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(Updated January 2012)
The Rabbitfeed on sound
Who still listens to podcasts, asked the BBC back in July, pointing out that the genre was attracting a relatively small amount of attention. The answer according to the BBC, is that podcasting is actually more popular than Twitter. 16% of the population has downloaded podcasts, with almost half listening to one at least once a week. Apparently US figures show the same percentages. The BBC's conclusion was that the overall concept of podcasting is powerful, but it now appears unremarkable and hence almost invisible. Our take would be that it shows that an appetite for online audio as a whole is certainly there, and that is precisely what audio-based social network SoundCloud and a range of similar services are trying to create. This fourth in our series of Rabbitgram briefing guides, examines the concept of sound in greater detail. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 - The next big thing - your ears - Audioboo - Bubbly - Qwip - SoundCloud - SoundCloud accounts to follow - Conclusion
In fact, Mary Meeker's firm KPCB has now come on board with SoundCloud as a lead investor in a $50 million round of funding. We'll give a run-down of SoundCloud and the other players in this space...
A UK company, Audioboo essentially allows anyone to post instant podcast type broadcasts (with a three minute limit) from your smartphone Founded in 2009, Audioboo founder Mark Rock was one of the Guardian's Media 100 in 2010. As a British technology firm (though Mark Rock claims 50%+ listens are in the US), the service has a number of UK media companies signed up including the Guardian and BBC Radio One and Two. A Poynter.org piece says that Audioboo is trying to position itself as owning the spoken word in contrast to SoundCloud being about music. However, SoundCloud has long since branched out from being a music-only service and it will be interesting to see whether SoundCloud's new deep pockets and high profile, could end up in Audioboo being drowned out.
The next big thing your ears
Back in October futurologist and pundit Mary Meeker produced one of her regular Internet trend reports. One slide talks about the 'the next big things - those two big things on the sides of your head.' From sound recognition services such as Apple’s Siri, to SoundCloud and music streaming site Spotify, Mary Meeker reproduced a quote from SoundCloud founder Alexander Ljung "Sound is going to be bigger than video. 'Record' is the new QWERTY."
voice email signatures to adding 'nuance and passion' to tweets. Qwips has just launched an iPhone application, which according to Zdnet, among other things allows you to 'filter' your voice to sound like a chipmunk or a Robot. Zdnet calls it a fun addition with potential for special occasions such as ecards, but questions whether it will really catch on as an audio accompaniment to social media status updates.
Emerging economies are of course the big online growth market and what the New York Times calls 'social voice messaging' is starting to take off in Asia. The most prominent of these services is Singapore based Bubbly, which has 12 million users in India, Indonesia, The Philippines and Japan. Bubbly describes itself as a 'voice based Twitter', though in reality what it seems to be used for is as a way for Asian sports stars and celebrities to share recorded updates via participating mobile phone operators. This makes it more of a one way service, and as several news reports have pointed out, it is also more difficult to sort through messages you don't want as on Twitter. Still, the service is growing at 100,000 users a week.
The most high profile of all the social sound services is the newly funded (to the tune of $50 million) SoundCloud. Berlin-headquartered SoundCloud currently has somewhere between 5-10 million users, 80% of which joined in the past year. Like Audioboo you can record any sound - voice, music or otherwise - via a smartphone application or the website and then upload and share. However, unlike Audioboo there is no three minute recording limit (you have two hours for free). SoundCloud was initially primarily geared towards music artists, but now has extended to the spoken word. Indeed, the 'SoundCloud for' page of the site lists a number of examples of how it can be used for comedy, for audio books, for education, for for band collaboration, for journalists and for field recordings. Note that only one of these are explicitly music based. SoundCloud has amassed a lot of very influential fans. For example, writing about SoundCloud's "massive" new funding, ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick calls it "an inspiring community of audio producers and fans leveraging new technology." Kirkpatrick compares it to the best of YouTube in the early days, eulogising "SoundCloud feels like the kind of creative place that the Internet was meant to be."
Though Bubbly intends to expand beyond Asia in 2012, a US based service, Qwips, already claims to offer "social voice" for European and American users. The Qwips site shows what you can do with the 30 second (max) clips you can record and upload via the service, from providing
Central to that creativity is the SoundCloud eco-system, with the API being built into 250+ 3rd party applications and services. Another example of innovation is SoundCloud labs, which features "cutting edge ideas" from the development team. One is 'social unlock' which allows you to exchange downloads for 'social
interactions' (e.g. liking a Facebook page) Meanwhile 'Takes Questions' is an audiobased, personalised Q and A page. Though there are not currently many brands using SoundCloud, past projects have given a clue as to how it can be used. For example during the 2011 Edinburgh Festival, SoundCloud produced a 'Sounds of the Fringe' map, with audio tagged to different Edinburgh locations, as well as having so-called Sound Ambassadors on site.
4 - Penguin Books
Book reviews and readings from the likes of Jenny Agutter and Tony Robinson.
SoundCloud accounts to follow
At the moment, most non-music artist SoundCloud accounts are dominated by the media, publishing and education. If creating an account, here is a selection to follow:
5 - The South Bank Centre
Recordings from London's major arts venue.
6 - The World Health Organisation
1 - The NextWeb Daily Dose
As yet infrequent updates from the UN affiliated body.
A daily round-up from the popular tech news website.
7 - Intelligence2
2 - The Economist podcast on SoundCloud
Interviews and segments with everyone from Umberto Eco to Jimmy Carter.
8 - Richard Herring
The comedian, writer and broadcaster presents an audio version of his blog, the second longest running in the world.
3 - Journalismnews
Regular podcasts from the media news site.
At just short of ten million users, SoundCloud's user base is still relatively small. However, a combination of the ecosystem it has developed, the influential and committed fans it has on board, and its deep pockets should see it scale up in 2012. Whether it ends up being the YouTube of sound or not, it definitely needs to be on brands' radars over the coming year. In contrast, we're less convinced about the other services. Audioboo continues to provide a quick and easy way to record commentary on the go (e.g. from an event) and while Qwip and Bubbly may serve niche markets, it is difficult to see them becoming the twitter of audio. Finally - did you know? We have our own digital audio expertise inhouse that we can offer you. Recent Rabbit recruit Leanne Rice is a co-host of the High Tea Cast podcast. Get the latest episodes here. Lea is currently working on a weekly digest of Rabbitgram (our daily news updates sign up here) which will shortly be on SoundCloud.
Looking for more resource documents and presentations? We've grouped them all in the Rabbit Library where you can view and download them.
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