Screen shot 2011 02 05 at 16.35.48 260x374 Audioboo gears up to take on SoundCloud in the year of Social AudioSocial audio sharing is set to be one of the big trends online this year. As well-known VC Fred Wilson recently said when he invested in SoundCloud,  “The Web should not be mute”.

With big money going into the aforementioned German startup, Cinch making waves among US bloggers and audio comments being one of the more interesting features of Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily, the idea of sharing our thoughts online in the form of sound clips seems to be taking off.

What about the startup that arguably kicked the whole trend off though? London-based Audioboo began letting users share their thoughts as audio clips a whole two years ago. Since then, its flagship iPhone app hadn’t changed a great deal but now, finally Audioboo 2.0 has hit the App Store. If you’re new to this whole “social audio” thing, it’s well worth digging into.

Firstly, the app now reflects the vibrant community of bloggers, journalists and others who use Audioboo to share news and opinions every day. You can now view any user’s profile page from the app, and there’s full support for sending private audio messages to other users, a feature that was launched on the browser-based version of Audioboo last summer.

Publishing your clips (or “Boos” as they’re called in Audioboo) has become easier with the new app. Regular users will be glad to see that you can now save draft Boos to publish later, and uploading has become more reliable. Previously, if an upload failed half-way, you’d have to start again. Now files are uploaded in small chunks, meaning that a briefly dropped connection isn’t so annoying.

It’s all wrapped up in a great-looking, redesigned interface that brings the app in line with what users in 2011 expect.

Keeping it streamlined

Screen shot 2011 02 05 at 16.36.29 260x374 Audioboo gears up to take on SoundCloud in the year of Social AudioAudioboo CEO Mark Rock says that streamlining the app down from all the features it could have had to most essential ones was the hardest part of its development. “In the end, after much internal discussion, we cut down our feature list from about 30 additions – comments, both text and audio, private messages, following, channel support, search etc., to a pretty small core of features.

“It was very much our ‘2nd album’ moment. We’d managed to launch a successful app that was simple to use and loved by users. That’s a really hard place to move on from. Adding new features whilst keeping the whole thing intuitive is a really hard problem to solve.”

Taking on the competition

What about the well-funded competition from SoundCloud though? That service started off aimed at musicians but has started inching onto Audioboo’s turf of late.

Rock is philosophical about the challenge. “They’ve taken a concept I think we developed first – social audio – and tried to make it their own, so their tanks are firmly on our lawn. They have more people than us and more cash. What do we have? A better app methinks. A stronger focus on the spoken word. And a passionate team.

Screen shot 2011 02 05 at 16.58.51 Audioboo gears up to take on SoundCloud in the year of Social AudioAudioboo doesn’t intend to take the challenge lying down. The startup is expanding its team and is set to launch its first big round of funding soon. There’s plenty in store for this year too, work is set to begin next week on bringing the Audioboo Android app up to par with the iPhone version. Another mobile platform is due to get its own app too, although Rock isn’t saying which.

Features on the way include a payments platform that, interestingly, will allow users to charge micro-payments for exclusive audio clips. It will also let users pay for additional features, such as being able to record for longer than the standard five minutes or improved podcasting support. The Channels service that we’ve previously covered as ‘Streams’ is being developed further. Channels will allow media brands to have an account that anyone can contribute to. So, a TV news show could let viewers upload audio clips from the scene of a breaking story, or a chat show could crowdsource questions for a celebrity interview.

Whatever happens in the social audio field this year, Rock sees increased competition as a healthy development. “What’s interesting is that this is becoming a space in itself. When we launched in 2009 no one had done anything of interest with voice on social platforms. Now it’s a hot area. That’s a good thing.”