Twitter has officially begun wider testing of its new audio-based feature, Spaces. Since its announcement in November, many – myself included – have been awaiting the arrival of Clubhouse’s direct opponent. Currently powered by the technology formerly known as Periscope, the innovation was initially rolled out for limited beta testing in December to 1,000 accounts. Now, in February, the testing has been expanded to an additional 3,000 and, after a few months of being heavily invested in Clubhouse, I recently got to experience my first Twitter Space.
Much like its rival, Spaces allows users to create a chatroom – public or private – that they can invite others to take part in or listen to. Built within the Twitter app, live Spaces appear at the top of your screen right beside Fleets – mirroring an ephemeral presence very similar to Instagram Live. Unlike the popular livestream feature however, individuals are only made aware of whether a Space is in session while using the app as no adjustments have been made to feature push notifications yet (basically, Twitter doesn’t want to send users more annoying alerts). Nonetheless, hosts are able to invite people to join a Space by sending DMs, tweeting links or sharing a link elsewhere – a popular promotional method already adopted by many Clubhouse users on both Twitter and Instagram.
What really stands out for me though is its focus on accessibility. Compared to Clubhouse – which has pretty much made no effort to prioritise accessibility for hearing-impaired or low vision users – Spaces has made a conscious effort to enable live transcripts, writing out exactly what speakers are saying in real-time. Though it’s still very much an early version and needs a lot of improvement, Spaces is on track to becoming a more inclusive hub for the most overlooked community in the digital space. Another additional feature is that users can share tweets into a Space. This then appears at the top of the chat, allowing participants to view and discuss live in the room. And to top it all off, there are emojis. Now, this might seem like such an irrelevant addition but in audio-chat rooms, it makes all the difference. Offering an alternative to a direct response or reaction, the emojis allow passive listeners or speakers with muted mics the opportunity to respond to what the current speaker is saying without interrupting. On Clubhouse, this feature doesn’t exist but many have resorted to rapidly muting and unmuting their microphones to indicate agreement with what has been said.
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Moving onto moderation. Clubhouse has been heavily criticised for its lack of this. Last year, the app saw several high-profile incidents including the harassment of New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz, anti-semitism and abuse towards Black women. And while efforts have been made with the introduction of reporting and blocking tools, many are still finding this to be slightly controversial. Yet, according to Twitter strategist Danny Singh, who fortunately joined the Space I was in, tackling moderation issues is the primary focus for the tech team. Similar to Clubhouse, creators can control who can or cannot speak in the Space. Reporting and blocking features have been immediately included in this first version of the product, and soon hosts will also have more options to control conversations.
And while its clear Spaces is trying not to make the same mistakes as its competitor – it has weekly Q&A community gatherings and a Twitter page dedicated to updates – the platform still has a long way to go. For instance, you can’t label a Space with the topic of discussion. It will simply say “Jennifer Adetoro’s Space” for example which, if you’ve been in a Clubhouse room, is quite weird as part of what draws attention to those rooms, as with most digital content, is clickbait and catchy titles. Spaces also has a lot of finicky bugs that need to be troubleshooted and you can’t see everyone who is in the room, another key part of Clubhouse.
Final thoughts? For now, Clubhouse still has my attention. Simply because it has established itself as the place for main events and popular discourse – we’ve seen this with the production of The Lion King and Elon Musk’s upcoming room with Kanye West. However, Spaces has much more longevity. Its focus on moderation and attempt at accessibility paired with the fact that users can still navigate and use other features on the Twitter app while in a Space just makes so much sense. Part of what makes Clubhouse so engaging is the cross-platform commentary. It’s why hashtags appear in the title of rooms so the conversations can carry over to Twitter and why Clubhouse chatrooms – notably CH Chat – have been created. So to have this all on Twitter where its core existence thrives on social discourse and commentary already puts Spaces at a much bigger advantage. And I’m here for it.
By Jennifer Adetoro, culture editor of CORQ.