Give us your best Taylor Swift impersonation. In 15 seconds.
Could you honestly say it is as impressive as Justin Bieber’s?
And he only needed 6 seconds.
This is the lip-sync karaoke world of Musical.ly, a 100-million strong population of mostly (very) young “musers” walking in their heroes’ shows for 15 to 60 seconds at a time.
Since the app launched in 2014 it has topped the download charts and created a following to rival Snapchat–and it intends on sticking around a lot longer than Vine managed to.
Toward that end, the producers of Musical.ly have rolled out several apps to expand its functionality into a fully realized social network. It has a video messaging app called Ping Pong, a live streaming video app called Live.ly, and now a video calling app called Squad.
But Musical.ly’s new video chat app is more about empire building and audience retention than it is about video communication revolution, and that singular ambition means there’s not a lot of innovation on display.
Musical.ly Builds a Social Network from Scratch
Musical.ly’s developers have been ambitious right from the kick-off. The China-based company began life as a failed education app, before pivoting toward lip-syncing teenage karaoke. It has deliberately targeted American audiences, and has won influence enough through its star musers, such as Baby Ariel, to get the attention of high-profile pop singers like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande.
Red flags have been raised over the age of the average Muser, and rightfully so. While the laws of the land state you have to be at least 13 to share personal information such as a video of yourself, Musical.ly has some young users. Very young.
Tapping into so young a demographic landed YikYak in trouble last year and was at least partly to blame for its demise, so it’s not all smooth sailing for Musical.ly. The developers have, however, been quick to avoid the traps that doomed their user content-dependent predecessors. Their expansion into messaging, live broadcast, and video chat means there’s something else to do online other than watch 15-second clips of strangers (content boredom was a major reason why Vine and Blab recently departed the scene).
When you approach video calling as an insurance policy against audience boredom or defection, however, it’s hard to focus on making the app work as best as possible as a stand-alone entity.
Video Chat App Squad Is Bland
The resulting Squad video calling product is only a few months old (when was the last time you saw an app labeled “version 1.2”?), but it doesn’t bear any of the marks of innovation that have kept its parent on the Top 40 of the download charts for more than a year.
Available only for iOS, and only mobile and iPad at that, it is downloaded, accessed, and populated with contacts the exact way most other video calling apps perform, from Messenger to Viber.
It is well presented, bright, and stylish, but ultimately just another video calling app. It can be linked directly to Ping-Pong, so video messages can be delivered to group video callers, but there’s little other integration that we came across.
All of which is a shame, because a video calling version of Musical.ly should have given the app a real-time connection–a bridge between the one-to-many streamed Live.ly broadcasts and the right here, right now fun of those 15 second lip syncs.
Online Karaoke Duets in a Video Call
For a start, the Duet function on the main Musical.ly site should have been automatically included in the video chat version. As there’s group calling available, users could have staged their own choir, if only a shared stream were available to pump in a track everyone could agree to sing. Going further, if there was a way to capture every chat window simultaneously, musers could post these choir performances as easily as they do their solo routines.
Secondly, Musical.ly proper can incorporate user-created sounds into video posts, making it possible to build unique sonic landscapes. The same sort of record and reuse feature applied within a live setting could let video callers recreate this one-man-band routine Chris Martin has perfected.
And finally, there’s the opportunity for a full band to jam online together. Of course this can already be done by aiming the video calling mics at the instruments of users, but a company as innovative as Musical.ly could have built a better technical bridge to capture those sounds.
However, as we said at the start, Squad seems almost entirely about empire building– about migrating as many Musical.ly users across to other platforms as possible and building a base of millions that can either be sold off to a bigger tech fish, such as the voracious Facebook, or slowly build to a self-sustaining social network of its own.
Ah well, ambition can be blinding.