Airchat Becomes the New Craze in Silicon Valley

Airchat social network

Over last weekend, Naval Ravikant, co-founder of Airchat, had to pause new registrations for his app. Following the launch of a new update on Friday, Airchat was overwhelmed by users eager to check out the latest trend in Silicon Valley. Ravikant had initially allowed a select group of users unlimited invites to distribute among friends, a move that unexpectedly backfired.

“We’re seeing a surge in new users, so we’ve temporarily disabled the invitation feature,” Ravikant announced on Sunday.

Naval Ravikant didn’t make these comments to WIRED, or on Twitter or Threads, but rather through a brief audio message within his own app, complete with a transcription. If a voice note is played in the wilderness of Silicon Valley and only the tech elite are around to hear it, does it still resonate? Ravikant believes it does.

Combining Twitter’s feed dynamics with the audio-centric approach of Clubhouse, Airchat presents a challenging mix. Upon opening the app and following some contacts, users encounter a streamlined feed of text transcriptions derived from audio clips. The app naturally progresses from one audio clip to another, pausing only if you manually hit the Play/Pause button located at the bottom right of the screen.

Airchat app trend

To record your own audio clip, you press and hold the Audio/Video button at the bottom of the screen, speak, and release. While there is a video option, it appears underutilized. For more private communications, there’s also a DM feature, but no typing is permitted.

Airchat introduces some perplexing features. Audio clips are immediately uploaded upon releasing the Audio/Video button, so perfection is required on the first attempt. Although users can delete a clip post-recording, the option to do so isn’t immediately obvious — I only noticed the delete icon after someone pointed it out.

Navigating responses to an audio clip is also less than straightforward, with no ability to respond to every clip or view all responses in a thread, and the reasons for this are not clear. Furthermore, the maximum duration of an Airchat message is uncertain; one user mentioned a 45-second limit, though I managed to record up to a minute.

By default, all voice notes play at double speed, giving everyone a slightly frantic, overly caffeinated demeanor. However, users can adjust the playback speed by holding down the Play/Pause button, a feature that is anything but intuitive.

Revamped Platform and Funding Insights

This iteration of Airchat is actually a revamped version of an app first quietly released last spring. Originally conceived by Brian Norgard, former chief product officer at Tinder, as a peer-to-peer voice messaging app, Ravikant joined forces with Norgard a year ago and got deeply involved in the app’s development a few months later. Thus, the new Airchat was introduced.

Most of the funding for Airchat has come from Ravikant’s own investment fund, with additional contributions from Jeff Fagnan of Accomplice Ventures. “Sam Altman just wrote a check, rather blindly,” Ravikant told me in a public response on Airchat, after he declined to respond to my DMs and insisted our discussion be public. “We can’t do an old-style, DM-based interview. We’re moving past that,” he stated. (In both the old and new worlds, conducting an interview in real-time is almost always… preferable.)

To date, the Airchat feed is bustling with tech buffs, early adopters, venture capitalists, and journalists. The platform is abuzz with cryptocurrency discussions. Wine influencer Gary Vaynerchuk and Y Combinator CEO Garry Tan are among its users. This weekend, Tan asked, “What did you have for breakfast as your first step toward greatness today?” The question garnered over 96 audio replies. Social media has indeed returned.

The Role of AI and User Privacy

Airchat platform popularity

Airchat employs AI in a way that’s deceptively straightforward. Transcripts for each voice note are generated almost instantly and are impressively accurate. Minor stutters like “Ums” are included, but other pauses and filler words are edited out.

When I mentioned “Airchat” in a voice note, it initially appeared as “error chat” before correcting itself. The app also seems capable of recognizing and transcribing multiple languages; one user spoke in Russian resulting in a Cyrillic transcript, while another spoke Moroccan Arabic and praised the transcription quality.

Concerns about the future use of this voice data were addressed by Ravikant, who assured that the creators of Airchat have no plans to use the data to train a large language model or to create “weird synthetic clones” of users.

He also affirmed that he would not sell the data to any company looking to build AI models, especially given the small size of the app and the unstructured nature of its data. However, the data may be used internally to enhance the app’s audio and transcription capabilities. Participation in the app implies consent to this use.

When asked about potential unauthorized data scraping by AI companies, Ravikant responded, “We’ll block them, sue them, and if I had a fleet of orbital satellites, we’d nudge them from orbit.”

As for monetization, Ravikant hasn’t disclosed any plans to charge for access. The app’s format might be suitable for audio ads, although this could risk making the app less enjoyable to use.

Content moderation poses a challenge as users’ unfiltered audio clips are instantly posted. One user tested the limits with profane critiques of the app and its founders. Another conversation thread featured two users exchanging stories about “gay Jewish teens” and “neo-Nazi killers.”

Over the weekend, a new Airchat channel titled “War” attracted over 529 members. Discussions ranged from Iran’s drone attacks on Israel to broader geopolitical tensions involving the U.S. and China. Participants shared personal opinions, unverified news, and economic predictions. “We need more baseless opinions from VCs on world politics,” one user commented.

The dialogue on Airchat, though asynchronous, recalled the environment once found on Clubhouse, the live audio app that soared in popularity during the pandemic before its decline. Clubhouse too faced moderation difficulties inherent to audio-based platforms and has since pivoted to a format similar to asynchronous voice notes. History suggests there are indeed new ideas still to be explored.

Airchat’s official policy promotes self-moderation: users can mute or block others, but this does little to address the broader issues of harmful content or misinformation that may proliferate on the app. The policy states that users won’t be removed for polite disagreements or political reasons, but will be for harassment, impersonation, inappropriate behavior, and illegal activities.

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