The Race to the Audio-Only Space
April 14, 2021
We’ve all been there. Scrolling through social media for hours, only to realize that 2:00pm is now 2:45pm. The latest trend in social media, however, may actually get you to look up from your screen. That’s because “audio rooms” are on the rise. Here’s what we know so far.
Audio versus Video
– Zoom fatigue: The audio boom can be understood as a counter-trend to video — we now know that a video-heavy lifestyle results in a certain amount of exhaustion, and audiences appreciate an opportunity to engage without the pressure of video.
– Dearth of nuance: The growing popularity of audio-only format might also be a result of a growing appetite for nuanced conversations online.
– Podcast overflow: The enduring popularity of podcasts certainly leaves room for experimenting with form — audio-only live conversations merges live podcasting with radio.
While audio-social rooms have come and gone in the past, Clubhouse rose to popularity last April, gaining momentum as the global pandemic caused people to stay home. While still invite-only and only available on iOS, Clubhouse lets people (and A-list celebrities) chat in real-time to share stories, collaborate, listen, and discuss topics across art, culture, music, business, sports, you name it. All social connection is through talk only, so you don’t even have to be looking at your phone in order to participate in a conversation.
Coming up on one year of its availability, Clubhouse has 13 million downloads, with almost one-third of them being from the U.S. However, downloads are beginning to slow, and we’re seeing some competition pop up from other social powerhouses.
Twitter’s answer to Clubhouse? Twitter Spaces, Twitter’s version of audio-only rooms. And Twitter is working faster on Spaces than it has on pretty much all of its functionalities of the past.
Spaces will officially roll out to all users this month, and will be integrated with Twitter Fleets, Twitter’s take on yet another feature popularized elsewhere: Instagram Stories, itself a version of Snapchat snaps. There are a number of Spaces features, however, that set them apart from Clubhouse — the first being that they’re more accessible. Twitter Spaces allow for closed captioning, and Twitter has said it plans on continuing to improve Spaces accessibility and eventually will release accessibility for screen readers.
Spaces will also have some integration with Android phones and on desktop, which Clubhouse currently does not. Those with Androids can listen in on an active Space, and Twitter is rumored to be working on an update that will allow those with Androids to actually start their own Space in a future release. Twitter is also looking to add an option that would enable users to record and save their Spaces, which Clubhouse does not currently allow. Twitter also benefits from its already established user base, so may have the upper hand in getting conversations to take place on a platform people are already using.
LinkedIn, Discord, Facebook
Now when we first entered a Clubhouse room, we said to ourselves among all the networking we witnessed, “this kind of feels like audio LinkedIn.” Well, LinkedIn is also working on developing audio rooms, though they’re still in the early stages of testing.
Discord, a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system that uses a combination of video, voice, and text to allow users to communicate over the web, primarily used for communication while gaming, also just released its version of audio-only rooms, called “stage channels.”
Finally, Facebook is also working on its own version of Clubhouse. Last year, Facebook released video-only rooms, so the audio-only version shouldn’t be that far off from its current functionalities.
Brands are beginning to participate and have a voice in Clubhouse conversations. Restaurant Brands International (RBI), which oversees Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Hortons, gathered its C-Suite executives in a Clubhouse room to discuss the company’s post-earnings call. The Kool-Aid Man has his own profile on Clubhouse, and for Valentine’s Day, Slice partnered with Clubhouse room moderators “nyu girls roasting tech guys” to send free pizzas to those who didn’t have dates. Moving forward, we’d expect to see some sort of paid advertising opportunities for brands, as we see on other platforms.
Only time will tell if one of these platforms rises to the top. It’s possible, however, they’ll all have a place in the sandbox. Take stories, for example, where multiple platforms have adapted them as an essential feature of their platforms. For now, if we had to choose one frontrunner, we’d lean towards Twitter Spaces for a few reasons. The first being Twitter will be able to tap into its already existing massive user base of 193 million iOS, Android, and desktop users, whereas Clubhouse is still building its network, and only available on iOS. Twitter users also already follow top influencers for bite-sized takeaways, so it’s likely they’d be willing to tune in to an on-platform audio discussion those influencers are a part of. Twitter is also a platform known for timely discussions, giving it a slight edge over Facebook. We’re looking forward to seeing Spaces rollout to us this month, and see which rumored features, which could give them an edge over Clubhouse, have come to fruition.