Naval Ravikant’s Airchat is a social app built around talk, not text

Airchat is a new social media app that encourages users to “just talk.”

A previous version of Airchat was released last year, but the team – led by AngelList founder Naval Ravikant and former Tinder chief product officer Brian Norgard – rebuilt the app and relaunched it on iOS and Android yesterday. Currently by invitation only, Airchat is already ranked No. 27 among social networks on the Apple App Store.

Visually, Airchat should look quite familiar and intuitive, with the ability to follow other users, scroll through a feed of posts, and then reply, like, and share those posts. The difference is that the messages and replies are audio recordings, which the application then transcribes.

When you open Airchat, messages automatically start playing and you quickly scroll through them by swiping up and down. If you want, you can pause the audio and just play the text; Users can also share photos and videos. But audio seems to be what everyone is focusing on and what Ravikant describes as transforming the dynamic compared to text-based social apps.

“/>screenshot of Airchat feed

After joining Airchat this morning, most of the messages I saw were about the app itself, with Ravikant and Norgard answering questions and seeking feedback.

“Humans are all meant to get along with other humans, it just requires a natural voice,” Ravikant said. “Online, text-only media has given us the illusion that people can’t get along, when in reality everyone can get along.”

This isn’t the first time tech startups are betting on voice as the next big thing on social media. But Airchat’s asynchronous and threaded posts offer quite a different experience than the live chat rooms that briefly thrived on Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces. Norgard argued that this approach removes the stage fright barrier to participation, because “you can make as many attempts as you want to write a post here, and no one knows.”

In fact, he said that in conversations with early adopters, the team found that “most people using AirChat today are very introverted and shy.”

Personally, I haven’t convinced myself to publish anything yet. I was more interested in seeing how others used the app. Plus, I have a love-hate relationship with the sound of my voice.

Still, there’s something to be said for hearing Ravikant and Norgard explain their vision, rather than just reading the transcripts, which can miss nuances of enthusiasm, intonation, etc. And I’m especially curious to see how the deadpan jokes and shitty messages translate (or don’t) to audio.

I also have a bit of trouble with speed. The app defaults to 2x audio playback, which feels unnatural to me, especially if the general idea promotes human connection. You can reset the speed by holding down the pause button, but at 1x I noticed I started skimming when listening to longer messages, then usually skipped before listening to the full audio. But maybe that’s good.

“/>Screenshot of Naval Ravikant's comment saying Airchat is not an X competitor

Meanwhile, Ravikant’s belief in the power of voice to reduce acrimony doesn’t necessarily eliminate the need for content moderation features. He said the feed was powered by “complex rules about hiding spam, trolls, and people you or they might not want to hear about,” but at the time of publishing he didn’t have answered a follow-up question from a user about content moderation. .

Asked about monetization – that is, when we might start seeing ads, audio or otherwise – Ravikant said there was “no monetization pressure on the company” . (He described himself as “not the only investor” but “a big investor” in the company.)

“I don’t care about monetization,” he said. “We’ll run this thing on a shoestring budget if we have to.”

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