Don’t worry about the calendar invite. Let’s start a conversation. We have cleared schedules amidst quarantine so that social startups can take advantage of this. The free-flowing, ad-hoc communication of parties and open office plans could also change the way we work and socialize long after COVID-19.
Unlike traditional live streaming, these video sharing apps spread the spotlight across several users as well as the task, game, or discussion at hand.
A buzz-worthy startup is Clubhouse, an audio-based social network where people can join voice chat rooms spontaneously. All the people you follow have unlabeled rooms, which you can join to talk or just listen along with, milling around to see what interests you.
Chat rooms with high energy attract crowds, while slower ones see participants move on to other chat circles.
On VC Twitter this weekend, Clubhouse was all the rage as people scrambled for exclusive invites, humblebragged about their memberships, or made fun of FOMO. Currently, there is no public app or access. Clubhouse perfectly captures how people long to belong to a group.
Prior to his acquisition by Pinterest in 2016, Paul Davison founded the offline people-meeting location app Highlight and reveal-your-whole-camera-roll app Shorts. He launched Talkshow this year for instant broadcasting of radio-style call-in shows through his Alpha Exploration Co startup studio.
Davison’s work is characterized by spontaneity, a desire to make new friends, share your life, transmit your thoughts, and converse.
The clubhouse is still in its infancy. There isn’t even a website for it. Clubhouse.io is not to be confused with it.
Davison and his co-founder Rohan Seth declined to comment on what it will be like when it launches. However, the positive reception shows a desire for a more immediate, multi-media approach to discussion that updates what Twitter did with text.
Sheltered From Surprise
Quarantine has revealed that spontaneity is one of the things you miss when you separate everyone. In the office, it could be random water-cooler chat or a comment aloud about something funny you found online.
At a party, you might be chatting with a group of people because you know one of them or overhearing something interesting. The problem arises when we’re stuck at home because we stigmatize randomly calling a friend instead of texting, despite its lack of urgency.
The thrill of surprise and the joy of conversation that giddily rev up as people riff off each other’s ideas cannot be captured in scheduled Zoom calls, utilitarian Slack threads, and endless email chains.
Smart app developers understand that spontaneity doesn’t mean interrupting people’s lives or workflows all the time. They allow people to choose when they are available. Furthermore, they signal that they don’t want to be disturbed, so they’re only forced into social interaction when they’re ready.
This spontaneity is embodied in Houseparty. With quarantine, people can instantly join group video chat rooms with friends on a whim. In some places, it saw a 70X increase in downloads in a month. There are 82 countries in which it is the top social app, including the US, and 16 countries in which it is the top overall social app.
With Discord, communities can spontaneously connect through video, voice, and chat rooms. US daily voice users have increased by 50%, with spikes in shelter-in-place early adopter states like California, New York, New Jersey, and Washington.
Video chat overlayed on mobile gaming, Bunch, is also climbing the charts and becoming mainstream. Its user base has shifted to be mostly female as they talk for 1.5 million minutes a day. Having fun with friends is easy with both apps.
The Impromptu Office
Video chat tools are adapting to spontaneity as an alternative to heavy-handed, planned Zoom calls. People are realizing that scheduling back-to-back video chats all day doesn’t get anything done.
- Loom: Allows you to quickly record and send a video clip that coworkers can watch at their convenience, expediting back-and-forth conversations since videos are uploaded immediately.
- Around: Overlays small circular video windows on your screen so you can instantly communicate with colleagues while your desktop remains focused.
- Screen: Is a tiny widget that launches a collaborative screenshare. It is here that everyone gets a cursor to control the shared window, allowing them to code, design, write, and annotate improvisably.
- Pragli: You can see if someone is in a meeting, away, or listening to music so you know when to instantly open a voice or video chat channel without having to find a time when everyone is free. Like Slack, Pragli lets you sign in and out of the virtual office to start and end your day.
Raising Our Voice
As we can show where we are through visual communication on our mobile phones, shelter-in-place means we have little to show. As a result, spontaneous communication tools have become more available that take a less-is-more approach.
Voice is replacing video in new apps beyond Clubhouse, whether for remote partying or rapid problem solving. Voice offers a way to quickly exchange information and feel present together without dominating our workspace or attention.
High Fidelity is Philip Rosedale’s $72 million-funded startup. After pivoting away from building a virtual reality co-working tool, High Fidelity is now testing a voice-based online event platform and gathering place.
With the early beta, users can move their dots around a map and hear the voices of people nearby. In spatial audio, voices get louder as you get closer to someone, and shift between your ears as you move past them. To explore different conversations within earshot, you can spontaneously approach and depart from clusters of dots.
As a test map, High Fidelity uses a satellite photo of Burning Man. Like a real offline event, DJs set up in different corners, and listeners can stroll between them or chat with a friend. As Burning Man was cancelled this year, High Fidelity may be a candidate for the virtual version.
Slashtalk is a spontaneous teamwork tool developed by Houseparty’s former CEO Ben Rubin and Skype’s GM of engineering Brian Meek. In mid-2019, Houseparty sold to Fortnite maker Epic, but the gaming giant largely neglected the app until its recent quarantine-driven success.
According to his new startup’s website, “/talk is an anti-meeting tool for fast, decentralized conversations.” By connecting the right people at the right time to discuss the right topics, most meetings can be eliminated.
It allows people to quickly jump into a voice or video chat to get things sorted. Collaboration without waiting for a scheduled meeting.
These spontaneous apps can bring back memories of our more unstructured youth, whether for work or play. Pre-adult years offer many opportunities for impromptu socializing, whether in the cafeteria or school yard, at the mall, in college dorms, or on campus squares or student unions.
As we age and move into separate homes, we literally erect walls that hinder our ability to notice social cues that indicate someone is available for unprompted communication.
As a result, apps like Down To Lunch and Snapchat’s acquisition of Zenly have sprung up. It will be easier to ask someone to hang out offline with Facebook’s updated Messenger status feature.
Although socializing or collaborating IRL requires transportation logistics and usually a plan, the various social apps discussed here connect us instantly. As a result, there is no need to schedule togetherness in advance.
As well, geographical limitations prevent you from connecting with those within a reasonable commute. You can access your entire network digitally. Quarantines have further opened our options by clearing parts of our calendars.
In the absence of friction, our intention shines through. Connecting with who we want and accomplishing what we want is possible. Apps that are spontaneous allow us to tap into our impulsive nature.