Airchat is the latest app trying to make ‘social audio’ cool again

There’s a new invite-only program that’s going semi-viral among VCs, tech executives and other Silicon Valley personalities. It is called and it tries to revive the concept of an audio-first social media app.

The building looks like a Clubhouse, with an audio program At the height of the pandemic in 2021, it inspired imitators on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Reddit before fading into obscurity. But unlike the original version of Clubhouse, Airchat isn’t built around live audio streams that require users to tune into it all at once. It’s more like Twitter or Threads, but posts can only be shared as voice memos.

The app uses a timeline format and automatically plays audio clips as you scroll through your feed. You can pause playback and read the text instead – each post is accompanied by an AI-generated transcript – but posts and responses can only be shared by recording an audio clip. There is no time limit on how long individual clips can be, at least I found here one user talked for a full hour to see if it would work (it did).

It sounds a little gimmicky (because it is), but the app has all the hallmarks of a social app that went viral for a short period of time among a certain segment of extremely online Silicon Valley nerds. It’s run by a pair of well-connected tech founders: AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant and former Tinder exec Brian Norgard. It is invite-only and has attracted a number of well-known tech personalities among its first users: Y Combinator CEO and San Francisco Gary Tan, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, OpenAI founder Sam Altman, VC and Elon Musk confidante Jason Calacanis.

Airchat’s high-profile user base on X creates hype and creates FOMO for those who didn’t get an invite. (According to Airchat CEO Ravikant, the app had to close invitations briefly over the weekend due to an “influx of new users”.)

It is not yet known exactly how many users Airchat has, but it seems to be less than tens of thousands. Research firm Appfigures told Engadget that the app has been downloaded close to 50,000 times, but it’s likely that some of those downloads came from people who haven’t yet been invited. Appearing to be one of the most followed users, Ravikant currently has a little over 11,000 followers on the app.

Using Airchat is, well, noisy and a bit messy. Once connected, the app asks you to tap your contact list to find friends already in the app, but then finding people to follow can be difficult. The app doesn’t have the equivalent of a “for you” feed with recommended content, so your only options are to manually search for users or hide in conversations that appear in your feed and view other users’ posts and follows.

When I signed up, I had four of my contacts in the app, only two of whom are real friends. I followed them, the creators of the program, and a few other familiar names. Later, when conversations started showing up in my feed, I randomly started following other users. This was a terrible strategy, as my feed was quickly dominated by the voices of a few particularly active (but not particularly interesting) posters. With so many new users joining at once, my feed was just a bunch of people at one point We are talking about Airchat.

It’s also kind of jarring to hear the voices of people you’ve followed on social media for years but haven’t connected with IRL. By default, the app plays audio at 2x speed, which makes people’s speaking voices sound a bit unnatural, but is also necessary for long recordings.

The bigger problem is that it’s not entirely clear what Airchat is for. There are several “channels,” smaller groups, dedicated to chatting about specific topics like coffee or astrology or AI or war, but the conversations are disjointed and hard to follow. Some corners with live discussions are visible. The Coffee channel has 755 members and lots of serious discussions about pouring techniques and photos of latte art. According to Ravikant (Airchat’s), the channel is also “heavily moderated” is “self-moderating,” which means they expect you to make good use of the blocking and muting features, although according to the FAQ, they will remove users for “harassment, impersonation, rude behavior, and illegal content .)

More creative users also find ways to play with the audio-centric format. I found an ASMR group of mostly breathy whisperers that kind of clued me in (one person posted a great clip of their cat purring). I read a few poems on the “Poetry” channel, but even at 2x speed, I couldn’t wait. There’s also been a lot of talk about in-app karaoke, though I’ve yet to see it actually happen.

Some may see such tricks as the beginning of some new paradigm, where people use their voices to open up new ways of interacting. But all I can think of is that Clubhouse has similar gimmicks at its peak: in-app game shows, open mic nights, and (very NSFW) “moan rooms.” It was new and exciting at a time when most people were doing nothing at home, but the novelty wore off quickly.

While Clubhouse’s initial success led to copycat features from nearly every other major social media company, many of them due to lack of interest. Even the Clubhouse itself is a shell of what it once was. While the app still exists, it’s a completely different service than the one that keeps boring tech workers short on attention. The company laid off half of its employees and have ever since to audio-centric group chats.

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