🗣 Twitter Spaces: A Bright Future

An audio showdown looms on the horizon—how much room is there for Twitter Spaces?

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Over the past month, Twitter has begun the slow roll-out of a buzzy new product: Twitter Spaces. Not unlike Clubhouse, Spaces enables users to host public audio rooms natively within the Twitter app. Considering this news alongside the rising popularity of Clubhouse, it would seem that social audio is here to stay; and if Twitter’s recent acquisitions of Squad and Breaker are any indication, the company is placing a big bet on returning to its audio roots.

The arrival of Spaces is… significant.

As an early tester of Spaces, I’ve been impressed by the (🤏 slightly buggy) experience. It’s still in its infancy, but what stands out are a few well-considered features, the additive nature of audio to the Twitter experience, and the eventuality of monetization to the product—something Twitter and its users could both benefit from.

Below, we explore Spaces’ strengths, potential, and positioning. We’ll attempt to answer the question: “Why would Twitter launch this thing in the first place?” and wrap up with a list of possible product features. 😯

Expanding on Key Points of Differentiation 📲

Notably, audio is not the only way that users interact with Spaces. One feature in particular represents a key competitive advantage: the ability to share CONTENT directly into the conversation. Here’s how it looks:

Currently, users can share any public tweet into the space via the share function. This enables speakers to center conversation around the content, or to provide context. In my experience, speakers have shared everything from memes, to product listings, to articles, to photos of their pets.

Were Twitter to open up to the ability to share not just tweets, but live videos, photos, and links, the amount of use cases for users, creators, and brands would multiply. Imagine:

  • Elon Musk hosting a live SpaceX rocket launch party

  • Musicians sharing snippets of new material and behind the scenes footage

  • Educators providing visual references (charts, links, etc) as they lecture

  • Content that unlocks once a threshold of tips is reached (but more on monetization later 🤐)

The use cases are myriad, and if we’ve learned anything from events like the Lion King Musical on Clubhouse, creators will find ways to stretch this feature to its limits.

Updated 1/24/2021: During today’s Clubhouse Townhall, co-founder Paul Davison stated “we never want video on Clubhouse” and that they want rooms to “always center on conversation.” This is a clear indication that Clubhouse is not interested in allowing for shared content experiences, and represents an opportunity for Twitter Spaces to double down on differentiating in this regard. Were Twitter to open up the “shared content” area in Spaces to developers (similar to Snap Minis or WeChat’s Mini Programs), Twitter could become a place where people could play games together, watch videos, attend virtual conferences, and so much more, while keeping audio central to the experience. Not only would the use cases for monetization multiply, but there would be exceptional opportunity for developers to stretch the medium to new limits.

The Emoji React 💯

A second differentiating feature on Spaces is the “emoji react.” With the click of a button, listeners and speakers can throw up a 💯🤚✊✌️ or 👋 to express themselves inaudibly. At first, I was skeptical that the feature would create a degree of peer pressure; but after use, I’ve found it helpful in gauging an audience’s sentiment. If anything, it’s at least more intuitive than Clubhouse speakers who “flash their mics” on and off of mute to express approval or gain a moderator’s attention.

Currently, Spaces supports only five emojis—but there are requests for more. Twitter will need to choose between adding a few specific emojis to the set, or unlocking larger swaths of the emoji libary for users to express themselves with. The use cases for unlocking a large emoji bank may venture into silliness, but the creative implications are interesting to say the least.

Audio as a Platform 🎧

Why is Twitter doing this in the first place? Do their recent acquisitions of social podcast app Breaker and video chat app Squad tell us anything? First, let’s establish grounds for proceeding:

  1. Twitter is under ongoing pressure to further monetize and attract users

  2. Twitter is not interested in cannibalizing its existing advertising business

Time spent on Twitter is a key metric, but if that time is spent staring at a Spaces room, users are not scrolling the feed, and they are not viewing ads. As such, it’s no surprise that Twitter has made Spaces minimizable, so users can scroll their feeds while leaving audio in the background.

And so, the mind jumps to what other audio might be playable “in the background.” After all, Twitter did just acquire Breaker. 🤔 Is it possible that we will eventually be able to access podcast libraries? Might we be able to record and archive our Spaces conversations directly into searchable and shareable catalogs? Could Twitter eventually have an audio tab? Given the volume of thought leaders who have already made Twitter their platform of choice for tweet-length writing, the sky is the limit for audio.

Monetization 💵

When it comes to the opportunity to monetize audio on Spaces, the writing is on the wall. Suppose you are the writer of a Substack, and every Monday your letter comes out. Your subscribers engage with your content on Twitter, and look forward to the community’s weekly Spaces “debrief.” Not only does this humanize you and reinforce your relationship with the audience, it’s also a potential revenue stream that breathes fresh life into your previously published content.

