The Download on Podcasts: Facebook sees the light of audio — but must dive deeper

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The Download on Podcasts is a regular feature sponsored by PodcastOne.

One year ago this column complained about Facebook’s lack of native audio — a feature for users to post an audio file directly to Facebook, rather than linking out to it. (Will podcasting force Facebook to allow viral audio?) Facebook’s slight has been the world’s biggest example of how audio takes a back seat to video.

This week, Facebook abruptly turned its face toward the light (well, the sound) by announcing a preliminary version of Live Audio, complementing its well-received Live Video product. (RAIN coverage here.) Live Audio won’t reach individual users until sometime in 2017; in the meantime it is being tested by BBC World Service and Harper Collins.

Audio solves the heavy bandwidth issue of video streaming, but that’s not even the point for audio lovers. It’s about socializing audio-only products on the world’s largest platform without wrapping them in faux-video players.

Several organizations have tried to break through Facebook’s audio obstinacy, including Whooshkaa, Omny Studio, Deezer, and NPR. Each of those efforts involved video wrapping as a workaround. The core problem — lack of native audio — remained unsolved.

Live Audio is promising, and many publications are framing the announcement as Facebook’s response to the rise of podcasting. That might be true. One key product feature is unmentioned in FB’s announcement, and that is whether Live Audio can be archived for post-live listening, the way Live Video can be. That feature is necessary to encourage listening as a standard Facebook experience.

And one more thing, perhaps even more important. Live Audio does not address uploads. When Live Video came onto the platform, Facebook already permitted native video uploads (in addition to YouTube embeds). Video is a bedrock posting format in Facebook. Audio needs to be also, especially since SoundCloud changed its embedding technology so that audio fromĀ that platform (sometimes called the “YouTube of audio”) cannot be heard directly on Facebook, as it could in the past.

Uploads and direct posting of audio are essential. Most podcasters do not broadcast live shows — in fact, podcasting best practice increasingly encourages editing before release. And while musicians will probably use the heck out of Live Audio to the benefit and abuse of the musical arts [insert smiley face here], musicians who wish to share their audio recordings would remain stuck with video wrappers if there is no direct uploading.

So. Facebook. Nice start with Live Audio. Make sure it can be archived. Then, having waded into the shallow pool, take the deep dive and give the world audio uploading.

Brad Hill

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