Social Web trends fade in and out as fast as your high school fashion sense did. But sometimes, things stick, and an app can carve out a niche for its genre. Take for example Instagram, which simultaneously entered the market and defined it. In other cases, attempts at creating a platform instead of existing as a feature (we’re looking at you, geolocation) ends up in disappointment.
Recent attention is turning toward one of the last unexplored “senses” of social media – sound. Photo-sharing, text-based sharing, and video-sharing … and Vine-sharing (whatever that thing really is) have all made their mark, but the last dimension of audio is where developers are starting to turn their attention.
Jim Colgan of Soundcloud’s audio team says that audio’s under-representation on the social sphere has to do with the fact that it’s a “more intimate and less glamorous medium.” Humans want that visual stimulation, it turns out, especially when it comes to social apps.
But this disadvantage could also be the beauty of the medium. “There’s something powerful about the intimacy of audio, the ability to get engrossed despite – or because of – being engaged in another activity,” Colgan explains. “It’s that kind of staying power, whether it’s a moving speech from President Obama or a raw interview on This American Life that you just don’t get with video or images.”
New competitors rush in
While SoundCloud hasn’t experienced the sort of viral upswing that services like Snapchat or Whatsapp, it’s managed to accrue a loyal following and interesting user base – just a little more quietly than its more visual counterparts. And it’s a platform seeing a lot of activity: Colgan says SoundCloud reaches over 200 million people every month, and publishes 10 hours of music every minute.
The social audio sector that SoundCloud fits into may soon get the acknowledgment it deserves with the help of a fresh crop of mobile-first products that fall into the new category. Apps like Dubbler, Eevzdrop, and DigiSocial are among the first contenders batting for the “Instagram for sound” title (the simplification of it all, right?). While each share the new category, how they’re experimenting with it varies – and we may very soon find out which one will get it right.
The early social audio contenders
Dubbler may be closest thing you can get to an audio-interpretation of Instagram. You get 60 seconds to record anything – be it music or a story – and mix the audio with filters like, auto-tune, or something more creative, like one that makes you sound like a cat. Yes, it sounds niche, but the app is hitting a chord with users and has more than 500,000 downloads to date.
— Aaron (@RonskiDoki) May 24, 2013
An audio-photo combo called Eevzdrop has also found itself vying for the the “Instagram-for” title. While the app is still in beta, there are some “drops” hanging around online. And DigiSocial is very similar to Eevzdrop, although includes a messaging spin. Eevzdrop cofounder Rommel Paraiso adds that its “Save to Drafts” feature, enabling offline recording, is its value proposition. There’s no need for a data or Wi-Fi connection to record audio, and since it saves to your phone, the audio clip can be published online at a later time.
They each are putting their own stamp on the social audio genre – and while they are leading the pack, they aren’t alone.
One fledgling startup called Audiostamp is treading the fine line between recording app and social audio. Audiostamp marketing specialist Kristine Chuang describes it as targeting for both journalists on the job and regular people who are looking to record their memories. She says the app can bookmark certain sections of the recording so you don’t end up re-listening to everything again, and of course talks about its social sharing capabilities (including group sharing) in case you’re looking to publish your recordings.
Then there’s an underdog called Picle. The app does most of what Eevzdrop and DigiSocial do already, but it’s far more aesthetically beautiful and it’s group sharing function much more developed.
The early adopters
In case it’s not already clear, there’s one demographic who are particularly taking to this new social technology: Musicians. “The ones that have been recently signing on are musicians, singers, and bands. What’s really cool is they play a live sample of an upcoming song and talk about it and sometimes they’ll let you listen in on the process of writing a new song,” Paraiso explains.
Beyond music, however, making audio an interesting category is something of a challenge – and one that these apps are taking on.
“When people think of audio now, they immediately think of MP3s and music but it’s much more than that,” says Paraiso. “Sharing audio gives you the ability to share your voice. It brings in another element to the social network that makes things so much personal. You literally can voice your opinion and share much more information.”
How audio apps have a chance at going mainstream
While getting people interesting in social audio apps beyond their music peg might be difficult, there is one thing that could propel them into the spotlight: breaking news. Instagram, Twitter, and Vine have all benefited wildly from being used to break news during major events, be they tragedies or award shows – and what they are (largely) missing is an audio component. While Vine has the option of included audio, the six second limit means it can’t be that useful, and they are muted by default. If you want to truly tell a story with a social app, that last dynamic – sound – could take it to the next level.
If Instagram were around during Larry Bird’s retirement, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, all the photos in the world wouldn’t totally going to capture the moment.
There’s also the idea that perhaps pairing audio with stills will manage to pin-point the strange place that social video apps haven’t quite been able to. We’ll have to stay tuned (pun intended) to find out, but one thing is for sure: Social audio apps are not going quietly into the night.