Today in things that nobody asked for: Facebook is testing the waters with yet another app that copies one of TikTok’s core features. Those keeping track at home might notice this marks the third time this year that Mark Zuckerberg has slyly attempted to rip off the same app he’s been doing all he can to politically undermine.
The latest attempt is an iOS app called Collab, and comes to us courtesy of the company’s New Product Experimentation (NPE) team, which as you might remember, is Facebook’s wing for testing “consumer-focused apps” that aren’t ready for prime time. According to NPE product manager Jason Toff—who teased a few clips of the product in action through a series of Twitter posts—Collab connects instrumentalists, vocalists, and other musician-adjacent peeps, letting them sync their sounds together and create their own unique renditions on the pop hits of today. Yes, it sounds a helluva lot like TikTok’s unique Duets feature, but with a twist: instead of only allowing users to synch up two clips together, Collab allows you to synch up... three.
Technically duetted videos can be duetted again, almost infinitely, on TikTok but you’re missing the point: more panels, more better.
“Alongside new creators, new curators will arise based on their ability to curate the right combo of clips,” Toff wrote. “The world’s sounds are the new piano keys. The process of curating and remixing— neither of which require any musical training— is so fulfilling”
Collab launched as invite-only back in May, but Toff cast the net a little wider on Twitter this weekend, offering the Beta via Apple’s TestFlight program. And even though it’s the last thing I wanted to do, I felt it was my journalistic duty to download the app, make an account, and get my groove on.
The first thing that hits you when you open the app is that it feels almost exactly like TikTok, right down to the curated, “For You.” Only instead of being full of the absolute debauchery of your average TikTok feed, Collab’s clips all mirror the same format: three panels, with three different clips of someone playing an instrument—or singing along—to the beat of a given song.
While there aren’t too many clips just yet (the app’s in beta, after all), the few currently populating the app’s feed are... interesting. The first that greeted me had one panel housing a grown man singing an off-key rendition of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September,” while the two panels below showed the exact same guy playing piano and shaking maracas in time to the song.
Then there was my personal favorite: a rendition of “Conversations in the Dark” by John Legend which featured a keyboardist and guitarist accompanying a very happy dachshund puppy chewing on what’s presumably a treat while his mom sings the lyrics somewhere offscreen.
Folks can “curate” these performances by swapping out each panel for a different piece of vocals or music that someone submitted to the app for this particular song. For the John Legend piece above, that meant I was able to cycle through other guitarists, keyboardists, and an errant trombonist that submitted their work to the app. I was also given the option to swap out the lil pup with an array of legitimately impressive vocalists and harmonists doing their own rendition of the tune.
Sure, it’s an interesting concept (with its fare share of very good dogs), but it’s also the third recent attempt we’ve seen on Facebook’s part to copy one of its major competitors, albeit through a shitty, candy colored product. First, there was Lasso, which the company quietly retired this past summer after less than two years floating around the app stores. Then there was Reels, which was pitched as a new way to format quick, snappy, dare I say TikTok-esque videos directly within the Instagram app. This, too, was widely regarded as a flop. But who knows—maybe Collab will prove the third time’s a charm.