth the risk?
  • The listener is in an environment where the audio is inappropriate. Workplaces are the most obvious. Cyber Monday is an attempt to drum up business by websites, yet some of them insist on auto-playing loud videos. Do you really want your site to be associated with embarrassment or even harming someone's job where they feel you ratted them out?
  • The listener opens your site in a multi-tabbed environment. Now the user is confused as to where the sound came from. My wife has an amazing hatred of sites that auto start videos, to the point she installed a flash-blocker (and isn't the type of person to muck around with browser extensions normally).

Frankly this sounds like an attempt to impose the will of the site owner by adding another channel to the user's experience. Since people won't know to expect the sound or likely have a way to impact the sound before it plays, I suspect more anger and dismay would result than pleasant associations. Surprise is great for horror, where you want the experience to cause someone anxiety. I don't think it makes for a great brand augmentation.

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Great observation of keeping "brand" a goal. –  HeyCameron Dec 11 '12 at 20:26
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It's all about expectation and convention / consensus, also in some respect it's about courtesy to your user, and not irritating them.

Web Pages - No, never.

The experience of opening web page which plays a sound, is widely accepted as negative. You will be hard pressed to find a popular web page/app that does this, Generally this consensus has been formed due to early abuses/over-use when Flash based web sites and poorly conceived web ads were a common experience.

Sometimes thought of as a possible exception, is a game destination page, however, due to the overwhelmingly negative reaction that most people have with unsolicited sound/music, it's better to roll the attract mode / jingles etc, after the user has entered through a static welcoming motif. In other words, just as with video playback, have the user interact with the game before playing sounds at them.

It goes without saying, but always, always, make sound optional, it really doesn't matter how much production value has gone into audio, it's still very much unwelcome on the web.

Consensus is the master here, and unsolicited audio ranks higher than spam as an annoyance, in more polls than I care to mention.

Even if your web app is for specifically playing music, a play button is always the way to go. Note high profile music sites, such as Mixcloud.com, Soundcloud.com and of course, iTunes.

Apps - generally not a good idea, with caveats.

A very well produced, very short jingle on opening ident page, may sound like a nice idea, but after a couple of startups it'll get annoying.

However, if app startup is well managed, ie. app state is saved and restored in it's usual operation, so the user will generally avoid a full startup/ident cycle most of the time, it's not such a problem.

Of course always provide a mute / sound off button.

Apps - Games / "Edutainment"

Startup sounds, music and jingles are relatively common practice among games and children's educational apps.

The user must always have immediate and obvious access to mute / sound off functions, link to any mute buttons / volume controls the device may have, but provide in game controls too, because...

Many people enjoy listening to their own choice of audio as they play games, so check the device and respect any audio that's already playing, if the device will allow you to play audio without interrupting the other channel, be smart and don't play music, just play the environmentals and spot effects.

If you aren't able to play sound without interrupting an existing channel, DON'T PLAY IT.

Always listen to your users

If your app / game does have sound on startup, be careful to make sure your users have a place to feedback and vent, check the consensus among your users, you'll soon know if you have found a sweet spot, or if you're making peoples toes curl.

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While I concur with all the others who recommend not doing this, there are some (few) products where start-up sounds makes sense:

  1. Hardware boot, where the Mac startup chime and the IBM POST beep codes both signify that nothing has gone wrong with the hardware (or, alternatively, that something has gone wrong with the hardware). Depending on the hardware issue, the audible alert may be the only indication of the problem. In the days before Mac OS X (when rebooting a Mac was a fairly common occurrence), the startup chime also solved another, somewhat novel purpose:

    Turning the Mac on is one thing, but being forced to reboot from a crash is a totally different experience. I wanted to avoid a sound that would be associated with the crash. I wanted it to sound more like a palette cleanser.

  2. The Operating System (especially 3+ years ago), which took so long to start up that the chime notified people that it was worth bothering to come back to the computer from, e.g., making a coffee. Microsoft commissioned Brian Eno to create the Windows 95 startup sound:

    …he received a brief from Microsoft with “about 150 adjectives” to describe the desired noise. “The piece of music should be inspirational, sexy, driving, provocative, nostalgic, sentimental…” said Eno.

    They changed the sound in Windows Vista (the same sound carried over to Windows 7):

    Ball is the first to admit that the percussive beeps in past Windows versions could be jarring enough to bother nearby workers or interrupt others in a meeting. With the number of intrusive sounds from cell phones, handheld devices and other gadgets only increasing, that's something Ball and his colleagues were keen to avoid with Vista.

