A Week at AirChat: Very Fresh, but Weird...

1 May 2024

Airchat founders Naval and former Tinder executive Brian Norgard believe that speech communication strengthens human connection. The new social media app they are working on and launching, AirChat, is meant to bridge the polarizing divides in our world. They say they designed AirChat to be simple and intimate, offering a new way for individuals to connect and engage in meaningful dialog, and the app is being touted as Silicon Valley's new obsession. It is currently open by invitation to US and EU phone numbers, but the founders have signaled that they will expand soon.

AirChat was introduced at X-Twitter as a combination of Twitter and Clubhouse and has been making waves in our feeds for the past few weeks. The only difference is that instead of writing a post, you share your content by talking about it, and you don't need to gather under a different topic. The app quickly transcribes what you say, and as your followers scroll through their feeds, they hear your voice in transcription. I tried AirChat, an app that is especially talked about for the success of its transcription technology, where tech enthusiasts, leaders, entrepreneurs, and investors invite each other and quickly tighten the ranks.

AirChat was developed by Naval Ravikant, an Indian entrepreneur who is also the founder of AngelList, is quite famous on Twitter, and reaches millions with his podcast where he advises on mental models, and Brian Norgard, former Tinder. They aim to bring a sincere new approach to social media by taking us away from X's increasingly toxic news feed, which is corrupted by ads and fake bots. Imagine that there are many people we know only through the internet whose posts we read but still haven't met. After following each other on AirChat, you realize that you have never heard their real voices before. The platform is built to give you the feeling that you are actually chatting with each other. Although the excitement that spread when Clubhouse was first launched seems to be happening in Airchat, we will see if it will end up similar.

A Week on Airchat

With Brian Norgard being a former Tinder manager, it makes me wonder how they're going to use emotion to retain users. They are given 20 invites, and you are motivated to invite people you know personally and send invites to people you would enjoy chatting with. In reality, however, we all know this is not realistic. After Clubhouse became very popular, users started selling their invites to people who were thirsty to get into the app and couldn't get an invite.

While Airchat itself doesn't seem to be in a hurry to make money for now, the fact that its founders are also investors could quickly change the course of the app. In addition, there are some who are skeptical of Naval's efforts to establish its own social media, criticized for being close to the “center-right “ and Trump. When the Tinder experience is added to this, this suspicion increases a little more.

So, how is Airchat in terms of user experience?

First of all, really, at first, it feels weird just being a stalker.

You see the posts in your feed one after the other, but hearing the texts in the post owners' voices creates a diversity of sound and noise because of the voice recordings from different environments. If you're looking for a quieter new social media environment, I doubt it will scare you away from Instagram or TikTok. Clubhouse was so popular for a while; probably the most important reason was that it gathered people who really had something to say, and some of us really needed to say it. In that sense, people would turn on their microphones and talk for like an hour as if they were giving a lecture. The content and the flow of the conversation was interesting, you really wanted to stay there and participate. The fact that everyone could find a community to talk to satisfied us and motivated us to keep using it. Airchat is different, it's no different from Twitter in terms of post flow and sharing, except that now you can have a voiceover of your posts.

This doesn't seem to add any new originality.

In fact, an early version of AirChat was launched last year, and the aim was to improve the app's vision by getting feedback from early invitees. After this testing period, they rebuilt the app from the ground up.

Key Features :

  • All posts and replies are audio recordings transcribed by the app.

  • Social features include following users, scrolling through a feed, replying, liking, and sharing content.

  • Users can share photos and videos.

  • When you want to reply to a post, you need to record your voice.

  • You can speak Turkish, and it is translated directly into English. Although the app's Turkish translation is not very good, other users have commented that the Hindi and Spanish translations are successful.

  • Posting with your voice can be a hand-shaking activity at first, but it's not as scary as it sounds, and you can re-record your post if you say the wrong thing.

  • If you're the kind of person who sends voice recordings on WhatsApp instead of texting, you might also like using it.

  • The ability to block and mute contacts is active now.

Early adopters who feel they've found their niche are already sharing the app, and podcasters, in particular, may start to embrace Airchat as a potential additional distribution channel.

But is AirChat Here to Stay?

That will perhaps depend, as always, on whether people on the platform can find a community to express themselves. The Airchat stream feels like you're in a coffee shop in San Francisco because, for now, most of the users are from the tech industry.

This has not been the case for Threads, Meta's new social media experiment, or Bluesky, which developed a culture of toxic communication very early on. Jack Dorsey’s, former founder and CEO of Twitter, has now stopped invitations to the Bluesky app. It's also telling that when AirChat introduced a channel feature, two of the first to pop up were "Crypto" and "e/acc," which stands for Effective Acceleration, an aggressive pro-tech movement, casting doubt on the future of the app. Looking at the content currently streaming on Airchat, you can't find many non-tech-related conversations for now. Although we use X reluctantly, we can still catch a variety of content. AirChat's naive approach to content moderation is also questionable. Naval posted the following note on his Airchat account on this subject:

"We will try to put as much of the moderation tools in the hands of users as possible. "

Naval Ravikant also argues that AirChat should function like a dinner party;

"You can't kick out someone who comes to your house as a guest for participating in a civilized discussion. But if that person starts shouting at you violently, it is wise to intervene. We don't want to moderate for content, but we will moderate for tone."

This is another point where AirChat parallels Clubhouse. Clubhouse's approach to content moderation was even weaker because there was no way to block people. AirChat blocks any user, and muting features are now active. When Clubhouse was active, it inadvertently hosted antisemitic and misogynistic speech and was unable to intervene.

With this minimalist approach to content moderation, it's easy to see AirChat's dilemma here. What happens if someone shares copyrighted audio on the platform or if someone discloses another user's confidential information? We don't know if there is a real plan in place to deal with these situations. We'll have to wait until after it goes global to see if it fades from minds and phones as quickly as Clubhouse did.

While the concept behind AirChat may seem quite civilized in a romantic framework, it is a fact that we no longer trust or believe in users or the "genius" founders of social media, and it can quickly become toxic.