SoundPrint: Dine out in peace and quiet
This is great news for people with hearing loss who struggle to hear and communicate in a noisy environment.
SoundPrint uses crowdsourcing technology to generate data, allowing users to serve as citizen scientists. The app turns your smartphone into a sound meter to get a decibel reading that will be combined with those of other users to form the basis of each restaurant’s rating or review.
Having launched just this spring, SoundPrint already has amassed a significant list of quiet restaurants in New York and cities nationwide.
Q&A with SoundPrint founder, Greg Scott
SoundPrint founder, Greg Scott, discussed with CHC how his own hearing loss and struggles to communicate while dating led to this innovative technology. He also offers insight into the age-old mystery: Why are some restaurants so noisy?
CHC: How did the idea of SoundPrint come to you?
Greg Scott: The idea for SoundPrint came about as I was dating in NYC and wanted to find quieter spots so I could hear and better connect with dates. As someone with hearing loss, finding a quieter venue is very important. And searching for quiet spots on Google, Yelp and other websites was not fruitful, as their ratings are subjective (whether the reviewer thinks the place is quiet or loud) and often unreliable. Many times I would go to a supposedly quieter venue and the place would be very loud, which often resulted in having trouble connecting with my date. So I started using decibel meters out of curiosity to measure various venues, and when I found a quiet spot, I would measure it. This resulted in a list of quiet venues (click here for the NYC list) that I shared with others, whether they had hearing loss or not. Many people were interested in the list and I knew there was something that people wanted, so the app was created.
CHC: What were the key challenges developing the app?
GS: The app relies on crowdsourcing where users measure the sound level with the internal decibel meter and then submit it to SoundPrint’s database. One of the early challenges was getting users to use their phones whenever they’re out at a restaurant – to take and submit a sound level reading! So whenever out at a restaurant, bar or cafe, take out your phone for a 15-second measurement and submit it to the database. This enriches the data and helps others in our communities discover which places are quiet or noisy.
CHC: When did the launch take place and in what markets?
GS: SoundPrint launched in April 2018 in NYC. The app is available nationwide as we have a growing number of users in cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, New Orleans, Baltimore, Denver, Las Vegas and more.
CHC: What has the reaction been like from the general public? The hearing loss community? Restaurant owners?
GS: The reaction has been fantastic. We get lots of emails from users excited about the app’s potential and how it is useful to them. Many patrons do not feel empowered to do anything about excessively loud places and now there is a tool that not only helps them rate and find the quieter spots, but also sends a signal to venue managers that there is a sizable market segment that will patronize venues where they can hear others for conversation.
The response from restaurant owners has also been positive – many of them were happy to donate to our SoundPrint challenge that rewards those with the most monthly submissions with a comped meal at an upscale restaurant. Many venue managers acknowledge that noise is an issue, but they don’t know how to mitigate it. Our goal is to work with such venues and help them mitigate or optimize the din.
CHC: What do you think is especially unique about the app?
GS: What is unique is the app’s ability to generate objective sound measurements using the app’s internal decibel meter. A big issue with websites and other similar tools is that when people are subjectively rating venues, people not only have different noise sensitivities but they often do not know what actually constitutes a safe or unsafe sound-level environment (noise-induced hearing loss has been a rising health issue for years). This makes subjective data unreliable. The din keeps increasing as louder spots become the status quo or the new norm. People may visit a spot they think has a normal or moderate sound-level environment, but is actually too loud and can cause noise-induced hearing loss over time.
CHC: What’s next for SoundPrint?
GS: A few things – we will be introducing new features to further empower users as they rate venues, spread to other cities, and make the data available to researchers to help promote noise pollution awareness to the public. This is an exciting and emerging area of research.
CHC: Have you gotten insight into why restaurants are often so noisy?
GS: A lot has to do with changes in interior design over the last 20-30 years. Venue managers often want to create a bustling exciting atmosphere and that means less things in the restaurant that can better absorb sound such as carpeting, table cloths, and low background music. Acoustics are often not considered when designing and building a venue. And it’s often only after receiving noise complaints from patrons that a venue does something about it, but it’s more costly to improve the acoustic atmosphere after design and construction have been completed than before.
CHC: Anything else you’d like to share?
GS: I’ve personally benefited tremendously from CHC and the community, as I’ve been a client of speech therapy and audiology services, a member of the young professionals group, and a mentor to the young children with hearing loss. CHC has been one of the pioneer organizations in establishing International Noise Awareness Day and has created similar curated Quiet Lists in the past. Thus, it’s great to contribute back to CHC’s community with SoundPrint. I feel good knowing SoundPrint’s mission is helping those with hearing loss and other sensory disorders discover venues that enable them to be included at the table and enjoy dining out.