Faster, better-looking, and with an indispensable set of new features, the next version of SoundCloud's web app debuted online Wednesday at 10 a.m. PST to 10,000 invited beta testers. Phased rollouts to the community will occur over the coming months. (Preview the new site and sign up for the beta waitlist here).
After using the service for a few hours, it's clear SoundCloud's engineers have returned the site to the cutting edge of the social web.
Many new features make the existing SoundCloud web app look dangerously dated. The new "continuous play" feature liberates users to explore SoundCloud without fear of interrupting the song playing. SoundCloud now offers "sets," giving users the ability to organize their sounds. Users can also "share" others' sounds in their stream, and receive real-time notifications on comments and likes.
Taking cues from Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, all are near-mandatory features in a social app. "We get inspired by them," said Eric Wahlforss, SoundCloud founder and CTO. "We integrate with them. We share a lot of ideas."
SoundCloud held a public announcement at their San Francisco offices Wednesday, headed by SoundCloud's Wahlforss and co-founder/CEO Alexander Ljung, who flew in from their Berlin headquarters for the event. About 20 members of the media showed up, with many others watching online. Ljung and Wahlforss spoke briefly, demonstrated the updated web app and took a few questions.
Vice president of platforms Henrik Lenberg said SoundCloud chose to host the event in their seven-month-old San Francisco offices instead of Berlin for time-zone differences and to be "close to a lot of the technology community in San Francisco. It emphasizes that we are here now and taking our presence here very seriously."
Growing at a reported 1.5 million users per month, SoundCloud enables its 15 million users to quickly and easily record and share audio for free from their computers, but more importantly, from many millions of iOS and Android devices in the wild. Used by musicians as well as journalists, record companies, radio stations and music software makers like GarageBand and ProTools, the open architecture of the SoundCloud API is making the service part of the core infrastructure of the social internet.
An update of their browser-based app, in retrospect, now seems long overdue. SoundCloud has already updated their mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and Android to HTML5. According to Lenberg, the web app has joined the mobile apps, fully taking advantage of HTML5. The web app's cosmetic changes more closely align the web app to the mobile apps, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. Engineers replaced the web app's giant Ruby on Rails architecture with more modular, nimble client-side JavScript, Lenberg said. It gives SoundCloud engineers the ability to iterate design changes much faster than before. "It's so much quicker," he said.
"We're releasing this uncomfortably early," said Ljung. "We've re-written every single line of code for the Soundcloud app."
"Please use it. Break it. Twist it. Push it. Mess around with it -- and the feedback bar is always easily accessible," Ljung said.
The Next SoundCloud lays the foundations for bigger changes to come, Lenberg said. SoundCloud will have more announcements in the coming weeks.
The company has recently launched "email unlock" for bands who want to grow their mailing lists by offering free music. SoundCloud has also been working on a social sharing back-end that any music app-maker like Korg or Retronym can bolt onto their app. The world of music apps on tablets is exploding, Lenberg noted.