The pandemic put an end to social gatherings and impromptu chatter. Starved of conversation, be it casual, purpose-driven, intellectual, business-oriented or even inane, an increasing number of people are now taking to social audio apps like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces to talk to their heart’s content
In May, social audio app Clubhouse launched on Android in India and 28-year-old Ranveer Allahbadia is already a die-hard fan. The app offers him the chance to do what he and many others like him have missed the most amid the pandemic—have freewheeling conversations. The Mumbai-based YouTuber and podcaster hosts sessions on horror stories, love, football and crypto currencies on the app. “I can put my raw thoughts in front of the world and have quality discourse around any topic that fascinates me. Clubhouse has become my go-to platform as I enjoy speaking and having conversations with people about absolutely anything under the sun. The future of audio in India is finally here,” says Allahbadia, who has 1.5 million followers on Instagram, 2.55 million subscribers on YouTube, and hosts an exclusive podcast The Ranveer Show on Spotify.
The popularity of Clubhouse in less than a year of its launch since March 2020 is notable. In January this year, CEO Paul Davison revealed that the app had grown to two million weekly active users globally. Since its Android launch in May, Clubhouse has added more than 10 million users globally, as per the founders. Not just Clubhouse, other voice chat apps like Twitter Spaces are also gaining traction and becoming popular. And it’s easy to see why. Starved of conversations—be it casual, purpose-driven, intellectual, business-oriented or even inane—people have been craving to indulge in chitter-chatter and express what’s on their minds without any filter. And it’s here that apps like Clubhouse are helping, letting users not just talk, but also relax, laugh, sing, meditate, entertain and socialise. One can converse with anyone and about anything under the sun.
“It is human nature to talk,” says Mumbai-based actor and motivational speaker Ashish Vidyarthi, who hosts chat rooms on Clubhouse like What does the word New mean to you, What do you do while you are waiting, etc. “Even if it’s an inane discussion on the trivial things of life, you can’t have control on the freedom of expression… Maybe this is how people like to while away time now. Apps like Clubhouse are meant for an active exchange of ideas,” says Vidyarthi, who believes that such platforms help release one’s thoughts and unwind. “You can never stop people from doing anything that gives relief. If spending free time in earlier days meant watching TV, today there is social media.” he adds.
Growing in popularity
Launched as an invite-only platform, Clubhouse is now an open forum for candid, academic or professional conversations. The virtual drawing room allows one to speak, listen, discuss or reflect on any topic. You can join or start any chat room on any topic that interests you. From hilarious spoof rooms to rigorous discussions on politics, cinema, life, startups, business, etc, there is something for everyone. There are breakup stories, karaoke nights, meditation rooms and what not. There have even been sessions titled Modiji, stop jabbering, start jabbing, What happens at 9 am in London, What are you doing every day, Celebrating Mangalvaar and so on. Most importantly, Clubhouse crosses geographic and socio-economic barriers. Of course, club rules apply like no hate speech or bullying, agreeing to disagree respectfully, being a good listener, respecting the moderator’s wishes, always keeping your mic on mute when others are speaking, etc.
In June, Clubhouse launched a unique Creator First Program for the Indian audience. Under this, creators on the app can avail help with production and creative development, in promoting shows, getting financial support from brands, etc.
Other platforms are not far behind either. In April this year, Facebook launched an experimental online forum in the US called Hotline (best described as a mashup of Instagram Live and Clubhouse) to keep up with the live audio trend. In June, it launched podcasts and live audio streams in the US to keep users engaged on its platform and to compete with emerging rivals.
Many other virtual platforms have embraced the new format. Houseparty is a video chat app, which allows online friends to call and join any open-group conversation. Discord is another audio- and text-based chat platform. As per reports, it might be eyeing an IPO in the future.
Some apps are innovating further. Targeted at young adults aged 13 to 25 years, Yubo is a French social networking app where users can create video livestreams with up to 10 friends. Poparazzi is a photo-sharing app, which doesn’t allow users to add pictures to their own profiles. Instead, they can add to their friends’ profiles by uploading photos of them. Honk is a live-texting app. Messages aren’t saved and friends can only see your messages in real time as you type them. BeReal, which has taken off in France, asks users to post a photo of themselves once a day, using both the selfie camera and the outward-facing camera of the phone.
