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Meet Swell, a voice-based social platform that’s like Clubhouse, but also like Instagram and Twitter



Nandini YadavJul 15, 2021 11:57:07 IST

Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces may seem like the last word on the drop-in audio chat format, but the space is evolving faster than you may realise.

A San Francisco startup called Swell, by co-founders Sudha K Varadarajan and Arish Ali, is a new voice-based social platform which – at the first look – seems like a blend of WhatsApp voice notes, Instagram feeds, and Clubhouse audio chat but the final concoction is unique – and its beauty is asynchronicity.

As opposed to a platform like Clubhouse where conversations are now or never – meaning you either hear them live or miss them entirely – Swell allows users to post standalone (up to five minutes long) audio clips with an accompanying image and links that show up on a feed. Other users can browse, listen and leave their own audio responses in their own time.

Swell has options for audio-only group chats, private conversations (think: DMs), or public conversations called Swellcasts. A Swellcast is more like a conversation thread on Twitter, except the conversation here comprises audio clips.

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Swell is a new asynchronous voice-based social platform. (Image: tech2)

Swell is a new asynchronous voice-based social platform. (Image: tech2)

To learn more about how Swell works, how it’s different from platforms like Clubhouse, how challenging content moderation is on audio-based platforms, and why the audio format is the Goldilocks zone of conversation, we spoke to Swell co-founder and CEO Sudha K Varadarajan.

Tech2: What makes the audio-chat format so comfortable to adapt to, and hence so popular?

Varadarajan: Talking is the most natural form of communication – something humans have evolved to become comfortable with over thousands of years. Social platforms driven by text have forced people to communicate in a way that is not natural – using compressed text and emojis. This is why voice based audio chat has been a refreshing change and popular as it has allowed people to revert to a more natural way of communication. On the other extreme, video chats tend to be very intrusive and place a much higher demand on us – we worry about how we look, where we are, bandwidth for video etc. which takes us away from focusing on the conversation and just getting our voice heard.

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Audio, as a mode, comes free of such constraints, allowing the users to only focus on their communication, hassle-free, and this is why it has become so popular.

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Tech2: How is Swell different from Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces?

Varadarajan: Swell is very different from any other live drop-in audio platform, both in terms of functionality and purpose.

On Swell, users can post audio clips of up to 5 minutes, which can be heard by anyone at their own convenience; these posts can be accompanied by other media like photos and links. Users don’t have to be present in real-time to be a part of the conversations. So, unlike Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces, on Swell, the nature of the conversations is asynchronous.

Alongside, the platform aims at keeping the conversations non-polarized and humanized, carrying a distinct intent, emotion and empathy, unlike most social media platforms. Users talk about topics like a native recipe they tried or a beautiful place they explored in standalone Swellcasts.

The 5-minute cap also ensures that users get access to a diverse range of content in a short duration i.e. an user will be able to listen to 20 different Swells and reply to 10 different people, in the time it takes for him to listen to one entire podcast episode. The fast-paced nature of the platform has been designed to make it relevant and appealing for the younger audience because that is the fastest-growing demographic segment for the audio space right now.

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Tech2: How difficult is content moderation for platforms like Swell and Clubhouse?

Varadarajan: The structure and culture of Swell makes moderation a much easier problem for Swell than it has been for other audio platforms like Clubhouse.

The biggest challenge in private real-time audio chat, and also some would argue their biggest attraction, is that it is private and so people feel less inhibited and can say anything they want, resulting in conversations that can need a lot of moderation to avoid offending and hurting individuals and groups.

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Swell, on the other hand, from day one has been about authenticity and accountability. Most conversations on Swell are public that anyone can hear at any point of time. Swell is also asynchronous, which means people can think before they respond and say anything. This ensures people are already self-moderating and being thoughtful before they post on Swell. There is less chance for a heat of the moment rant that they may require moderators to jump in.

That said, in general content moderation for any social media network is a hard problem since the content is solely user-generated. So the more the number of users – which is a boon for the platform – the more the requirement for a robust monitoring mechanism.

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For Swell, we have decided to give the power back to the users in that they have complete moderation rights. Users are allowed to delete any response to their posts that they find offensive or unpleasant, without being questioned by the Swell moderation team. Similarly, for Swellcasts, all co-hosts have moderator rights.

