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Who will win the social-audio wars?

Who will win the social-audio wars?

Good morning! This Tuesday, the social-audio wars heat up, Steven Spielberg heads to Netflix, hot vaxx summer could also be analog summer, and to make your employees really happy, just shut it all down.

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The Big Story

We'll do it live

The social-feature flywheel seems to move ever faster, with every new feature and idea going from "Huh, that's a neat idea for an app" to "Welp, now Facebook has it" faster than the last. The latest example: social audio, which as of yesterday has officially completed its sweep of the social landscape.

Here are the players in social audio, at least for now:

  • Facebook just launched Live Audio Rooms to any U.S.-based creator and "dozens of groups" in Facebook Groups.
  • Spotify launched Greenroom last week.
  • Discord launched Stage Channels in March.
  • Telegram morphed its Voice Chat feature into something much more like social audio.
  • Twitter is developing Spaces at a pace practically unheard of for Twitter's product team.
  • Startups like Racket, Fireside, SoapBox and Airtime are all working on similar products, and companies like Public are putting social audio into their existing ones.
  • Clubhouse, of course, sparked this whole trend.

Whew! Somehow this space is both brand new and extremely crowded. (That's the internet for ya.) There are surely a few left — room-style audio would make sense in places like Snapchat and WhatsApp, for instance — but the big players are all up and running. Which means now things get interesting.

  • There won't just be one winner here, but there's no question these products are all vying for the same attention and the same creators. That's one reason they're all rushing to build monetization tools: They hope that by giving creators a business from the get-go, the creators will help them build a sticky audience.
  • Moderation is going to be tricky, especially as these services scale. And it's not even clear yet how much these kinds of live, semi-public groups ought to be moderated.
  • There's an industry growing around these products, too, helping creators understand their audience, sell tickets, improve their production or make their conversations searchable after the fact.
  • And there's still that big question: What is any of this good for? We really haven't figured out yet whether social audio was a pandemic fad for people stuck at home, or truly the next big thing in social. And beyond that, is social audio a product of its own, or a feature inside a messaging or entertainment app?

Speaking of which: Where do podcasts fit into this? For now, the two mostly exist side-by-side; Spotify is hugely invested in the podcast biz, of course, and Facebook also rolled out podcast-listening tools yesterday. But there's an intersection coming: I'm already seeing more and more live podcast recordings happening in Clubhouse and Greenroom, and you can imagine those places becoming a home for live audio performances, the new generation of call-in show and much more. Mixing live and on-demand, public and private, and social and entertainment will be the key for anyone who wants to own this space.

You tell us: Who do you think is going to win the social-audio wars? Are you going to be a user? Reply to this email and give us your thoughts.

— David Pierce (email | twitter)

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People Are Talking

On Protocol | Fintech: As crypto grows, California's new fintech overseer Christina Tetreault said it needs a better system of consumer protection:

  • "I know people say, 'Digital-first, why would we need a call center?' But if, God forbid, you've ever had to try to resolve something by email and a hacker has taken over your email, that becomes an actual impossibility. So I think there's some really low-hanging fruit for ways in which service providers can ensure consumers have a way to resolve issues."

Fred Wilson said we're heading into an "analog summer," even though some digital habits will stick around:

  • "If the past 15 months have been a digital lockdown, then the next three months are going to mark a return to analog activities; beaches, parks, concerts, bars, restaurants, nightlife, etc, etc."

It's time for Microsoft to get more antitrust scrutiny, Rep. Jim Jordan said in a letter to Brad Smith:

  • "Among the office suite market, for instance, Microsoft has captured an estimated 87.5% of the market. As Democrats have excluded Microsoft from antitrust scrutiny, commentators have noted how Microsoft has taken advantage of the circumstances to pursue an aggressive acquisition strategy."

Making Moves

Porsche and CustomCells are building EV batteries together. They're calling the joint venture Cellforce Group, which sounds remarkably like a canceled Marvel show.

Kim Swift is now a senior director at Xbox Cloud Gaming. She helped create Portal and Left 4 Dead, and will be making "new experiences in the cloud" at Microsoft.

Steven Spielberg is going to make Netflix movies. His Amblin Partners studio signed a big deal, and here's hoping it means "E.T. 2" will be an eight-part miniseries coming soon.

Uber bought the rest of Cornershop, after taking a majority stake in 2019. The doubling-down on Uber Eats continues.

Elsewhere in delivery: DoorDash and Albertsons announced a partnership to bring one-hour delivery to almost 2,000 grocery stores.

In Other News

  • The EU opened an antitrust investigation into Google's ad-tech business, looking into whether its tools favor Google over other ad services.
  • Oculus's ad tester bailed on the project. Resolution Games was supposed to be the first company to put ads inside Quest games, but after huge backlash said it won't be putting ads inside Blaston after all — but that it might trial them in its free Bait! game in future.
  • Amazon tries to churn 6% of its staff every year, The Seattle Times reported, and uses a process that's not technically stack ranking but looks and works an awful lot like stack ranking. And Business Insider reported that Amazon offers some employees up to $30,000 to quit, or risk being fired if they can't complete an "improvement plan."
  • Lordstown Motors execs made millions selling stock right before the company announced bad financial results. An internal investigation found no wrongdoing, but outsiders say the timing is … suspicious.
  • Is Sundar Pichai losing Google? The New York Times found that a number of Google executives think Pichai (and thus Google) moves too slowly on key decisions, and that Pichai's cool-headedness sometimes makes things worse.
  • Shopify is getting into affiliate marketing. It's building a system for publishers to make money by linking to Shopify retailers, The Information reported, which has been a huge growth engine for Amazon in recent years.
  • TikTok now has mini apps. Its "Jump" program is out of testing, and lets creators link to recipes, flashcards, workouts and more within their videos. For now, though, only a few partners will get access.
  • China said banks should take a harder line on crypto. The People's Bank of China told some banks and Alipay that they can't provide crypto-related services, in an effort to crack down on what it sees as speculative trading.

One More Thing

Shut it all down

Here's a trend we can all get behind: Tech companies all over are making plans to shut down for a week this summer, in order to give employees a chance to relax and de-stress. Bumble is closed this week, Hootsuite is off the week after July 4 and we're hearing the same about other companies as well. "We can't run back to back marathons without burning out and our people need a break," Hootsuite's Ryan Holmes said. (LinkedIn did it earlier this year, too.)

Other companies are following the same idea in smaller chunks, like Slack's monthly "Fri-yay" day off. It's a smart move for bosses, it seems, in a moment where so many people are reportedly thinking about their futures and looking for jobs. An extra paid week off is a heck of an incentive to stay.

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