Editorial: The Competition for Social Audio Is Getting Interesting

Twitter versus Clubhouse: who will win the battle for social audio?

I’ve written twice this week about Clubhouse (here and here), and I remain endlessly fascinated about social audio apps in general, and the two leading apps, Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse, in particular. It would appear that the competition between Twitter and Clubhouse is beginning to heat up, with Twitter working aggressively to add users and features while Clubhouse seems to be experiencing some growing pains. While Clubhouse has the early lead, Twitter is making slow but steady progress, particularly in support for Android users.

Late this afternoon, I listened to a Twitter Spaces room where the future of Twitter was discussed at length, and it is clear that the new push is towards attracting content creators and providing ways to effectively monetize the platform for them. Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour tweeted today about just how far Twitter Spaces has come in only four months:

Anyone of Twitter with more than 600 followers can now host their own Twitter Spaces room, which anybody on Twitter can listen to and join in, without any limit on how many people can be in the room (Clubhouse rooms are capped at 5,000 people). Also, Twtter Spaces supports both iOS and Android devices, although Clubhouse is expected to roll out Android support sometime in the next month.

Also, Clubhouse does not have a direct message ability, relying instead on people putting Instagram and Twitter links in their bios so that people can contact each other. Of course, Twitter already has direct messaging built into the platform (although celebrities and other people can choose to turn that feature off).

All this means is that social audio is still anybody’s game to win. While Twitter Spaces is lagging behind Clubhouse in terms of overall features, Twitter has something that Clubhouse does not: a much larger potential audience (192 million users). In other words, once Kayvon and his team work out some of the bugs and add more features, they could potentially have a hit on their hands. And Facebook, with 2.8 billion user accounts and deep pockets full of profits from advertising, has the potential to come in and steamroller over both Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.

(By the way, the Twitter Spaces room I was in crashed abruptly…it would appear that there are still quite a few bugs to iron out!)

Stay tuned; things are about to get really interesting!

Andrew “Boz” Bosworth and John Carmack Have a Discussion About Next-Generation Virtual Reality

When John Carmack and Andrew “Boz” Bosworth have a conversation, people tend to listen. Andrew is vice president in charge of augmented and virtual reality at Facebook, and of course John is the millionaire Chief Technical Officer of Oculus, who is currently working away on an Artificial General Intelligence project.

The two recently held a half-hour conversation on Twitter Spaces (Twitter’s version of the hot new drop-in audio app Clubhouse), which offered a fascinating glimpse into the heads of two key people who are driving Facebook’s move into virtual reality.

Right now [VR is] still largely an early adopters’ toy where a lot of people that have VR already have everything else, and we’re just adding some new spice, but we need to be a displacement device where we need to be something that somebody hard up for money decides “I’m going to buy a VR headset instead of a Chromebook or instead of a tablet.” And we need to do everything that those devices do. You know, we need to have similar app libraries. We need to be just as effective with keyboard and mouse. We need it to be something that you could put on your head and do the work that you need to do during a normal day.

—John Carmack

Anybody who uses what Philip Rosedale has pejoratively called a “marimba keyboard” (i.e. where you use a mallet-like device to awkwardly type on a virtual keyboard), can immediately relate to what John says here. Despite the many technical advances of the past five years, we are still not anywhere near the ease of use that is required for people to actually opt for a VR headset instead of a tablet!

Here’s the whole half-hour discussion, which I can highly recommend:

UPDATED! Comparing Clubhouse with Twitter Spaces: A Chart Comparing the Features of the Two Leading Drop-In Audio Chat Social Apps for Mobile Devices

Clubhouse (photo by Erin Kwon on Unsplash)
Twitter Spaces (source)

I don’t know what lucky star I was born under, but as of very early this morning, Thursday, March 4th, 2021, I am now part of not one but two beta tests of competing drop-in audio chat apps: Clubhouse (which I have been on for a little over a week), and the newer Twitter Spaces, which I was invited to join today, after participating in my first-ever Twitter Spaces group chat that lasted into the wee hours of this morning!

This morning, I tried out my new abilities, setting up Twitter Spaces chatrooms to talk with various people one-on-one, like Michael Zhang, Kent Bye, Will Burns and Andy Fidel. With those chats, and last night’s group chat, under my belt, I now feel confident enough to compile a comparison chart between the two platforms.

Please note that the situation is evolving rapidly (for example, the press have reported that Twitter Spaces works for Android, but in trying to connect with an Android user, she reported that she received a message that it’s not available yet for Android). So this chart will age rapidly, and I will NOT be keeping it up to date; consider it just a current snapshot of the race between the two social audio companies! (And yes, you can bet your bottom dollar that Facebook is feverishly working on a competing drop-in audio chat app to dominate the nascent marketplace*.)

(I apologize for the somewhat messy dimensions of this table; I was unable to find an easy way to make the columns all the same size! I need to brush up on my HTML/CSS.)