Additionally, if any user finds any post inappropriate, they can report the same to the Swell moderation team for a prompt review and action as per the app’s terms of service.

Tech2: With Twitter joining this space earlier this year, how challenging is it for platforms like Swell to find their audience?

Varadarajan: We believe that the audience that would visit a live drop-in audio platform would also visit Swell, depending upon their purpose of visit. For example, a user can listen to a topic of interest in a real-time conversation on a drop-in platform. But that would only be a finite session, so once it ends, nothing would stop him from talking about what he liked about the conversation, his key takeaways, on Swell. Because Swell is a platform for people to share their life in audio, not restricted to any specific topic or time.

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So, we believe that we will gradually build up our audience base, as Swell complements the other industry players and doesn’t compete with them.

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Tech2: Twitter and Clubhouse are both experimenting with a monetisation model, is Swell working on something similar?

Varadarajan: Right now, our focus is on giving users a humanised and authentic social-audio networking experience. And to do that we have ruled out any ad-based monetisation models for now. Going forward, we will look at generating revenues through exclusive premium subscriptions and charge-based access to some of the premium features of the app.

While the first option will allow users to access the content of a creator they really like listening to by paying a certain price, the second alternative is pretty self-explanatory. However, there is still some time for these features to be available.

Tech2: Is audio the future?

Varadarajan: It might not be correct to say audio is the future because that might imply that it wasn’t there in the past or doesn’t exist in the present. Audio was and is very much there, say through FM or radio or other medium. Social-audio is only another new dimension of that industry, which is here to stay. And it will complement all the other forms of communication, be it visual or text-based, owing to individual preference, requirement or functionality.

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LinkedIn Makes its 20 Most Popular LinkedIn Learning Courses Freely Available Throughout August





Looking to up your skills for a job change or career advancement in the second half of the year?

This will help – today, LinkedIn has published its listing of the 20 most popular LinkedIn Learning courses over the first half of 2022. In addition to this, LinkedIn’s also making each of these courses free to access till the end of the month – so now may well be the best time to jump in and brush up on the latest, rising skills in your industry.

As per LinkedIn:

As the Great Reshuffle slows and the job market cools, professionals are getting more serious about skill building. The pandemic accelerated change across industries, and as a result, skills to do a job today have changed even compared to a few years ago. Professionals are responding by learning new skills to future-proof their careers and meet the moment.” 

LinkedIn says that over seven million people have undertaken these 20 courses this year, covering everything from improved communication, project management, coding, strategic thinking and more.

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Here are the top 20 LinkedIn Learning courses right now, which you can access via the relevant links:

  1. Goal Setting: Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) with Jessie Withers
  2. Excel Essential Training (Office 365/Microsoft 365) with Dennis Taylor
  3. Interpersonal Communication with Dorie Clark
  4. Cultivating a Growth Mindset with Gemma Leigh Roberts
  5. Project Management Foundations with Bonnie Biafore
  6. Using Questions to Foster Critical Thinking and Curiosity with Joshua Miller
  7. Essentials of Team Collaboration with Dana Brownlee
  8. Unconscious Bias with Stacey Gordon
  9. Learning Python with Joe Marini
  10. Communicating with Confidence with Jeff Ansell
  11.  Speaking Confidently and Effectively with Pete Mockaitis
  12. Learning the OWASP Top 10 with Caroline Wong
  13. Power BI Essential Training with Gini von Courter
  14. Strategic Thinking with Dorie Clark
  15. SQL Essential Training with Bill Weinman
  16. Developing Your Emotional Intelligence with Gemma Leigh Roberts
  17. Communication Foundations with Brenda Bailey-Hughes and Tatiana Kolovou
  18. Agile Foundations with Doug Rose
  19. Digital Marketing Foundations with Brad Batesole
  20. Critical Thinking with Mike Figliuolo
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If you’ve been thinking about upskilling, now may be the time – or maybe it’s just worth taking some of the programming courses, for example, so that you have a better understanding of how to communicate between departments on projects.

Or you could take an Agile course. If, you know, you don’t trust your own management ability.

The courses are available for free till August 31st via the above links.

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Instagram Is Rolling Out Reels Replies, And Will Be Testing A New Feature Which Informs …





Instagram has added a few more social features to the platform, with Reels Replies being rolled out. Along with the Replies, anew feature is being tested that shows when two users are active together in the same chat.

