One of Twitter’s newer features, Spaces, has actually been around for a year now, but it has only just started to pick up steam. We look at what’s taken Spaces so long to get going and discuss what Twitter might be trying to achieve with the new format.
Twitter Spaces are audio chat rooms that anyone can join, but only hosts and the listeners the hosts select can speak. The format is very similar to Clubhouse, which launched last year, and it functions almost like a live, interactive radio show or podcast. Spaces can currently only be created on mobile devices, and not on browser versions of the platform on laptops or desktops.
Originally Spaces were only available while they were live and weren’t accessible after they had ended, but now Twitter has made them available for posterity. Hosts are now allowed to record the chats and post shareable links to them after they have finished.
Spaces are public and anyone can join to listen. There are no limits on the number of listeners. However, only hosts can control who speaks – you can set up a Space with speaking privileges allowed for everyone, people you follow, or only those you invite to speak.
When you join a Space as a listener, you can react to what you hear with emojis, tweet or DM the Space, or request to speak on your microphone.
Spaces were initially announced by Twitter in November 2020, but up until recently, only users with 600 or more followers could host a Space, meaning, although anyone could join and listen (and request to speak), there was an exclusivity preventing the average Twitter user from really being able to engage with the feature.
The update that has allowed anyone to host a Space was initially scheduled for an April release but has only recently been launched, which could perhaps account for its sudden popularity.
Clubhouse, which seems to be what Spaces is based on, was initially built on exclusivity and was invite-only before July. This would have been a big opportunity for Twitter to capitalise on the format without a barrier for users, but they have only just lifted their own barriers, months later.
Before allowing all users to host a space, Twitter had released new features such as the ability to add co-hosts and add up to 10 speakers. They also introduced a fund for Space creators and piloted ‘Ticketed Spaces’, which were exclusive Spaces that required listeners to pay to join.
The response to Twitter Spaces has been varied, much as it was with Clubhouse, and Spaces doesn’t yet seem to be filling any particular gap in the market. In other words, there’s no space for Spaces.
Competing with Clubhouse, or simply copying this new platform, seems to be the main reason for the launch of Spaces. The Verge described it as “an attempt to eclipse Clubhouse’s success with its own version of audio-centric chat rooms”.
It might not be that Twitter views Clubhouse as a threat, but simply sees the format as a way to revitalise or bring some new life to the platform. As Mashable puts it “Twitter’s quest to give users anything else to do on the app besides post and like tweets continues.”
Spaces could also function as a way for Twitter to start making some money from its platform. Ticketed Spaces could be a popular feature if celebrities or internet personalities latch on to it rather than using the free version.
Ticketed Spaces could also potentially be used by companies or industry professionals as a type of accessible conference. Twitter has said that hosts will be able to set the ticket prices and the number of tickets available. Hosts will keep the majority of the revenue, but Twitter will receive a cut.
If copying competitors or making money are not the reasons behind Spaces, then it could be that Spaces is a way to redefine Twitter’s USP. Could Clubhouse (and now Spaces) be exactly what Twitter initially envisioned itself as? A more ‘social’ social media? A place of active discussion, rather than a platform often flooded with emotionally reactive posting, self-promotion, and trolling?
Understandably, Twitter didn’t mention Clubhouse at all when they announced its launch. On their Twitter thread announcing Spaces’ first test version, the team behind it romantically described it as ‘a small experiment focused on the intimacy of the human voice’.
The team also seemed to address the limitations of their own platform, saying that ‘the human voice can bring a layer of connectivity to Twitter through emotion, nuance and empathy often lost in text’ and that ‘sometimes 280 isn’t enough’. Despite short, text-based content being Twitter’s original USP, it seems to fall short in the intimate connections they are hoping to cultivate.
Similarly, when Twitter shut down Fleets (Twitter’s version of disappearing content akin to Facebook or Instagram Stories) earlier this year, they put its failure down to not enough new people ‘joining the conversation’.
They stated, ‘Although we built Fleets to address some of the anxieties that hold people back from Tweeting, Fleets are mostly used by people who are already Tweeting to amplify their own Tweets and talk directly with others. We’ll explore more ways to address what holds people back from participating on Twitter.’
In the thread announcing the launch of Spaces, the team behind it said, ‘we imagine the best Spaces to feel like a well-hosted dinner party’ and that ‘you don’t need to know everyone to have a great time, but everyone feels comfortable at the table. We wanted Spaces to have that magic feeling too.’
It’s hard to see whether Spaces will reach these lofty ambitions, but one of the biggest events to come out of the format so far was the recent #SingYourDialect on November 22nd, started by a small account with a simple idea – request to speak, say who you are and where you are from, and then sing something in your regional accent.
Originally intended to just be for the host’s friends and mutual connections, the idea quickly snowballed. Over the course of the evening, the Space amassed a huge audience of 50,000 listeners and even attracted wide-ranging celebrity interest, including Barack Obama, Declan Rice, Lethal Bizzle, and the official Domino’s Pizza account, among others.
While it is unlikely that the team behind Spaces ever envisioned this, could #SingYourDialect be a lairy version of the dinner party of well-intentioned strangers that they were hoping for? Twitter themselves even congratulated the host on a job well done.
Twitter will surely be happy with the popularity of #SingYourDialect, and hope for similarly popular events in the future, especially if their goal was just to get people interested in the platform again. However, it’s so far unclear whether Spaces will take off or become a significant part of the Twitter experience beyond the initial excitement.