The next big social network trend? Shortform audio

“I have identified some metrics and KPIs that I will start tracking in order to improve my overall life experience,” Farbod Nowzad says into his phone microphone.

It lists his KPIs, or KPIs: how many smoothies he drinks per week, how much time he spends listening to live techno music, and how many rooftop bars he visits. I click through to hear more. Someone named Nikolai recommends people double “the number of water combinations that reach your line of sight per day” and “the number of times you can say, ‘I’ll get the usual’ and have someone else understand it.” More people chime in, all in fewer syllables than 90 seconds.

This, for many founders and investors, is the future of audio: short recordings that are social, shareable, thought-provoking, or at least make you want to listen and say something.

Many startups, including Beams, Quest, and Nowzad’s App Pludo, are betting their efforts and investor money that there is business to be found in this user-generated voice. Even the largest social platform in the world sees this as a possibility; Facebook announced Soundbites earlier this year, an upcoming product that’s also built around short, shareable audio clips. They all see what’s happening on TikTok – masses of people making videos viral – and they want to replicate that success with just voice. It could be the next viral frontier, and a way to make new stars and make a lot of money for everyone, should any of these apps really take off.

The best way to think of these efforts is to use voice notes apps, except that your voice notes have a time limit and people can respond to them with more voice notes that also have a time limit. Oh, and the audio notes aren’t edited either. It’s like taking the social side of the Clubhouse with time constraints, though the analogy that keeps coming up when I talk to the founders is Twitter, and blogging.

“[Once we had blogs] Then we had tools like Twitter and Tumblr that removed all the complexities and just said, “You don’t need to think of yourself as bloggers, just type the words in the box and hit post,” and that unlocked this a lot of creativity,” says Austin Petersmith. , founder and CEO of Racket, another short audio platform that is currently in beta and has raised an initial round of funding, although Petersmith did not disclose the amount.

He says that giving people a microphone online and time constraints make it easier to deal with podcasts.

“Hundreds of millions of people are actively creating TikToks, hundreds of millions of people are actively blogging, and there are less than a million people who are actively podcasting,” he says. “I think it makes no sense.”

Screenshot of the Racket interface.

Racket limits people to nine minutes of recording, which they can now only do on the web. However, there is an app in development, as are plans to make the platform open to everyone. Petersmith says 18,000 minutes of audio have been posted since the company launched this year; 70,000 people listened to the racket, which they call audio excerpts; And 17,000 people have registered.

But why audio mania now? Beams co-founder Alan Sternberg, which he and his co-founder say has raised $3 million, says the apps’ reach comes from a combination of factors: improved phone mics, the Clubhouse, popularizing the idea of ​​social voice, and rapid speech-to-text transcription.

Notably, none of these apps offer RSS feeds to distribute content to other apps, essentially setting them up as owned vehicles in which people can consume and create content. They are very much not a podcast. Sternberg says RSS is a problem, because it doesn’t allow a social network to grow into a single app.

“I think the problem with RSS, when you look at podcasts, is that it’s like a decentralized technology that wasn’t built to be a social network,” he says, noting that this is why apps like Beams are necessary.

Meanwhile, for investors, the short audio trend makes sense as a way to build on and improve on the success of live social audio apps, at least in the mind of one investor. Jake Chapman, an investor in Racket, points to several issues he sees with live audio. Specifically, conversations deviate from the correct path of the promised room topic, as is the nature of the conversation, and because they are direct and unrecorded, at least in the case of the Clubhouse, the application cannot improve discovery.

“I think short podcast companies have a better chance of success [than apps like Clubhouse],” he says. “I think they can scratch the same kind of itch. So Racket, for example, because the rackets are pre-recorded, so they’re asynchronous, and because they’re short, the signal-to-noise ratio is completely flipped. “

He also says that apps that specialize in long audio will have higher costs when transcribing conversations that take hours and improving discovery around them, versus short ones.

Screenshots from Quest, a short audio app focused on career advice.

Of course, podcasts have already been around for years and still exist that it The big tech moment is now too. Amazon recently bought a podcast hosting company, as well as the Wondery podcast network, and Spotify has spent over $1 billion on exclusive content deals and acquisitions across the space. No one really thought the podcast was broken, but Big Tech saw an opportunity to take advantage of it, often by showing ads and targeting it against shows, and it grabbed it.

Spotify notably bought Anchor in 2019, and it can be said that it is the app that pioneered the idea of ​​mobile voice recording. However, he did not focus on short audio, and was more intent on democratizing podcast creation, as he still tries to do today. Anchor tried to make its app a place to listen, as well as create, but failed to make it a destination.

This is the real obstacle for these startups. Podcasts thrive when they’re available across platforms – some shows do well on YouTube, others find an audience on Apple Podcasts, and still others do well on Pocket Casts. But these new apps and their founders see locked content as the way forward.

These startups face two major hurdles, though: Facebook, which is soon entering the space and planning to pay $1 billion to content creators via its platform over the next year, and the lingering question of whether people want to hear this. audio format. Will anyone actually listen to a stranger and give them ideas on KPIs to improve their life? Or do they just prefer to tweet?

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