Clubhouse is the hot new social audio star. But Twitter Spaces is available to 30X the audience out of the box … and draws on a social graph you already own.
Does that mean it’s the new winner just waiting to be crowned?
In this episode of TechFirst with John Koetsier, I chat with Paul Armstrong, CEO and founder of Here/Forth … and owner of the very first sponsored show on Twitter Spaces. And not just sponsored by some tiny brand: sponsored by a Fortune 500 global brand.
At least, it’s the very first as far as Armstrong knows.
Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript. Or check out the Forbes story here …
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Read: This might just be the very first sponsored Twitter Space
(This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
John Koetsier: Hello and welcome to TechFirst. My name is John Koetsier of course, and our guest today is Paul Armstrong, CEO and founder of Here/Forth, which is a very cool company, and he’s doing some very cool stuff.
We’re talking about Twitter Spaces.
And of course, social audio has just absolutely blown up over the last, sheesh, can I say half a year? Maybe even a year? Since quarantine time. We all know about Clubhouse. We all know about many of the other big ones, but Twitter Spaces is also in this place.
And Paul, let’s start there, you’re doing something very cool there. What is Twitter Spaces?
Paul Armstrong: Sure.
Twitter Spaces is an audio product that’s based on Periscope, which if you’re not familiar with, was the live streaming company that Twitter bought many years ago actually, now — no, it wasn’t two, it was more than that. They’ve stripped it back and they’re building from the ground up to create an audio product that basically launches live in the app.
So, eventually anyone will be able to start a Space or join a Space, but for the moment, there’s a select few beta users that can start and host Spaces. But everyone can join them. So if you look and open the app, you’ll see it in the top sort of part of the bar, and it looks like an orange sort of circle — not orange, sorry. Purple. Purple circle.
Shameless plug: I have Twitter Spaces access.
John Koetsier: Yes. Yes. So I do have access to Twitter Spaces as well. I have tried it. I’ve used it. I’m not a huge fan yet, but I may get there. But you have kind of a claim to fame: you have the first — perhaps the only —Twitter Space that we know of right now that has actual sponsorship. Talk to us about that.
Paul Armstrong: So the product, I created it specifically for Twitter Spaces.
When I got on there, I just fired it up, probably like most people do when they’ve had access. And I just sat there and just thought, right, do you know what? I’ll do a tweet to make sure that people know the, you know — the terrible organic rates that I would have got with that. But then about five or six people jumped in and said, ‘Hey, I just wanted to find out what this was’ and that sort of thing.
And there were five people that I’ve been following for a number of years that I’ve never spoken with, never connected, don’t even think I’ve DM’d them or anything, and we just caught up.
We said, ‘Oh, I’ve been following for years,’ dadadada, ‘what do you think?’ You know, and we started testing all the functionality and sort of really spitballing a few ideas. And that’s when I sort of had this idea of like, do you know what? This is a great way where I can meet new people, expand people’s minds on a few different topics.’
I run a conference called TBD — Technology. Behavior. Data — so I have access to an army of people from delivery execs, to Amazon, to Uber, to Alibaba, that have all spoken on stage. And I thought I should bring some of those people back, but also try and hear some new voices, like the ones I’m meeting in that first Space.
So I created Mouthwash, which is going to be a 30-40 minute show. It’s going to be daily. It’s going to go out in the evening so it’ll catch America as well. And the idea behind it is clean and confident, leaving you fresh conversation — see what we did there with mouthwash? And I approached — I literally put out a WhatsApp into a group that a few people are in around about innovation disruption and that sort of stuff.
And I said, ‘Hey, thinking of doing this, if anyone wants to put some money behind it, let me know.’ And a person got involved from Shell, and they’re coming on board as the sponsor for the first season.
So, yeah. I was blown away by how intrigued they were. It’s their innovation and sustainability arm, so again, super pumped for that to be good news. Yeah, and it’s just a really interesting platform. And I think what a lot of people are unaware of is that it’s different to Clubhouse and other audio spaces in a number of ways. But the biggest way is you can actually have a little box at the top of your chat, so you can push in tweets.
So for Mouthwash, we’ve actually created a specific sort of segment, if you want to call it that, where we’re going to call it ‘Desert Island Tweets’ and the talent is going to pick, or the guest is going to pick three tweets that have sort of changed their life in some way. Maybe it’s thinking; maybe it’s they’re connected with someone; maybe they got married through one of them. It’s a really interesting sort of functionality that we’ve got.
