What metadata, if any, is read from audio files?

When I uploaded an audio-only observation as an m4a file that has GPS coordinates in it just now, I expected the uploader to use it. However, what I found was that although the “loading metadata” was promisingly displayed, none of the GPS fields encoded in the m4a (exif and xmp) were actually read.

So I’d like to ask: What, if anything, is being loaded when the message “loading metadata” is displayed for an audio file? Is that just the filename and length? That’s not quite what jumps to mind when “metadata” is mentioned in the context of media, so at first, the message seemed a bit misleading, but I suppose those two items count as such.

I know there is a way around this apparent lack of ability to read more useful metadata from audio files: I’ve heard the tip that a photo that has the GPS coordinates on it (like, of your shoes), can be taken at the same time as the audio/video file, uploaded with the audio, then deleted after the files are combined before submitting the observation. This seems like a reasonable workaround if that capability of reading the coordinates from the audio file itself is truly missing.

Some thoughts on why this might matter to some folks, reasoning from my experience:

One consideration for the workflow I use, and I wonder if others who do it this way might also feel this way, is that when you track separately then combine the track with your photos before uploading, for me, it changes the feel of taking all those extra photos just to convey the coordinates I already have on my track.

A second consideration relates to my level of bird observation interest (as that’s what virtually all my audio-only recordings are): I have found acquiring a good camera for birding is a rather high bar for me to reach, relative to my new and not yet very developed interest in upping my bird observation game. That being said, my current, relatively inexpensive equipment can be used to get adequate, and at the very least, satisfying audio-only observations, even if it’s not so hot for actual bird photos. Thus, at the end of a not-very intensive iNatting hike yesterday, I came home with about 10 videos, one of which had usable (albeit blurry) picture footage of a bird, and the other 9 of which were only good for audio, vs. about 60 photos, and zero of those photos were of birds. For such a low-key hike, that volume does not present a huge chore to use the “extra jpeg” workaround, but during CNC the backlog of audio files was a bit more daunting, and knowing I’d have the added issue of getting the GPS coordinates from my photo management software into my upload didn’t make it any more pleasant. I think for casual observers of birds, better support for audio-only observations may therefore have a bigger impact than others.

All that being said, I do appreciate there are tradeoffs of server processing time vs. convenience, and this one might be seen as not worth the bother to do anything about, so I didn’t launch right away into a feature request. That’ll wait until after I’ve tested the waters here for interest. I’d also like to hear back if there are useful tips that would help me have a happier time with uploading the audio with all the info my photo manager knows without double entry that I may not have considered.

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