How did this social app invested by Sam Altman become the new darling of Silicon Valley?

Estimated read time 11 min read

Recently, the fledgling social product Airchat intends to go against the mainstream. It does not allow you to type but allows you to send voice messages. Only a round microphone logo is left at the bottom.

“Don’t type, just talk.”

With this overbearing slogan, Airchat has become popular in Silicon Valley over the past week.

For a time, friends on the other side of the ocean also fell in love with “Chat on WeChat.”

Listening to posts at 2x speed has become a new way of chatting

From a visual point of view, the design of Airchat is actually no different from social media such as X.

Posts are arranged according to the timeline, and you can follow other users, scroll through the information stream, reply, like and forward posts, send private messages, and more.

The most special thing about Airchat is that users cannot type. Posts and replies are all voice messages, which are then automatically transcribed into text by AI.

If you want to post, just press and hold the microphone button at the bottom, speak, release, and send. The operation is similar to WeChat. You don’t even need to change your posture. Just raise the phone to your mouth according to muscle memory.

When browsing other people’s posts, the default mode is to listen at 2x voice speed, but the speed can also be adjusted. In an era when watching dramas at three times the speed is not fast enough, the reason behind this setting is heartwarming.

However, you need to pay special attention to public etiquette when using Airchat because the voice is played automatically. If you don’t want to be looked at by others, Airchat allows you to manually pause the voice and only read the text.

One of the “group chats”

In addition, Airchat also supports “joining groups” for users to talk about e/acc, AI, coffee and other topics that everyone likes. If you want to adapt to local conditions and maximize the role of voice, then it is also suitable to organize a poetry recitation contest online.

The effect of Airchat playing voice is also eye-catching. There is a circle of colorful animation around the avatar, as if to draw everyone’s attention that it is someone’s turn to speak.

Image from: X@granawkins

When you see this, you will find that the method of using Airchat is very simple. To use an intuitive analogy, WeChat sends voice messages one-to-one or in groups, and we have to press the voice bar to manually convert text.

But Airchat automates this process and arranges voice messages like a circle of friends to keep you scrolling.

At the same time, Airchat is also more international. The text transcribed by AI appears almost in real time following the voice, with high accuracy. It also understands multiple languages, including Hindi, Spanish and even Hebrew.

Airchat user profile page

If refusing to type makes people curious, Airchat also has another selling point that is commonly used in Silicon Valley technology circles that value connections: invitation-only.

As you can imagine, Airchat’s early users were mainly Silicon Valley practitioners, venture capitalists, technology enthusiasts, and reporters tracking hot topics.

Gary Tan, CEO of Y Combinator, and Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, also came to join in the fun, which invisibly added a new dimension to Airchat.

On April 21, Airchat finally decided to open it to all US and EU numbers without invitations. However, users in other countries still need an “invitation letter.”

Picture from: X@yanatweets

The threshold has been removed by less than half, but FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) still exists. Users of

A well-known figure in Silicon Valley, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, also secretly supports Airchat.

Sam Altman supported it, but not enthusiastically. According to Airchat, “he blindly threw a check” and had no impact on the product itself.

The founder of Airchat feels that Sam Altman does not care about money, but wants to participate in investments related to AI.

Voice is a more intimate conversational medium than text

The main selling point of Airchat is the carrier of voice.

There are two founders of Airchat. One is Naval Ravikant, co-founder of the venture capital company AngelList, who is very famous in Silicon Valley, and the other is Brian Norgard, the former chief product officer of Tinder.

Now that I have experienced the most interactive dating apps, I must have my own opinions on social interaction.

The two founders believe that voice is a more intimate medium for conversation than text. Talking to new friends and talking about interesting things are increasingly rare phenomena on the Internet, and Airchat wants to bring them back.

Even during interviews, Ravikant implemented his values ​​and insisted on answering questions publicly on Airchat, declining private messages from reporters because that was the “old world” approach.

The early users of Airchat are often a group of people who are very optimistic about technology. Their values ​​and subtleties are consistent with Ravikant.

Image from: YouTube@Jerrod

One of the users posted on Agree in the comments section:

Fun and connection aside, it’s also great for practicing speaking.

A motivated warrior can always find opportunities for self-improvement, but Airchat’s opponents are not Duolingo, which is trying to get you to check in, but mainly traditional social media.

Ravikant believes that text-heavy social media breeds keyboard warriors, but when we communicate in our own voices, we may be less prone to anger.

I want to have a house party in my pocket… I want to be able to pull out my phone at any time and talk to fun, enjoyable, witty people.

The ideal is full, but the reality is a slap in the face. Although the founder emphasized peace & love and everyone chatted in a friendly manner, it didn’t take long for Airchat users to post dangerous and radical remarks on it.

Of course, it is undeniable that in the field of emotion, voice is indeed an important way of interaction, and attached text and emoji cannot directly convey tone and emotion.