I think it’s a very simple product, and that, but I think it’s got a lot more promise because you’ve got the DM functionality if you want to take something offline, you can meet with people, you can put links in. It just feels like a nicer, organic sort of space than other spaces I’ve been in.
John Koetsier: Well, every creator who’s labored for half a year building something and hasn’t monetized it absolutely hates you at the moment. But that’s pretty awesome, that’s a very, very cool story.
You talked about Twitter Spaces and I’ve played with it as well. It is pretty bare bones right now. What really works about Twitter Spaces? Why did you pick that rather than, say, Clubhouse?
Paul Armstrong: Sure. I think it’s a few things for me that sort of racked up, that really sort of pointed towards using Twitter Spaces.
So, first and foremost, the numbers just support you going to Twitter at the moment. Twitter has over 300 million people. Clubhouse, the last number they gave out was 10 [million]. I’m sure they’re exponentially growing since then.
But the other type of thing is I think the type of people that are on Clubhouse, sort of give it an arm or an edge that’s quite sort of somewhat capitalistic, ruthless, and a little bit money-driven. There’s a lot of VC, you know, it feels sometimes a bit grubby, a bit selly when you’re in there. There are lots of other spaces and I’m doing it a massive disservice, but the ones I’ve sort of been in and just dipped in, popped in, you know, five minutes here, ‘oh, don’t know what that’s about,’ have a look, they’ve all just felt a little bit sort of, um … [sighs] what’s a good word to sort of use?
John Koetsier: A little bit mercenary maybe, hey? A little bit of a hustler paradise?
Paul Armstrong: Hustler.
John Koetsier: I mean, you know, you said it, and I’ll back it up. I’ll back it up, because I’m not a big Clubhouse fan. I know people who are.
I interviewed Josh Constine, he has 3.6 million followers on Clubhouse. He absolutely loves it. And it’s great, that works for him. But when I’ve dipped in — and I’m not saying his PressClub, but many others — there’s a lot of hustlers there who are saying, ‘Hey, and this is awesome and this is cool, and I went on Clubhouse and boom, my business went here, and this happened, and I got so many clients from it.’
And, you know, that’s not necessarily why I do social media. I don’t do social media to get new clients. I do social media to connect with cool people who have interesting ideas.
And that was one thing, amongst some others, that kind of turned me off of Clubhouse, honestly.
Paul Armstrong: I agree.
The word I was thinking of is ego. That’s the one I sort of thought of. A lot of this stuff is very much driven around an individual’s like lust for something. But it’s very rarely, I’ve found, to give back knowledge or to extend knowledge. And that’s what I really want to try and do with Mouthwash.
I’ve been quite successful at doing it with TBD, and that’s really what I’m sort of trying to grow with it. But yeah, absolutely to your point, it’s also really interesting that Clubhouse grew through really popular people who had massive followings and that sort of stuff.
Twitter Spaces has grown the complete opposite. They’ve gone out to people who are in minorities — black women was one of their big focus — and that, so they’ve really grown in a completely different way. When you look at how Twitter Spaces has grown, you’ve already got your followers, some people, or you can get them in different ways, but Clubhouse grew through mugging your phone for information.
And also, the people that you know in your phone is great, but also, you know more people than that outside on these networks. So again, you might have a richer arena of people that you can pick from, from something like Twitter Spaces. I think the opportunity and the potential of Twitter Spaces is much larger, because Twitter has been around the block. They have got issues like every other platform out there, but they certainly didn’t build a product that sort of mugs privacy from the get-go.
And that seems to be, from everything that I’m reading, something of an MO for Clubhouse.
John Koetsier: So let’s talk about Twitter Spaces then. I’ve played with it a few times. I like it. I’m not in love with it at the moment. I think that there’s some features that they probably need. I would love to, for instance, start a Twitter Space with a topic [laughing]. ‘This is what we’re talking about.’ Maybe a tweet, maybe something else, who knows what it could be? Do you find that as well? And what else does Twitter Spaces need?[Update: Twitter recently added a feature to give a room a topic or name]
Paul Armstrong: Yeah, I think there’s a — I mean, it’s very bare bones. That’s the way they’ve sort of purposefully built it.