Similarly, homegrown short-form video content app Chingari has added augmented reality filters on its platform to give content creators more advanced front and rear camera tools to work with. “Chingari has made user-generated content entertaining to watch. It has a good recommendation algorithm that shows more of what you like to watch and wish to watch. The feed enables a user to scan through various micro-video content per minute, extracting information in an efficient way from an online video. One can be hooked for over 70 minutes on the bite-sized content, including a mix of trick shots, celeb chatter, lip sync and dance moves in the Chingari app,” says Bengaluru-based Sumit Ghosh, co-founder and CEO, Chingari.
Then there is Twitter Spaces. In the past one year, Twitter has hosted many live audio conversations with Spaces, which is globally open to those with 600 or more followers. In India, though, anyone can host or tune into a ‘Space’ on Android and iOS. Spaces has brought together people who share a common interest and witnessed rich discussions on music, cinema, food, pop culture and more. June, in fact, saw the most activity globally. In India alone, the month saw more than 17,000 listeners attending an event for the Tamil film Jagame Thandhiram, with Tamil folk singer Anthony Daasan, composer Santhosh Narayanan and actor Dhanush sharing their experiences of working in the film. Musician AR Rahman, too, hosted a talk (#99Songs) about his directorial debut. That’s not all. Musician Armaan Malik and K-pop sensation Eric Nam hosted #WeMetOnTwitter, sharing the story of their friendship, which led to their song Echo.
In June, Twitter also announced that it’s working on a way for hosts to be rewarded for the experiences they create. The platform will roll out beta programmes called Ticketed Spaces, where hosts can earn up to 80% of the revenue on ticket sales. This month, Spaces added another feature which can add two co-hosts to a conversation (they can be added via invite only).
All this clearly points to the fact that short video and audio apps are here to stay. “Content on such apps is like movies catering to different sections of society. Different apps cater to different kinds of content. It’s not one-size-fits-all. YouTube has heavy user-generated content and so does Instagram. However, people like to consume all forms as per their choice, and the short format makes them popular,” says Shahir Muneer, founder and director, Divo, a digital media and music company based in Bengaluru.
Variety of purposes
Different people use social media apps for different reasons. While some turn to them to socialise or converse, others use them as an outlet for pent-up creativity or to beat loneliness and boredom. Some use them to translate thoughts and emotions into words and discuss important issues, others can go up to 30 exchanges just to prove their point. Celebrities, politicians and socialites use social media as a medium to stay relevant, connect with fans and share updates about themselves.
Online apps serve a variety of purposes and their use or misuse depends on the individual. If some like to unwind and digress from routine work, many use them for business purposes or collaborations, or even to get fame. These spaces also make content trend. Take, for instance, a viral hack shared by London-based influencer Shapla Hoque in June this year on TikTok. With over 1.4 million likes, it says drinking lettuce water can help you beat insomnia.
Before that, in May, the word ‘cheugy’ gained traction on the platform, with a million-and-a-half views for videos tagged with the word. An American internet neologism coined in 2013 and popularised by Gen Z, ‘cheugy’ means something that’s off-trend. It is used as a derogatory term to describe lifestyle trends associated with early 2010s and millennials. “Most people look for those three seconds of fame and social media helps you achieve that. You need not be very well-known, but once you generate relatable content, you find many takers. There is somebody to listen or watch on the other side,” says Vidyarthi, who is the founder of Avid Miner, a company he started in 2014 to host curated corporate and leadership workshops, bespoke motivational conversations, executive coaching and human-centric consulting and advisory services for employees and corporates.
Content creators and businesses use platforms like Instagram to generate social interaction or give access to premium information as it helps in better engagement with customers via posts, stories, etc. Mumbai-based actor and model Vedika Mehta finds Instagram very handy and the best mode for business communication. “It helps showcase my talent and capability… and interact with my viewers. It’s a great platform for content creators to gain traction through images, content or real-time stories,” says the 25-year-old.
Hyderabad-based Vijayaraghavan Venugopal, too, finds Instagram useful for business purposes. The co-founder and CEO of Fast&Up, a sports nutrition supplement brand, says they make use of the app to engage with customers via posts, stories, reels and short videos. “I use it for activations and marketing, as you get to know audience demographics and behaviour,” says Venugopal.
