Audio is the Future of Social Media

I’ll start right off the bat by saying I realize it’s ironic that I’m writing a blog post about why audio is the future.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, why do I think audio is the future?

Time

“Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say”

Because of all the ways that we can consume media, audio takes up the least time. In fact, sometimes it doesn’t take up time at all!

Think about what you’re doing when you listen to podcasts, playlists, radio shows, etc. Because of the nature of audio, you don’t need to use your eyes or hands to consume audio content. You can be at the gym, in your car, or walking your dog (everyone always says this, but I like to be pretty aware of my surroundings when I’m walking Tesla).

In a previous post, I talked about parallel processing, musing on the idea that the only way to assuredly get more output is to have multiple processes “running” at once, which can be done by outsourcing or automating your work.

Audio is another form of parallel processing, allowing you to do physical tasks with one part of your body/attention and consume verbal/musical content with another. But why does that matter?

Depending on how long you’ve been using the Internet, you might remember the early days of email, Facebook before there were “Likes,” or Snapchat before “Stories.” As time has progressed and the Internet (or “Social Media”) has matured, things have gotten a lot more noisy. So noisy, in fact, that Facebook, Twitter, and the like have introduced algorithms to optimize your content so you are more likely to see things that you want to see.

Whether or not you like their solutions, the problem they’re attempting to solve is a real one. Instead of 36 channels on TV, we now have multiple media platforms on our smartphones with millions of options of content to consume. It’s overwhelming, and we simply don’t have enough hours in a day to consume all the relevant content that is out there.

So, as we bump up against the bounds of our day and run out of time, apart from completely unplugging and going “off the grid,” one of the easiest ways to consume more relevant content is to do so while you’re doing things you would already be doing (e.g. going to the gym or commuting).

And, as it currently stands, audio content is the only type of content that allows you to do that!

Problems with Audio

Now, no platform is perfect, but audio is definitely behind some of the other types of content. Here’s why I think that:

  1. Usability – The places where people are consuming audio content (examples: Spotify, the Podcast App on iOS, Soundcloud) feel clunky and outdated, or at least not well-suited for podcasts. If you disagree, a good thought experiment would be to think about how much easier it is to consume and interact with content on Instagram than it is on the Podcast app.
  2. Intelligence – The idea of using machine learning on audio data is not unheard of, but it’s certainly a “newer” concept than doing so on pictures. The deep learning algorithms to determine whether a picture is of a dog or cat are ubiquitous, but not so much for audio. Still, companies like Google, Anchor, and others are making strides here, and I’m confident we’ll be seeing some really cool machine learning applications on audio.
  3. Interaction – We haven’t quite landed on the “best” way to interact with audio yet. Is it sending emojis during a livestream (I’m looking at you, Live.ly & Facebook and Instagram Live), commenting (SoundCloud), sending a “call-in” as a verbal reaction (Anchor), or talking to a mysterious anthropomorphized AI (Alexa, Siri, Google Now)? Who knows, but I am confident that we aren’t far from a sort of “convergence” of best practices for interacting with audio, similar to how you can now see “Stories” on anywhere from Snapchat to your toaster…

So even if it’s clear that audio is the future, its exact “form” is still unclear. But not knowing the “answer” is what makes this exciting! We are still in the Wild West for audio-form social media, yet millions of people are tuning into podcasts every day. It’s only going to get better, and I’m really excited for that. I hope you are too!

To inject my own opinion, I believe the two groups to watch when it comes to audio are Amazon Alexa and Anchor. I recently started my own Anchor station and it has been a very rewarding and fun experience thus far. I also own an Amazon Echo device, and while I don’t use it as much as I’d like, the volume of new “Skills” that have been arriving for it has been quite impressive. I also love that I can listen to music, the weather, and dictated Wikipedia articles in between ordering pizzas.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now! As always, let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments! Tell me if you think I’m some sort of clueless hack, if you thought this post was insightful, etc., or go ahead and share your favorite Podcasts or Anchor stations.

Until then, I’ll be ticking away the moments that make up a dull day 😉

– Nick

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