The future of social networks might be audio

“I don’t plan to open the app again,” Lorenz told Wired. “I don’t want to support any network that doesn’t take user security seriously.” It was not a one time experience, and since then darker elemental elements have emerged. The behavior that disfigures every other social platform also seems to lurk under the cool and exclusive veneer of Clubhouse.

In the meantime, the gaming chat app Discord has gone viral. The service uses Voice over-IP software to translate spoken chat into text (an idea that came from video game buffs who found typing while playing impossible). In June, to take advantage of people’s need to connect during the pandemic, Discord announced a new slogan – “Your Place to Talk” – and began trying to make the service seem less focused on players. The marketing push seems to have worked: By October, Discord put the number of users at 6.7 million — up from 1.4 million in February, just before the pandemic.

But while Discord communities, or “servers,” can be as small and innocent as kids organizing sleep away, they have also included the far-right extremists who used the service to organize the Charlottesville white supremacist rally and the recent uprising in the U.S. Capitol.

In both Discord and Clubhouse, group culture – obsessive players in the case of Discord, very confident venture capitalists in Clubhouse – has led to cases of groupthink that can be explosive at best and fanatical at worst. However, there is an undeniable appeal. Isn’t it great to literally speak and listen? After all, this is the foundational promise of social media: the democratization of sound.

Speak and you will hear

The intimacy of voice makes audio social media more appealing in an age of social distancing and isolation. Jimmy Tilly, CEO of Chekmate, a “text-free” dating app that connects users through voice and video, says he wanted to launch an app that would be “catfish-resistant,” referring to the practice of deceiving others online with a fake appearance.

“We wanted to move away from the anonymity and manipulation that texting allows and instead create a community rooted in authenticity, where users are encouraged to be themselves without judgment,” says Tele. Users of the app start with voice memos that average five seconds and then gradually get longer. And while Chekmate has a video option, Tele says that several thousand users of the app overwhelmingly prefer to use only their voice. “They are seen as less intimidating [than video messages],” He says.

It is this speed and originality that is why Gilles Bobardin created the cappuccino. Wonder why there isn’t a product that bundles voice memos together into one downloadable file. “Everyone has a group chat with friends,” he says. “But what if your friends overheard? This is really powerful.”

Mohan agrees. She says her group of friends switched to Cappuccino from a Facebook Messenger group chat and then tried Zoom calls early in the pandemic. But the discussions will inevitably turn into a snapshot of major events. “There was no time for details,” she said wistfully. The daily “pill” cappuccino, as the recordings grouped together are called, let Mohan’s circle of friends keep up to date with the latest updates in a very intimate way. “My only friend is moving to a new apartment in a new city, and she’s just been talking about how she’s going for coffee in her kitchen,” she says. “This is something I would never know on a Zoom call, because it’s so small.”

Even the old social media companies are getting in on the action. in summer 2020 Twitter launched audio tweets, allowing users to include their voices directly in their timeline. And in December, It launched a feature called Spaces in beta for live host-managed voice chats between two or more people.

“We were interested in whether audio could add an extra layer of connectivity to the overall conversation,” says Remy Burgoyne, senior software engineer on the Spaces and Twitter audio team.

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