Then there are those who use these apps for both business and leisure. Take, for instance, Kolkata-based Dipshikha Ghosh. The critical care doctor consults Covid-19 patients on Twitter. She hosts Twitter Spaces along with a community of doctors, where they talk about Covid. But that’s not the only thing she uses Spaces for. Ghosh also engages in other topics of interest like standup comedy, psychology, books, Harry Potter and more. “Audio apps are an excellent way to express yourself if you can’t do so in words. I take out time from my Covid-care schedule to talk about something different, as most of my conversations end up being on medicine. It helps me unwind, talking on a topic of interest that’s beyond medicine,” says the 32-year-old, who works at Apollo Hospital in Kolkata.
On Spaces, one can interact with upto 13 people. However, anyone can join as a listener, including people who don’t follow you, as Spaces are public. Listeners can be directly invited into a Space by DMing them a link to it.
Talking about the pressures and pitfalls of being on social media, Seattle-based Deepa Narayan, author and former senior adviser at World Bank in Washington, DC, says, “It is like becoming a hero of your thoughts,” says Narayan, who chose podcast as the medium to start a conversation on masculinity in India. The 68-year-old—who has written the book, Chup: Breaking The Silence About India’s Women—hosts the podcast What’s a Man? Masculinity in India, which is available on iOS, Gaana.com and other platforms. “Today, anyone can start a podcast or open a social media account, and share an opinion. Social media is very anti-authority,” she adds.
Actor Swara Bhasker, too, tweeted in June: “…The seduction to say something clever, witty or funny is real. Sometimes it makes us say insensitive shit. Happens to the best of us. Let’s be wary of our own lower self… There is nothing in the world which is an unadulterated fact… It depends on us how and what we create or generate as content…”
Bhasker is right. The pressure to make an impression on social media is immense. And this, experts say, can affect an individual’s development cognitively, as well as socially, adding to issues in overall psychological well-being. In trying to keep up with the fast pace of socially acceptable norms, many users even change their natural behaviour on social media. “This change can take a toll on one’s mental health. For digital content creators, keeping up with trends in the industry is a task. When not able to meet the standards of the industry, they develop anxiety or self-esteem issues. This is a reason many young content creators are facing burnout and breaking down,” says Sandeep Vohra, senior consultant, mental health and psychiatry, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi.
Besides, there have been times platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been used to spread fake news as well. Naturally, many doubt social media’s credibility. What’s important, experts say, is to find a reliable source. “Twitter helped fetch real-time information during the pandemic’s second wave with news of hospital beds, oxygen supplies. However, it’s important to know the source and then take action,” says Kolkata-based Dipshikha Ghosh.
There are also the issues of hate speech, harassment and toxicity. Clubhouse, for one, has often been criticised for alleged harassment and hate speech in its rooms. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation, too, is a frequent target of criticism, with memes, satires, comments and hashtags. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were, in fact, asked to block around 100 critical social media posts in the country in April. This coincided with a temporary ban of the Facebook hashtag #ResignModi. Supporters of the farmers’ protests on social media, too, faced the heat earlier this year. Most recently, in June, unnamed law enforcement agencies asked Twitter to take down certain tweets of popular cartoonist Manjul, Mohammed Zubair (co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News) and others over alleged violations of law. This month onwards, Twitter will comply with the IT Rules, 2021, after the site appointed a full-time chief compliance officer-cum-resident grievance officer and a nodal contact officer.
Interestingly, in June, India signed a joint statement by G7 countries on “open societies” that reaffirm and encourage the values of “freedom of expression, both online and offline, as a freedom that safeguards democracy and helps people live free from fear and oppression”. The statement refers to “politically motivated internet shutdowns” as one of the threats to freedom and democracy.
An open forum for candid, academic or professional conversations
Platform for live audio conversations; anyone can host or tune into a ‘Space’
A video chat app, it allows online friends to call and join any open-group conversation
Audio- and text-based chat platform
A French social networking app where users can create video livestreams with up to
10 friends; available for download in India
A photo-sharing network where users add photos to their friends’ profiles instead of their
own; currently only available on iOS
A live-texting app,
where messages aren’t saved; currently only available on iOS
A homegrown short-form video content app
It is human nature to talk. Apps like Clubhouse are meant for an active exchange of ideas — Ashish Vidyarthi, Mumbai-based actor and motivational speaker
Content on such apps is like movies catering to different sections of society — Shahir Muneer, founder and director, Divo, a digital media and music company
Today, anyone can start a podcast… share an opinion. Social media is very anti-authority — Seattle-based Deepa Narayan, host of podcast What’s a Man? Masculinity in India
I can have quality discourse around any topic that fascinates me. The future of audio in India is finally here — Ranveer Allahbadia, Mumbai-based YouTuber and podcaster