The suggestion of Twitter buying SoundCloud, as floated by Re/code on Monday, has elicited strong reactions. Some see it as a potential bad deal for Twitter; many have worried about Twitter ruining SoundCloud’s low-ad user experience.
All this discussion may not be worth much anyway — Der Spiegel reports that Twitter considered the buy but decided against it for now. That said, while we’re speculating about the subject, I can’t help but feel that some have slightly mischaracterized what it is that SoundCloud does, and what it could do for a service like Twitter.
SoundCloud is not merely a music platform; it is an audio platform. As co-founder Eric Wahlforss told me a couple of years back:
“For us, the human voice as a form of expression is the thing that’s growing the fastest. We have a ton of popular radio programs and podcasts, and also artists like Snoop Dogg, who is sharing music, but also sharing half-done music and voice notes.”
It’s certainly understandable to pay attention to SoundCloud’s musical aspect, because that’s what springs to mind for most people when you mention the Berlin-based firm. As many have noted, SoundCloud lacks deals with the big record labels, but that’s because it’s not trying to be Spotify; it’s trying to be YouTube for audio.
If you refocus away from the music, the theoretical added functionality of SoundCloud within Twitter could be more in line with something like Vine than with, say, the abortive Twitter #music app: As Vine provides a video counterpart to the standard Twitter text message, this could add an audio-only dimension. And as a service whose technology is designed to connect the creator directly with the audience, SoundCloud is well-placed to provide this functionality.
The question then, however, is whether this would add enough value to Twitter to be worth the cash – SoundCloud had a $700 million valuation back in January. And that really comes down to Twitter’s own plans for itself.
In April Twitter introduced private video messaging for Vine. As my colleague Lauren Hockenson noted, this was partly a response to rivals’ features, such as Instagram Direct. If Vine ends up more tightly integrated with Twitter in the future, or if it morphs into Twitter’s answer to Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, this short video messaging functionality would be well complemented by an audio messaging feature. Perhaps it was with this in mind, rather than trying to take on Spotify in music-streaming alone, that Twitter sniffed around SoundCloud.
If that was the case, then it’s probably best that it didn’t work out. Seven-year-old SoundCloud is a fully-fledged platform rather than a feature — it would be a shame to see it lose what makes it special today, and Twitter can probably find other ways to achieve its aims. But, since we’re stranded in the realms of speculation for now, the hint of a takeover may just be enough to give us a better steer as to where it is Twitter itself is trying to go.