By John P. Mello Jr.
March 17, 2021, 4:00 p.m. PT
A new social media platform based on voice messaging was launched on Monday.
With the name Swell you can find free apps for the platform in the Apple App Store and in Google Play.
According to the developers at Swell, it is the first social platform exclusively focused on asynchronous audio conversations, where audio clips of up to five minutes in length can be posted on the website.
Any Swell member can have a conversation and has control over who can attend and can post.
Pictures and links can also be posted for conversations, but must be accompanied by a voice message.
Swell also offers its members a free swellcast.com website for social sharing and an HTML widget for embedding conversations on websites.
TikTok for adults
“You could call Swell ‘TikTok for Adults’ because the images on the company’s website mostly focus on work situations and the elderly,” noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, a technology consulting firm in Hayward, California.
“The subtext seems to be about exchanging ideas and messages – a far cry from the chatter that many social networks share,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
“Indeed,” he continued, “the company’s statement that” memes and pointless strikers have no place on Swell “suggests that the company’s self-image is different from traditional social sites.”
“Swell is betting that a sizeable audience will be thirsting for such an exchange,” he added.
Ross Rubin, the lead analyst at Reticle Research, a consumer technology consultancy in New York City, noted that a number of products are being launched and features are being added to existing social networks to draw on the popularity of Clubhouse, an audio chat -App to Benefit received $ 12 million from investors after being in business for about a month.
However, swell has a number of advantages off the start line. Currently Clubhouse is only available for iOS, while Swell supports both Apple and Android devices. The clubhouse is also “invite only” so its growth is stifled for the moment.
“Swell gets the momentum that drives adoption and creates a network effect,” Rubin told the E-Commerce Times.
“It will grow,” he continued. “The question is, is it a specific class of social network or is it something that existing social networks can benefit from.”
Uncool becomes cool
Karen Kovacs North, director of the Annenberg Program for Online Communities at the University of Southern California, stated that people find that large audiences are looking for conversations on specific topics with experts or like-minded friends.
“Things are cyclical,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “The voice was uncool. Now the voice is cool again. But what makes the voice cool now is that it’s a group experience. Social is used to bring the voice back into fashion.”
“I think swell has potential,” added Catherine Zhu, a trade and privacy attorney with Foley & Lardner law firm in Palo Alto, California.
“What we see with a lot of social media platforms is user disillusionment because what is being broadcast is a lot of disinformation and division and, in many cases, not a lot of real engagement,” she told the E-Commerce Times.
“If an audio platform like Swell can take advantage of that disenchantment and generate real engagement among users, it will be pretty powerful,” she said.
Swell has another advantage that Clubhouse doesn’t have.
“The advantage of Swell is that you don’t have to be there when you chat. That means people can keep track of things on their own schedule,” explained Rubin.
The requirement for real-time conversations encourages spurious behavior, claimed Swell CEO and co-founder Sudha Varadarajan.
“In real time, you have to be a stage performer,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “There’s a lot of pressure to say things without thinking about it. Asynchronous time gives you the time to listen, think, and respond, so the quality of the conversation and engagement is extraordinarily high.”
“Friends, relatives and co-workers all know how to pick up a phone and contact you in real time,” she said. “The problem is coordinating the timing and planning.”
“At work, it can be challenging to get everyone together at a specific time,” she continued. “Finding the right time to call someone can be difficult for the family because you may be in a different time zone and on a different work schedule.”
Series of monologues
However, King challenged calling Swell’s asynchronous posting conversations.
“Essentially, the company is encouraging individuals to record audio monologues and allowing others to post prerecorded audio monologues in response,” he said.
“This is similar to the static dialogues activated by almost every other platform,” he continued. “I’m not sure that enabling audio exchange is enough to distinguish Swell from larger, more popular social sites.”
However, audio-based social media can reduce the screen time required by sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
“Clubhouse chat can take place anytime, and it can provide some rest and some degree of multitasking to eyes tired from video meetings,” said Rubin.
“You’re not looking at the phone,” added Varadarajan. “Most of our users will be preoccupied with something else when they hear swell. They don’t have to be taped to your screen to hear a good conversation.”
People want to be connected by voice, claimed Varadarajan. “As a species, we have an exponentially better sense of language than any other species,” she said. “We naturally connect with each other through what we say and how we say it.”
“That was an aha moment for us,” she continued. “We realized that if you really want to build a network to connect people, authentic connections can’t be found through pretty pictures and one-liners. It has to be found through language.”
A big question for these voice social media platforms will be whether they can avoid the pitfalls of their traditional brethren.
“As with all digital media, there is always an opportunity for hecklers, trolls, and disruptors to cause problems,” said North.
“When you look at digital media, anonymity always leads to bad behavior,” she said. “There is always an opportunity for people to cause problems because they are not physically present and the consequences are so minor.”
“Any platform can be abused in one way or another,” added King. “What matters more is what the company does when abusive content or misinformation emerges.”