Spaces is not currently monetized, but here’s how it could work—and it’s incredibly straightforward.

  1. Charging for entry. Say $3.99 a head. With 500 listeners per week, you net over $100k annually via paywalls.

  2. Accepting tips. This removes the barrier to entry, while allowing for active revenue based on the value you offer to your audience.

These could apply not only to the independent Substacker, but to the creator economy at large. Imagine Mr. Beast taking questions at $100 a pop. Imagine Cardi B raising $1M for charity before dropping a new single. The possibilities are endless and represent disintermediation of the creator economy.

You have to ask—could Twitter be the Substack of audio?

Well… Clubhouse would like a word.

Enabling the Creator Economy 👩‍🎨

Having outlined how creators can monetize on platform, let’s talk about attracting them to it.

In Li Jin’s article The Creator Economy Needs a Middle Class, Jin outlines the breakout success of TikTok and Clubhouse, attributing their fast popularity to the opportunity available to independent creators. Indeed, there are few platforms today where newbies can gain followings with as low a lift. That sense of opportunity creates a rush of new talent to emerging mediums. 

So how can Twitter, an already established platform, replicate this pursuit of opportunity? An algorithm weighted towards emerging creators rather than Justin Bieber, certainly, but also a direct approach to funding and developing talent. Snapchat, for example, is paying out $1M daily to creators in an attempt to kickstart creation on platform. TikTok announced a $2B creator fund last summer. If Twitter wants to see an explosion of content on Spaces, they will not only need to build a dynamic product, but they will have to invest in developing emerging voices.

The question that Twitter should be asking themselves is “How do we create runway for the Charli D’Amelio of Spaces?” 🙋🏻‍♀️

Space Discovery 🔎

Additionally, Spaces will need to be discoverable without intruding on the Twitter experience. Currently, joining conversations is only possible via the Fleets bar, but Twitter will explore surfacing Spaces in the Home and Explore feeds. If audio proves popular on Twitter, it may also be worth adding an audio tab, particularly if podcasts and recorded Spaces enter the mix.

Below, I’ve mocked up and described scenarios in which Spaces could surface within Twitter’s current user experience.

  • Home Feed: Jaime is hosting a Space initiated from her tweet, and it is surfacing in the Home feed.

  • Explore Feed: A user is exploring trending topics, and can join in on pertinent conversations.

  • Search Results: Searching for specific keywords leads the user to Spaces they can join on the topic.

Of particular interest is the concept of tethering a Space to trending, asynchronous content from popular publishers—this represents an opportunity for smaller voices to gather audiences with similar interests, and places less reliance on a user’s follow count for discoverability. This is yet another way that Twitter can create runway for emerging creators on the platform.

Features of the Future 🚧

Now that we’ve established Spaces’ key features and positioning, let’s wrap things up with an imaginative feature list.

A “live rewind” feature for listeners who may want to play back recent audio from the stream

📌 Pinning reaction emojis to content shared in the space—allowing listeners to attach hearts, laughs, and more to specific content

💬 Initiating a Space within DMs by inviting a friend to co-host alongside you

📯 A “preamble” feature that plays a pre-recorded audio clip setting the stage for new entrants to the conversation; this could be set by moderators as required listening before joining

📹 Live video for hosts who want to make the experience even more personal

🎙 Recordable and catalogable conversations—instant podcasts!

🗳 Audience polls

💥 Content reveals—with the push of a button, confetti drops as the host reveals something extra special

These were fun to come up with, and maybe they won’t all work, but I hope they’ve stirred up some ideas of your own. I’d love to hear them.

A Bright Future for Social Audio 🌞

None of this is to say that Spaces’ main competitor, Clubhouse, won’t also thrive. In fact, I speculate that it will be valued at $1B by the end of this year. While there will certainly be some crossover, it doesn’t mean both platforms won’t find ways to be successful. And if anything, the fact that Twitter has already discovered ways to differentiate itself is promising for the overall future of social audio. It’s a future that will fundamentally humanize us to each other online, informing the way we connect, empathize, and approach conflict.

But it won’t come without its growing pains.

This is the first edition of my newsletter. I’d love to know your thoughts! Follow along @chriscantino, and join me live at 2 PST on Twitter Spaces where we’ll discuss.

If you’d like to suggest a topic, or if you’re interested in collaborative writing, DM me.

P.S. Interested in testing Spaces? Fill out this form. Have feedback for the Spaces team? DM them.