Features/DetailsCLUBHOUSETWITTER SPACES
CompanyAlpha Exploration Company, founded in April 2020 by Rohan Seth and Paul Davison, funded by venture capitalist Andreessen HorowitzTwitter, founded by by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams in March 2006
Current Number of Users10 million users (and growing quickly!)Unknown number of users since its private beta launch in late December 2020, mostly iOS (Twitter itself has 330 million users)
Supported Mobile DevicesiOS onlyiOS only; the press has already reported that Android support has just launched, but I have had a least one report of an Android user who could not get in, and one report of someone who could, so…
Current Growth ModelInvite only (You have to have someone text you an invitation)Invite only (Twitter seems to be selecting the longest-standing accounts first)
Number of Rooms You Can CreateAs many as you like (three kinds: open, public/followers only, or closed/invite only)It appears to be just one, reusable room linked to your Twitter profile (you can retitle the room every time you spin it up, though)
Number of Clubs (Recurring Rooms) You Can CreateYou need to ask Clubhouse to set up a club for you, but soon they plan to launch the ability for you to create your own clubs There does not appear to be a regularly-scheduled room or club feature yet (but it’s early days!)
Number of People You Can Invite into a RoomSeems to have no upper limit (the Elon Musk interview room had over 6,000 people)UPDATE: It would appear you can invite as many Twitter users and lists of users as you like (thanks, Navah!). You can also send out a general invitation tweet to your Twitter feed, or generate a special link to post to places like Discord (I tested both and they do indeed work).
EmojisEncouraged in user profiles and searchable, but when you are in a room, and not speaking, you are limited to clicking your microphone button repeatedly (similar to clapping), or changing your user icon and PTR (Pull To Refresh) the screen.Yes (but the selection is limited to only 5 emojis). Of course, you can also use emojis in your Twitter profiles and tweets!
Direct MessagingNo (you must use Instagram or Twitter to send direct messages, although you could create a private room for just the two of you to chat)Yes, built-in from the start
CostThe platform is free to all users and doesn’t yet offer any kind of premium plan or method of charging users, nor is it ad-supported. They plan to monetize by adding ways for users to pay other users, which will provide an opportunity for Clubhouse to take a cut for its services.Free (Twitter makes its money through advertising and data licensing)

And if you want to ping me on either Clubhouse or Twitter, my handle on both is the same: @quiplash. Quiplash is short for “quipster whiplash”, because I am very well known for my snappy comebacks 😉 (and no, I am not named after the Quiplash game). Hit me up if you want to experience Twitter Spaces and perhaps we can schedule a group discussion, and I’d like to extend the same invitation for Clubhouse (if you can get an invite; I might be able to you out there, too, if you join my Patreon).

Feel free to give me a shout! (photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash)

UPDATE 4:13 p.m.: Well, I have been testing out Twitter Spaces with small groups of three to five people; thanks to Navah Berg and my European social VR blogger counterpart Niclas Johansson, and to Thomas for helping me test! (I’m sorry but given the problems I report below, I was unable to add Thomas as a friend, and I didn’t catch his last name.)

Unfortunately, this afternoon, the Twitter Spaces app performed horribly, muting my microphone at one point and forcing me to use the very limited set of 5 emojis to express myself (like some sad mime!), and at another point, slowing down to the point that it took me several painful minutes to search for a username, waiting 5-10 seconds for each and every key press to register, and then, not once but twice in a row, actually crashing me out of the app and causing my iPhone to lock up completely! I haven’t had that happen in a while… So, after four tries, I gave up.

So I would very strongly recommend that you wait a day or two before trying Twitter Spaces, even if you have been invited to participate as a host today. It seems to be buckling under the load, and in my opinion, it’s just not ready for prime time. Very buggy, very beta. (Sorry, Twitter!)

Navah, who says she had been on Spaces for a couple of weeks now and that she prefers Twitter Spaces to Clubhouse, told us that her pervious days’ performance was much better, and she suggested that all these serious problems are happening to us today because Twitter launched Spaces for Android users today, and they are getting hammered with Android device traffic (which makes sense to me).

UPDATE 8:31 p.m.: Well, things are looking up! Navah is hosting a Twitter Space this evening with approximately 55 people present, with only occasional audio issues. One of the features I do quite like about Twitter Spaces is the ability for someone either (host or speaker) to share a tweet with everybody in the room. Somebody posted a copy of my tweet of this blogpost to tonight’s meeting!

UPDATE 8:43 p.m.: Aaaand the room crashed again! Back to the drawing board, Twitter…

*UPDATE March 6th, 2021: Well, surprise, surprise… word has leaked out that Facebook is working on adding audio chat rooms to Instagram:

Here’s a link to the tweet and resulting comment thread if you’re interested.