Facebook has created a library of sound bites that are pretty fun to snack on.
In July, the social media company introduced “soundmojis”: A menu of emoji in Facebook’s chat application Messenger that each have an associated sound effect. When you send a soundmoji, the person who receives it taps on the emoji to hear the sound (soundmojis will only play when tapped — they have parentheses around them to signify their special audio status). Then, they’ll hear a clip of laughing, farting, or a well placed Cardi B lyric.
“This is kind of hard to stop,” a colleague with whom I was testing out the feature said in our Messenger chat, as we effectively played “now YOU hang up” with soundmojis.
Soundmojis in action.
Facebook’s sound design team is responsible for creating notification sounds, and other user interface audio cues that make Facebook Facebook. For example, they created the pop-ding notification sound that tells you the latest chat you received is in a Facebook message.
But for the last few months, this team has been going out into the world to capture sound, and mixing clips or composing in the studio, all to create seconds-long sounds that would be the perfect sonic pair for popular emoji.
“The way that all of our senses work together brings about more powerful moments,” Will Littlejohn, Facebook’s director of sound design, said. “Emojis are these encapsulated visual pieces of emotion. If you supersize those with a little bit of sound, you can really make them more expressive.”
To get to soundmojis, you have to enable audio access for Facebook Messenger. Then, you tap on the smiley face icon in the new message box, navigate to the tab with a speaker on it, and you can view, play, select, and send soundmojis from the library. As of this writing, there are just under 30, but Facebook will continue adding to the library in the future.
If you’re questioning why anyone would want to complicate the simplest, most effective medium of communication the digital age has to offer, you’re not alone. Jeremy Burge, the editor of Emojipedia, brought up over email with Mashable that one of the boons of emoji are that they are both expressive and silent. If you want a bigger range of emotion, why wouldn’t you just use a gif? Still, Burge is keeping an open mind.
“I can’t think of a scenario when I [would] want my emojis to have sounds, but far be it from me to speak for everyone!” Burge said via email.
Another limiting factor is that soundmojis only exist within Facebook Messenger, not on other platforms. When I asked Littlejohn whether his team hoped Unicode (the creators and arbiters of emoji) would adopt soundmojis, he said “I think everybody on the individual level would love to be, you know, forever encoded in the collective unconscious out there. But I don’t think we ever really considered that.”
Skepticism for the concept and platform constraints aside, when you actually start using soundmojis, they are just what they ought to be: Fun. Sending a soundmoji adds a bit more drama and maybe ironic in-your-faceness, where an emoji would serve as just a shorthand default.
The soundmojis run the gamut from “on the nose,” as Littlejohn put it, to “a bit more abstract.” The crickets soundmoji plays cricket sounds; the ROFL emoji sends the sound of a laughing crowd. But there is also a violin emoji that plays a momentarily heart-wrenching string ditty. Playing the ghost soundmoji gets you a spooky laugh accompanied by a creaking door. Also, there’s a goat soundmoji. It makes a goat sound.
One sound designer land[ed] on the perfect fart sound by blowing a raspberry on her arm
All of the sounds are original — that is, none come from a standard sounds library, like the kind a DJ or video editor would use to add effects into their mixes. Instead, Littlejohn and his team captured sounds in the world, composed original tunes, and mixed the seconds to capture the perfect expression they were looking for. That resulted in one sound designer landing on the perfect fart sound (“Actually, it’s a ‘toot,'” says Littlejohn), by blowing a raspberry on her arm. And it required bribing some surly goats with food into bleating. The goat soundmoji was created in honor of Mark Zuckerberg, who has two pet goats (and famously served a goat he killed himself from his personal livestock stash to Jack Dorsey).
“I’m pretty sure that Mark wasn’t part of the approval process,” Littlejohn said. “But he liked it when he heard it.”
Zuckerberg actually shared the soundmoji news on his Facebook page, and even called out the sound team in a comment, saying “Our sound design team traveled and spent a day on an organic farm with goats to deliver this experience for all of you.”
Many of the soundmojis are actually music, TV, and movie clips that tap into meme culture. Clicking the COOL soundmoji gets you the iconic clip of Jake Peralta from Brooklyn 99 saying — you guessed it — “cool cool cool cool cool cool cool” with his familiar nervous charm. Press the hourglass, and Drake will remind you “that’s the motto, f*cking YOLO.” The pot of stew emoji results in Cardi B rapping “macaroni in a POT” and… that’s it. I genuinely laughed out loud the first time I heard that. Something about the clipped non-sequitur of it. And then I couldn’t stop using the pot soundmoji, for no reason whatsoever.
While “macaroni in a POT” should never, ever change, it’s possible that the emoji might get assigned new sounds as cultural touchpoints come and go. A soundmoji is not forever.
Pop culture clips are a fun application of soundmojis, but they also could have the potential for Facebook’s favorite feature: monetization. Right now, the car soundmoji comes with a clip of Vin Diesel’s dialogue as Dom Toretto from the Fast and the Furious franchise. Might Facebook partner with studios or labels to create custom soundmojis to promote new releases?
Facebook says it doesn’t currently have plans to monetize soundmojis. Promoting a brand new media property doesn’t quite fit for soundmojis, either, says Facebook, because it wants the clips to be recognizable. However, Facebook says it might work with studios to promote a new film in, say, a franchise, by using an already viral or known sound clip from a movie (See: the ever-quotable Dom).
It’s also easy to see how soundmojis could expand. Facebook has been merging Messenger with Instagram DMs, both in the technical infrastructure, and by enabling cross-platform messaging — so if enough people use soundmojis, perhaps they could get expanded to Messenger’s younger, hipper sibling. However, Facebook did not provide Mashable with any usage statistics of soundmojis for their first month of existence.
Additionally, similar to customizable Bitmoji/Memoji/Whatever all the different platforms are calling animated avatars these days, I could also see how it would be fun for users to create their own soundmojis, whether using their own voices or through their own meme clip pairings. Facebook says this isn’t in its current plans, but isn’t out of the realm of possibilities in the future.
Playfulness is a characteristic that’s been missing from Facebook and Instagram for a while. All the articles and life milestones people share — so serious! It’s fun to see the social media giant invest in a multimedia, experimental form of play, even when it has a lot of other stuff to focus on. That’s a corporate contradiction to which I can only say: COOL cool cool cool cool cool cool.