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

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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5 apps for scheduling Instagram posts on iPhone and Android

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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

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.

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.

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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Social networking websites launch features to encourage users to get boosters

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Facebook Instagram and TikTok are launching new features to encourage people to get their coronavirus booster jabs.

From Friday, users will be able to update their profiles with frames or stickers to show that they have had their top-up jab or aim to when they become eligible.

It follows on from people previously being able to show they have had their first and second jabs on certain social networking websites and apps.

TikTok also held a “grab a jab” event in London earlier this year.

I urge everyone who is eligible – don’t delay, get your vaccine or top up jab today to protect yourself and your loved ones

More than 16 million booster vaccines have now been given across the UK.

People who are aged 40 and above and received their second dose of their vaccine at least six months ago are currently eligible to have their booster.

A new campaign advert is also being launched on Friday, which shows how Covid-19 can build up in enclosed spaces and how to prevent that from happening.

Vaccines minister Maggie Throup said:  “Getting your booster is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and your family this winter.

“It is fantastic to see some of the biggest household names further back the phenomenal vaccine rollout, allowing their users to proudly display that they have played their part in helping us build a wall of defence across the country.

“I urge everyone who is eligible – don’t delay, get your vaccine or top-up jab today to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

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How many hashtags should you use to get the most ‘Likes’ on Instagram?

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Hashtags are a key feature of Instagram posts. In fact, they have become an essential means of ensuring more ‘Likes’ on social media – so long as you choose them wisely.

But how many hashtags should you use to maximise your popularity on the social network? The answer might surprise you.

It’s a question that many Instagram users ask themselves: what’s the right number of hashtags to add to a post? To find out, the Later platform analysed 18 million Instagram posts, excluding videos, Reels and Stories.

Interestingly, Later’s results differ from Instagram’s own recommendations. According to Later’s analysis, using more hashtags helps get better results in terms of “reach”, or the percentage of users exposed to the post. By using 20 hashtags, Later observed an optimal average reach rate of just under 36%. Using 30 hashtags gets the next-best reach rate. With five hashtags, reach hits just under 24%.

And while a post’s reach is important, engagement is even more so. From “Likes” and comments to shares and follows – on average, 30 hashtags appears to result in better engagement rates: “When it comes to average engagement rate, using 30 Instagram hashtags per feed post results in the most likes and comments,” says Later’s research.

Yet, at the end of September 2021, Instagram advised its creators to use between three and five hashtags for their posts, while warning them against using too many. The social network advised that using 10 to 20 hashtags per post “will not help you get additional distribution”.

For Later, there could be other reasons behind Instagram’s recommendations: “As Instagram continues to expand their discoverability and SEO tools, it makes sense that they want users to experiment with fewer, more relevant hashtags – this could help them accurately categorise and recommend your posts in suggested content streams, like the Instagram Reels feed or the updated hashtag search tabs,” the website explains. – AFP Relaxnews

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