Reels has been performing much better than perhaps even Instagram ever anticipated. The TikTok-inspired new video format (which officially claims to have absolutely no relation to the former) had some trouble really finding its footing initially. However, Reels has grown massively and while it may not be a source of the most direct competition to TikTok, it is indeed a worthy alternative.

Reels has grown to the point that it has a massive creator program attached to it, and the video format has even been migrated to Facebook with the goal of generating further user interest there. Naturally, with such a successful virtual goldmine on its hands, Instagram has been hard at work developing new features and interface updates for Reels, integrating it more and more seamlessly into the rest of the social media platform. Features such as Reels Replies are a major part of such attempts at integration.

Reels Visual Replies are essentially just what they sound like: A Reel that is being used to reply to someone. It’s a feature that’s been seen frequently across TikTok as well. Reel Replies essentially take a user’s comments, and reply to them in video format. The comment will then show up within the Reel itself as a text-box, taking up some amount of space, and showing both the user who issued said comment along with the text. The text-box is apparently adjustable, with users having the ability to move it around and change its size depending on where it obstructs one’s Reel the least.

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Overall, it’s a fun addition to the Reels format, even if the credit should be going to TikTok first. At any rate, it’s an example of Instagram really utilizing Reels’ social media capabilities, outside of just serving it up as a form of entertainment.

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Speaking of social media capabilities, a new feature might help alleviate one of the most common frustrations encountered across all such platforms. Isn’t it annoying when you see that a friend’s online, but isn’t replying to your chat? Sure, they’ve probably just put their phone down to run a quick errand, but there’s no way for you to know, right? Well, there sort of is now! Instagram is beta testing a new feature via which if both users are active within a chat, the platform will display that accordingly. It’s a work-around, sure, and one that’s currently being tested for usefulness, but it’s still a very nice, and even fresh, addition to the social media game.

Now, the active status will only appear when you are both active at the same time.#Instagram #instgramnewfeature@MattNavarra @instagram @alex193a

— Yash Joshi  (@MeYashjoshi) December 10, 2021

Read next: Instagram Plans On Allowing Users To Return To Its Old Chronologically Sorted News Feed

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5 apps for scheduling Instagram posts on iPhone and Android





Alright, we get it. You’re an Instagram Nostradamus.

You know exactly what you want to post and when you’re gonna want to post it. Maybe there’s a meme or comment you want to make that you know will be totally relevant for a future moment or event. Or it could be that you’re an influencer and you want to make sure you keep a steady stream of content coming, so you want to schedule posts for times when you know you won’t be active (or won’t have internet access).

You’ll be happy to know there are apps that are specialized for just such situations. So listen up, InstaNostradamuses…Instagrostra…Instadam…Insta…uh…you guys (we’ll workshop it. No we won’t. We’ll probably just abandon that effort completely. You’re welcome) — these are the Instagram-post-scheduling apps for you.

While all of the iPhone apps below are free to download, they all have some in-app purchases.

1. Planoly


We’ll start with “official partner” of Instagram, itself, Planoly — an Instaplanner that uses a grid to let you plan, schedule, and publish posts (as well as Reels) on Instagram. The app also lets you see post metrics and analytics so you can make sure your post didn’t flop.

Planoly is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

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2. Buffer

BufferCredit: buffer / app store

Buffer is another Instagram post scheduler that helps you plan your posts and analyze feedback once they’re published. Use a calendar view to drag and drop posts into days/time slots for easy scheduling.

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Buffer is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

3. Preview

PreviewCredit: preview / app store

Preview offers typical post-scheduling tools and analytics along with a few helpful extras. Get caption ideas, recommendations for hashtags, and more.

Preview is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

4. Content Office

Content OfficeCredit: content office / app store

An Instagram post scheduler with a visual boost, Content Office allows users to plan and schedule Instagram posts while learning “marketing and visual guides to grow your brand on Instagram.” Like aesthetics and using visuals to create cohesive themes? Maybe this is the Instaplanner for you.

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Content Office is available for iOS on the Apple App Store.

5. Plann

PlannCredit: plann / apple store

You’ll never guess what “Plann” lets you do…

Aside from scheduling posts, get content ideas and recommendations, as well as strategy tips to ensure you’re maximizing your Instagram engagement. Ever wonder when the best time to post something is? Plann can offer you some help with that.

Plann is available for iOS on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for Android.

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