Before ChatGPT had a voice, maybe we didn’t think it was necessary for the AI ​​to open its mouth, but now, many people are fascinated by its voice, trained its character, and talked about cyber love with ChatGPT.

Hume, an AI startup that launched a high-EQ voice assistant, also made an interesting point: “The future of AI interfaces will be based on voice, because voice is four times faster than typing and carries twice the amount of information.”

The amount of information here is not just about the words themselves, but also about the hidden emotions. The tone, rhythm, and modal words of speech are actually the hidden threads of communication.

However, AI can be trained to have high emotional intelligence, but the same cannot be said for uncontrollable humans. It is somewhat taken for granted that peace can be achieved through voice social networking.

Voice functions are all in use, but voice social networking is always very niche.

History does not have to repeat itself, but it does rhyme. If voice social networking relies solely on novelty, it will not survive for long.

Articles reporting on Airchat often mention Clubhouse.

The popularity of the technology industry comes and goes like the wind. This voice product, which was launched in April 2020 and became popular in Silicon Valley in early 2021, has almost become the tears of the times in just three years.

It is indeed appropriate to compare Airchat and Clubhouse.

Airchat is more like social media like X, except that posts are shared in voice form, while Clubhouse is a real-time chat room. Although they are different in nature, they both revolve around voice social networking, and the beginnings of the two scripts are also very similar.

Clubhouse also used an invitation-only system back then. The earliest adopters were also in the Silicon Valley circle, but its luck was slightly better than Airchat. At that time, most people stayed at home and were prone to loneliness. They were very interested in new online social models, which made Clubhouse a high-rise building. .

In February 2021, Clubhouse’s valuation reached 1 billion, attracting Musk and Zuckerberg to chat, creating a “hard-to-find” situation.

However, the good times did not last long. At the end of 2021, Clubhouse’s downloads slowed down significantly. By 2023, most of its active users had been lost, and the company laid off more than half of its employees.

The rapid decline is related to Clubhouse’s frequent service outages, false information, extreme remarks, etc., and also because the threshold for giants to copy Clubhouse is not high.

At the end of 2020, X internally tested Twitter Spaces that supports real-time voice conversations. In June 2021, Facebook also launched a similar feature, Live Audio Rooms.

Clubhouse’s numerous highlights may also be replicated one-to-one on Airchat. At the same time, Airchat, as a new product, is not mature enough.

On April 15, Airchat was ranked in the 20th place on the App Store’s social media rankings in the U.S., but it dropped to 80th place a week later. The reason is that Airchat’s positioning is somewhat awkward.

Although Airchat says that it is voice fundamentalist, its messages are text-based and arranged in a timeline, which is more like traditional social media with voice narration. It is not as attractive as short videos and can guess what you like.

After all, we read faster than we listen to audio. We have seen the one-minute WeChat voice strip sent countless times and manually translated the text with an expressionless face to barely relieve our anger.

Airchat’s setting of only using voice posting brings more confusion, because this is not a familiar way for us to expose ourselves online. Users who have experienced Airchat generally have several embarrassing situations:

-Don’t like to hear your own voice.

-If you are not used to speaking “off the cuff”, you cannot edit the words as they come out, you can only delete them.

-I don’t know how to speak appropriately and gracefully, unlike Twitter (text), Instagram (pictures), and TikTok (short videos), which I have become very accustomed to using.

To a certain extent, this also creates an invisible filter. The so-called brave people enjoy the world first, and the people who dare to speak the most are often those who are not afraid of anything.

If an introverted i person has the mentality of “coming in” and casually scrolling through the information stream to see what others are saying, they are likely to empathize with Zhu Ziqing: the excitement is theirs, and I have nothing.

Engadget reporter Karissa Bell’s experience is that when browsing the information stream, she feels a little noisy and confused. She feels like she has suddenly entered someone else’s chat. The topics they are talking about are not very interesting, and their voices are a bit harsh.

From Clubhouse to Airchat, Silicon Valley seems to be obsessed with voice social networking.

Twitter’s text, Instagram’s pictures, TikTok’s short videos, only the real and natural voice socialization that has always been emphasized have repeatedly failed, and have been relegated to the second line, serving niche users, or providing emotional value on podcasts, and no longer serve as real-time A function of communication software.

From the so-called new social product Airchat, we can always see familiar shadows. Starting from the ancient chat rooms, there are only a few core human needs, loneliness, desire for companionship, and hope for sincere communication.

I not only hope to be immersed online with only network cables, but also hope that virtual reality can be simulated enough. However, in an increasingly divided world, the more social products there are, the greater the mental pressure to stay in touch, and the more we understand that reality is irreplaceable.

Ravikant said that the goal of Airchat is not to gather influencers, but to allow users to find the people they want to talk to. However, the user with the most Airchat fans currently is the founder himself, but he only has more than 10,000 fans.

More often than not, Airchat only briefly brings a new wind, serving as a fashion item for a few players, and then disappears in an uninhabited corner.

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