Clearly drop-in audio apps aren’t going anywhere — Clubhouse has 10+ million weekly active users, and all major social media networks have either released or are working on releasing drop in audio features (in addition to new companies popping up that are audio focused). Everyone is talking about the power of voice.
“What we found during the quarantine is that text messaging just doesn’t give us the emotion and the nuance that the human condition requires, especially during isolation,” Jeremiah Owyang told John Koetsier on the TechFirst podcast. “On the flip side, Zoom calls and video shows are just too taxing on people,” Koetsier writes in “Why Social Audio Blew Up: And Why Clubhouse And Twitter Spaces Will Spawn ‘Thousands Of Apps’”
There is research to back that up, now, too, from multiple perspectives and studies. Following an in-person field experiment, it was confirmed that following a day of virtual meetings, those who kept their cameras on felt more drained. Prior to this study, Jeremy Bailenson theorized similarly.
So with cameras off — using just audio? “You come as you are,” Owyang says. “You don’t have to be wearing your business suit.” It makes sense: Voice communication actually has clear benefits over video chatting, too, it turns out. Check out that research here.
Drop-in audio is a happy medium. Let's dig in to some of the biggest benefits of these drop-in audio apps, then.
Major Benefits of Drop-In Audio Apps
Of course, there are more benefits of drop-in audio apps than just the three points below, but these three stand out.
1. Immediate connection that doesn’t require looking at your phone
Honestly — are you going to read this whole article? (We won’t be offended.)
But… What if it was read out loud while you were walking through the park? How about while driving to work, or as you fold laundry at home? Drop-in audio apps reap similar benefits as audiobooks and podcasts in this way: People can multitask, and enjoy arguably even more of a real connection with the humans on the other end chatting (or listening) in real-time.
Audio allows you to go about your day. It doesn’t force you to sit down at your laptop. It also doesn’t require you to even be looking at your phone, scrolling endlessly.
“Audio social networks seem to offer something that traditional social media cannot. One of the format’s main benefits is the way it gives users the immediate connection of a voice or video call, but on their own terms. Phone calls — and Zoom calls, for that matter — require some planning. But audio social media content can be created and digested at your own convenience in a way that news alerts, notifications, and doomscrolling don’t allow. As Mohan, who listens to her friends every morning, says of Cappuccino: “It engages me and forces me to listen more carefully as each person is talking. I even take notes of things I want to respond to and say,’” writes Tanya Basu for MIT Technology Review.
“Fundamentally, drop-in audio feels authentic and requires less commitment. You could be in bed having a conversation with people halfway across the world.”
2. Voices create a more intimate conversation than text
It’s true — our sense of hearing is even stronger than our sight when it comes to accurately detecting emotion. “Kraus found that we are more accurate when we hear someone’s voice than when we look only at their facial expressions, or see their face and hear their voice.” That’s right: You could actually detect someone’s emotional state even better over the phone than while seeing them in a videoconferencing call. (There are other good reasons to turn off your camera, too.)
“The beauty in [radio] comes from putting on headphones and being instantaneously engaged in intimate conversation with someone on the other side of the world,” expresses Jad Abumrad. The same idea applies for drop-in audio apps. “The vision is for Twitter Spaces to be ‘as intimate and comfortable as attending a well-hosted dinner party.’ He adds, ‘You don’t need to know everyone there to have a good time, but you should feel comfortable sitting at the table.’”
Clubhouse, the drop-in audio app that launched in April 2020, has created a similar environment. “We always say conversations on Clubhouse are like being at a great dinner or cocktail party — where you hear amazing people all around you, with new people dropping in and out and interesting ideas coming from all sides.” This, among a handful of other reasons, is why they recently integrated spatial audio. “It helps bring incredible rooms to life even more.”
Curious to learn more about why spatial audio helps so much? This post does a deep dive into sound design: As in, how can we design technology to sound good? Not only does spatial audio help with immersion, it also improves speech intelligibility, and allows for more natural conversations — audio shouldn’t sound like it’s coming from one source, and the more it’s able to mimic real life (where there are overlaps in speech, research shows), the easier it is to understand each other.
“Drop-in audio bridges the gap between people in different parts of the world to connect on a level that is more intimate than text and less pressure than video. The possibilities for this new innovation are endless.” Speaking of possibilities, that brings us to the third major benefit of drop-in audio...
3. Content creators can leverage drop-in audio platforms
Drop-in audio platforms provide both monetary and branding opportunities that creators can leverage. Many of the apps have announced official programs now.
Back in May 2021, Arielle Pardes wrote about this for TechCrunch: “The leading live audio apps have all announced or released features for creators in recent weeks. Twitter added a tip jar and is experimenting with ticketed live events on Spaces. Discord opened up an event “stage” last month, which looks similar to Clubhouse, and will also offer new ways for broadcasters to charge money for their events. It’s also building in better discovery features to help Discord users find live events. Facebook has started an audio creator’s fund to seed its Live Audio Rooms, launching later this summer. And Clubhouse has begun paying some creators $5,000 monthly stipends to host original shows as part of its Creator First accelerator.”
Spotify Greenroom launched a Creator Fund earlier this year, too. “The Creator Fund will pay users who regularly create rooms. Registration for the Creator Fund is open to adults 18 and up residing in the U.S. Spotify will regularly pay out creators whose rooms attract a large amount of engagement.”
And it continues... just announced yesterday, “Twitter is starting an accelerator program called Spark for social audio show creators on Twitter Spaces. The three-month Spark program is looking for innovative and committed current, and potential Spaces show hosts to offer Twitter’s financial, technical, and promotional support, much like social audio rival Clubhouse’s Creator First accelerator program.”
The Future of Drop-In Audio Apps
The companies above all know: Drop-in audio features and apps are gaining serious traction, and are here to stick around. People love hearing each other (importantly, in a way that is easily understandable). To give creators valuable opportunities and make their audiences connect with them even more — such as comedy rooms on Clubhouse! — will only increase their usage, too.
Are you building a drop-in audio app and want to be sure your listeners can easily understand each other? Read more about High Fidelity’s Local Spatializer (what Clubhouse implemented), and let us know if you have any questions.