Dubbler nears 1M users in quest to prove we need an audio social network

By Michael Carney , written on June 25, 2013

From The News Desk

In the early days of social networks, the primary goal – therefore the primary competition – was to become the single macro social platform to rule them all. Friendster then gave way to MySpace gave way to Facebook. More recently, the battle has shifted to vertical niches like photos (and now temporary photos). The winners, thus far: Instagram (acquired by Facebook for $1 billion) and Snapchat, which was valued at $860 million in its latest round. Then in the video category, generation one brought us Viddy, Social, and Klip, which more recently gave way to Vine and possibly Instagram.

It's bound to get even more complicated now that a new category, audio, has entered the fray. So far, Dubbler is the lone serious contender. It allows users to upload short audio clips, up to 60 seconds in length, and share them to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and the Dubbler community, which is built on an Instagram-like asynchronous follow model. Users also have the option to include audio filters, cover photos, and hashtags in their Dubs, or share them au naturel. The app is available for iOS and Android and Dubs can be consumed and shared on the Web.

Since launching in January, Dubbler has registered more than 600,000 users and, according to founder Matt Murphy, who previously co-founded Lemon Wallet, it has engagement levels comparable to photo and video category leaders. A number of musical icons, other celebrities, and brands have joined the platform, including Common, Mac Miller, RuPaul, CollegeHumor, and LogoTV, all of which came to the platform organically.

Recently, Dubbler partnered with the team behind College Battle of the Bands to power the group’s latest music-related competition, CampusDJ. After a nationwide tour with all submissions and voting powered through Dubbler, eight local CampusDJ battle winners and a wild card winner were chosen. The national championship was held this past week in at the Avalon club in Hollywood, where the winner – Flaxo from Columbia University – received a MINI Cooper, a touring package with Live Nation, and a branded filter on Dubbler, as well as additional prizes.

This seems like a wise partnership for the emerging social app, as it looks to access the key high school and college demographic. But the case for Dubbler is not that of a "music social network," Murphy insists. Multiple attempts in that category, including Apple's Ping, the New MySpace, imeem, and to an extent SoundCloud – which succeeds more for its locker functionality than its social features – have all struggled to find, build and maintain an audience around sharing music. Dubbler may include some music content, but it's engagement has been more about voice communication, similar to what is offered by Viber and other mobile voice messaging applications, many of which have seen viral adoption.

This said, audio suffers several of the same shortcomings that have hampered adoption of video among social network users. Namely, both audio and video are difficult to skim. When looking at a feed of photos or even text, users can quickly glance at each element and determine whether to spend more time or move on. With audio and video, this is simply not possible, as each piece of content requires a greater time commitment to evaluate. As a result, audio and video require an imprecise second order indicator like social signals to filter the signal from the noise.

Dubbler has taken several steps to address this issue, although all are imperfect. Like the new Instagram with video, Dubbler autoplays clips by default as a user scrolls through her feed (this can be turned off). But while autoplay simplifies the skimming process by eliminating the need to hit play, in practice, many find the experience is too manic and disruptive to be considered worthwhile. That said, according to Murphy, the autoplay functionality was added in response to user demand. Dubbler also allows its users to include hashtags with each post, meaning that the feed can be searched according to topic or keyword. Again, this is nice but imperfect.

Dubbler is still free to use, but Murphy is of the school of thought that it’s best to monetize early, because it’s too hard to add a monetization engine later. With this in mind, expect the addition of premium features and micro-goods available for purchase in-app in the near future. Dubbler’s parent company, Appsurdity, raised an undisclosed Seed round in August 2012 and it’s likely that there will be news on the Series A front shortly according to sources close to the company.

At the end of the day, it feels like an sharing audio to our social networks is something that should exist. Whether it belongs as a stand alone platform, or incorporated within Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (ha), Instagram, Vine, Path, etc., etc., etc., is another matter. Dubbler allows its users to import follower graphs based on existing social networks, meaning there's bound to be significant overlap. But it also makes sense to find add new audio-specific accounts specific, such as musicians. Given this, it seems like a good idea to have the option maintaining a separate network with which to engage directly within Dubbler. And sharing features within the social audio app make its easy enough to distribute the content elsewhere as desired.

But if Dubbler continues to grow at its current rate, don’t be surprised to see a “share audio” feature added to the most popular social platforms. It's longevity at that point will come down to the strength of the network effects it can build prior to this inevitable competition.