    If you're keen, here's a blog with all the Windows Startup Sounds from 3.1 to 7.

  3. An application which automatically connects to the Internet, to notify the user that it has done so in the background (e.g. instant messaging apps).

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+1 A very good cover of when the use of start up/ready sounds are really applicable. I think this is a great point to keep in mind, you should not add visual/audio stimuli when it doesn't fill any concrete function. –  AndroidHustle Dec 12 '12 at 10:54
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The windows startup sounds have always fascinated me. I get nerdy goosebumps whenever I upgrade to the latest version of the OS and hear the new startup jingle –  eskimo Dec 12 '12 at 18:23
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@eskimo Me too. And then I go straight to Sounds and turn off everything, including the startup jingle. –  Svish Dec 13 '12 at 8:53
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I think the most obvious reason not to do it is, can you name one big website that does it?

Think of companies like amazon, ebay, none of them do it. Those companies spend a fortune every year on R&D, there must be a reason none of them are doing it.

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It's good to do some research on your competitors, and general web conventions too, yes. However surely just deciding not to do something because nobody else does it would just mean no progress ever gets made by anyone. Everything would all just look the same, no? –  JonW Dec 12 '12 at 13:41
    
I agree that you should try innovate, but unfortunately the web doesn't seem to work like that. UX design tends to always move in huge waves, with everyone copying the latest trends. One big site will do something innovative and everyone follows. And I think the reason behind this is familiarity. A system becomes intuitive when a user expects something to be in a certain way, so I think it is hard to truly be innovative without loosing some of that intuitiveness, unless your site is one of the very few massive ones –  eskimo Dec 12 '12 at 14:43
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Innovation is process of taking some thing and make it even better. One has to be brave some times to get his hands dirty in experiment. –  Imran Dec 12 '12 at 16:52
    
I don't think playing a "jingle" on a website is innovation. It's not like people haven't tried it before. –  eskimo Dec 12 '12 at 18:15
    
Trying something before and it not being legendary doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement #iPod –  Shash Dec 18 '12 at 1:46
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There are so many ways this can go wrong. The expectation on the web is that sound and video is something you initialize yourself, unless the sole purpose of the page is to display the video or play that sound. Even then it is good practice to provide an indication on any link to that page informing the user that it will trigger media playback.

You would also need to consider what happens on browser restart. Imagine several tabs with this page open, I bet that choir would evoke all kinds of emotions.

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The best practice answer to this is 'No' always... except, if the reason they came to your site is to hear the jingle.

If you have to do it... reduce said jingle to just the hook portion... i.e. for Red Robin they would just play 'Yummmm'

Also, get and abide by the users volume settings. Do not set volumne to 100%, because you have no idea what their speakers are turned up to.

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I say this, because most devices are now both surfing devices AND media players... so the person likely is already listening to music in headphones or some such.. Your brand does NOT want to fight with your users music listening experience. –  C Southworth Dec 12 '12 at 17:35
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only if you have a really really awesome sound and a neutral to great site or app OR you have a really really awesome and/or popular and/or indispensable and/or addictive site and a very very SHORT or unobtrusive sound and some ACTUAL REASON the sound needs to exist OTHER than to tell everyone else the user's business.

like (and i use some analogy here, be forewarned)

--there needs to be startup chimes to my laptop for diagnostic purposes. --my favorite dance songs may have long intros so i can make it to the dance floor in time for the first verse. --my coffee machine is allowed to be loud --firefox plugin downthemall has a sweet sweet ending chime because it is so awesome and indispensable

unlike:

--cigarette lighters that play sounds and flash colors --mac osx screen capture program SnapZ (great program, hate the vegas style sound.) --dumbass myspace: music on load is perverse noise pollution by definition. --especially unlike when a site was opened in a background tab..... grrrrrrrr. does every site like that assume you have no other audio input you value?

some of us value silence, or ambient environmental sounds, or the soft sound of our keyboards or our lovers or pets sleeping, or the trains off in the distance. some of us want to be apprised of air raid sirens when they go off, or damsels in distress, or our own thoughts.

sound upon open is as bad as advertising i didn't ask specifically for. which is very very very bad.

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No need for sound when entering (or exiting) the site.

a) no need from an informational perspective
b) sound less effective than visual for branding on a visual display.

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