Last year, Facebook added a new button for posting your “feelings” in a status update. You could type in your anguish, ecstasy, or apathy and see the corresponding emoji appear. You could also add “activities” like watching Men In Black, listening to a hot Pitbull track, or eating a cannoli. Facebook has seen 5 billion statuses of this kind created since the feature launched, and today, the company is taking status creation a step further by doing away with typing altogether.
Facebook automatically recognizes the song you’re listening to and adds it to your status
The latest version of Facebook for iOS and Android automatically recognizes the song you’re listening to or TV show you’re watching and adds it to your status. The Shazam-like feature is called “audio recognition,” and starts listening as soon as you start typing a new status. There’s no need to tap “Listening To” or “Watching” in the status-creation screen. You can opt in to the feature for the first time by tapping a new button inside the status window. When there’s a match, a badge pops up over Facebook’s feelings button, a small smiley face. The hope is that there will be a match by the time you’re done writing a status. In my brief tests of the new service, audio recognition found matches to a few songs, movies, and TV shows in less than five seconds.
This is about on par with popular audio-tagging apps like Shazam and Soundhound, but it remains to be seen how well Facebook’s version responds to background noise, bad cell service, and hundreds of channels and millions of songs around the world. Facebook’s implementation, in fact, only works in the US for now, can recognize only 160 TV channels, struggles to recognize music in commercials (which are a big part of Shazam’s business), and only recognizes a few million songs so far. In most cases Shazam works seamlessly, an important part of the company’s secret sauce, but Facebook isn’t exactly competing with Shazam here. Facebook’s audio recognition is designed not to help you figure out what’s playing, but to make it as easy as possible to update your friends about what you’re listening to or watching.
Worth noting is that Facebook created the complex technology required for audio recognition in-house. The feature was built by a small team over the course of a year, says product manager Aryeh Selekman. Shazam, on the other hand, employs a few hundred people, according to LinkedIn, and has spent years refining its own audio tech. Facebook wouldn’t comment on back-end partners, or if it had brought in external contractors to help with the feature, but said that a few current employees already had experience dealing with audio.
The underlying goal for the new feature is seemingly to draw attention to the Facebook pages of TV shows and movies. When Facebook recognizes a TV show or movie being played in the background, a link to the corresponding page will be added to your status. When Facebook recognizes a song, Spotify, Rdio, and Deezer previews show up based on which music app you’ve most recently used. The feature also lays the foundations for a future filled with “second screen” activities (and perhaps ads) on Facebook. The site is one of the most popular destinations for talking about TV while you’re watching, and could serve tiny ads (for a companion app, perhaps) whenever you tag a show.
Audio recognition will be useful for the millions of Facebook users who post their latest jams and binge TV-watching sessions in status updates, but it could also incite fear and skepticism in some. “Facebook knows where I am, who I’m in a relationship with, and where I live — and now Facebook can hear what I’m doing?” some might say. So, Facebook has attempted to make it as clear as possible how the feature works. “We can’t identify background noise and conversation,” the app says before letting you turn on the feature. “Sounds are only used to find a match and are never stored.” To be clear, the app is only listening while you’re writing a status.
Facebook says that the feature will roll out gradually to US users on iOS and Android over the coming weeks. Perhaps next, the company will start recognizing photos of food, drinks, and other things. Then you won’t even have to stop eating to tag your cannoli.