bird and a birdhouse
PHOTO: Erin Minuskin | unsplash

Twitter announced in March that it would make Spaces, its live audio social service, available to all users in April. Spaces, following the success of audio social media newcomer Clubhouse, is expected to not only reinvigorate the platform but to also herald an era of live audio social media.

What Is Twitter Spaces?

Spaces are live audio chatrooms in which Twitter users host a variety of conversation topics, from tech to popular culture. Hosts can decide who to invite — choosing from anyone on Twitter, followers of the host, or through a DM invite. Invited Twitter users join a Space by clicking the Space icon at the top of the app timeline. Each Space allows up to 11 people to speak at a given time or one when the host gives the mic or a listener request the mic. Listeners can also view captions of the speakers, while Hosts can also report or block people to prevent harassment issues (Listeners can also report a Space if it violates Twitter Rules).

I joined my first Space chat, thanks to an invite from developer Angie Jones (@techgirl1908) and software engineer Laurie Bart (@LaurieonTech). The audio was very clear, letting me enjoy the voices of the speakers — people I've followed on Twitter for a long time but have never met in person — as if I was really in the room. The live audio experience made me realize the benefit Spaces and Clubhouse offer — a personalized blend of conference, podcasting and meeting that connects people based on shared in-the-moment commentary — an exchange that is hard to replicate cleanly in a chain of blogpost replies or a Tweet thread.

example of a Twitter Spaces in progress

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Twitter Spaces vs. Clubhouse

Twitter Spaces is available on both iOS and Android smartphones, giving it an adoptability advantage. Moreover, Twitter users will soon be able to participate on Spaces through a desktop or laptop computer. The wider rollout of Twitter Spaces may help Twitter establish audio social communities with broader participation, again giving it a leg up on the still more limited Clubhouse.  

The Clubhouse app is only available on iOS, although an Android version of the app is forthcoming. Joining Clubhouse is an “invite only” process — you need to know someone with the app to get into a Clubhouse room. So although limited in availability, the speakeasy, exclusive atmosphere has bolstered the app's appeal. 

Twitter has a second significant advantage: its amalgamation of social cultures and subcultures. Twitter has been a reliable news and marketing platform for many industries, from hashtag-based gatherings, such as #Bizapalooza, a bi-weekly marketing Twitterchat, to complementary streams of live event updates and breaking news. The informal establishment of cultural groups such as Black Twitter has revolutionized how intersectional culture issues can be displayed to inform marketing brands.

But commentary from Twitter discussions are subject to an algorithmic timeline, with visibility influenced by people who share and comment. That environment can make some conversations feel too limited, creating a self-reinforcing dialogue among users that dulls creativity, confuses, or worse, enables disinformation campaigns and trolling behavior. Spreading misinformation has been an Achilles’ heel for Twitter — and social media overall. Twitter has taken measures to remove agents of disinformation, conspiracy theories, and bullying from its feed so that people can connect safely.

In contrast live audio chatrooms allows people to virtually meet and speak with more organic algorithm-free communication. People can hear the tone and intention of a comment in real-time rather than interpreting the intention behind a post.

Clubhouse hasn't yet been overly-burdened with the negative coverage that other social media platforms have received. Yet a few issues have been noted. Moderation to prevent harassment is one concern. Wired reported how a hosted Clubhouse extended the online harassment of a New York Times journalist. Meanwhile privacy experts have been critical of the type of personal data being included with Clubhouse registrations.

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What the Audio Social Market Will Soon Become

If Spaces and other audio chats become popular, Clubhouse will be challenged to maintain its popularity. Just like the fate of Periscope with livestream video, platforms are easily duplicating programmatic features from each other. Holding an advantage in a pandemic-influenced 2021 will be short-lived compared to the days of 2011, when people were more carefree with their online behavior and programming sophistication was limited. 

Platforms see audio social as a new opportunity. Discord introduced a live audio chatroom service called Stage Channels, while LinkedIn and Facebook both have audio social chatrooms under development. The appearance of Clubhouse competitors reflects the rapid growth of audio social media. A Nielsen report found audience penetration of streaming audio on smartphone has jumped, from 50% in the first quarter of 2019 to 64% in the first quarter of 2020. 

Twitter has the best chance among the Clubhouse competitors in part because of its current push for new services that followers can use. SuperFollows, a direct payment service that allows users to charge to view special tweet content, offers Twitter users a means to sell subscription services, books, how-to videos and other media. These features can be combined to entice people with a consolidated platform that favors Spaces over Clubhouse for their own business. On April 5, Clubhouse announced Payments, a beta monetization feature that allows anyone on Clubhouse to send payments, although currently only a select few can receive them.

As remote work continues through 2021, platforms promoting audio social have the potential to upsell other subscription-level services to screen-weary audiences, a major step away from advertising-based models. Twitter Spaces will likely bring a variety of creative value to the people who have made Twitter an essential part of their marketing strategy.