And the great thing about it is the team actually have all of their meetings on Twitter Spaces, so you know exactly what’s coming and when. So, moderation is a key one for them. That’s going to be key to any audio space, certainly on Twitter. And I think the interesting part of the other functionality that you mentioned, starting with a descriptor of the room, they’ve actually started to do that now.
So it’s the grey text underneath, but I can’t change it. It just says ‘Paul Armstrong’s Room,’ whereas I would like ‘Mouthwash’ to be there. That will come. They know that that’s a feature request and that sort of stuff. They are building it at a rate of knots, I think it would be fair to say, and there’s a lot of screenshots out there of what’s coming.
I think the biggest thing for this is going to be, as with most things when it gets large, is discoverability.
So, how do you find those interesting voices? Do we just want another platform of like really popular people that were already really popular? Or can we bring in new voices? And that’s really what I’m trying to do with Mouthwash is trying to get some new species. We’ve got Arushev Jhab [SP] coming on, she’s an amazing woman who wants to speak about diversity. We’ve got Tracey Follows, she’s an amazing futurist, all talking about the future of digital identity. We’ve got Tom Warren from The Verge, he wants to come and talk about the future of gaming.
All of these things have got like, they’ll have got tentacles that will go everywhere. So again, my job as the host is to keep them really focused. And that’s a good thing about Twitter Spaces is there’s no time limit, but what I’m doing is purposely putting a time limit on it. So, that for me is going to be an interesting challenge, I think.
But, yeah, I’m intrigued to see how it goes. I think it’s a really big experiment, and I’m really proud of why Shell has done it. You know, they’re a massive corporation. You don’t necessarily think of them like, ‘Oh, let’s do some experiments,’ but they came on and did it. So I’m kind of pumped for them to do it and see where Spaces goes, because like I said, it’s still in beta literally right now. We’re going to go live on the 14th — on or around the 14th. So yeah, it’s going to be a fun one.
John Koetsier: Cool. I should know this, I think, but I’m not sure that I do. Is Twitter Spaces available on Android as well? Obviously, Clubhouse is not yet.
Paul Armstrong: Clubhouse is not yet, you know. So yes, it is. It’s beta, obviously still, but they have pushed that out. There are, you know—
John Koetsier: That’s an important piece for me. That’s a really important piece for me, because I would feel horrible to start something on Clubhouse and guess what? You can only come if you have iOS. I mean, it’s like [laughing] it’s like, that should just not be a thing today.
Paul Armstrong: Absolutely true. But you know the demographics of iOS in the marketer’s minds, they’re always like richer, more upperly mobile, in different pla— and you go like, that’s not the change we need to see in the world. You need to be more inclusive. So I am absolutely pleased as punch that they have pushed Android so fast that they have. So, yeah, definitely. It also — crazy — opens you up to millions more people. So, you know, it is a wonder why they haven’t— [crosstalk].
John Koetsier: And a global audience.
I mean, obviously iPhone has good market share in the United States, Canada, U.K., many other places, Australia, but … if you’re talking Android, you’re talking a global audience where many countries that has 70%, 80%, 90% or higher market share: India, many others, China, other places like that.
Excellent. Paul, this has been super interesting. Super cool to hear a little bit more about Twitter Spaces, what’s working there, what’s not working there, the first show perhaps that has achieved sponsorship — which is Mouthwash, which is a cool name as well. Nice background from mmhmm you said, or somebody like that?
Paul Armstrong: Yeah. mmhmm, Phil Libin, who’s the CEO of it. If you haven’t played with it, it’s new video conferencing technology that feels a bit more like a TV show. So you can have animated backgrounds, slides will come in and out. I can make myself disappear, move down, and everything. Really, really fun. It’s mmhmm.io I think or something, but just google mm—[Update: it’s mmhmm.app]
John Koetsier: Nobody can spell that. How many mm’s are there? How many H’s, all that stuff. I did get pitched on that technology. I checked it out. I didn’t ultimately write about it or really test it out, but it is kind of cool.
Must be creating a virtual camera that you’re feeding to StreamYard — the technology I use to record this — and doing some neat things there. Paul, thank you so much for taking some time to chat about this stuff. Really, really interesting. I really do appreciate your time as well.
Paul Armstrong: Thanks for having me.
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