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With the growing popularity of Clubhouse and Houseparty, is it possible for new contenders to enter the space and thrive? For this story I interviewed former Everipedia CPO and Topia CEO Daniel Liebeskind, Billboard-charting Artist Kosha Dillz, and Clubhouse Journalist, Nicole Behnam.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen the dramatic rise of new social platforms such as Houseparty, Clubhouse, Spaces, and now Facebook’s newly announced competitor feature, Live Audio Rooms, which will be available this summer, according to The Verge.
Facebook intends to first roll out the new feature to groups and public figures, similar to how Twitter introduced Spaces to its community, as a beta test, eventually making its way into a Messenger integration.
As a verified public figure on Twitter, I too, been granted access to Spaces, and am still seeing difficulties with Twitter’s newest feature in competition with Clubhouse, recently valued at $4 billion, according to a recent Entrepreneur article.
“I know people will debate this valuation, but $4 billion seems like a cheap price to pay for a priceless community,” Nicole Behnam, founder of Beyond Media and the premiere journalist on Clubhouse told me via email.
Behnam regularly conducts interviews with authors, researchers, celebrities, and experts on various motivational topics, previously hosting rooms exclusively interviewing figures like Jesse Itzler, Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran, Julian Edelman, Angela Duckworth, Maz Jobrani, Brendon Burchard, and Molly Bloom.
Her most recent room, "Addressing Childhood Trauma" took place Thursday night, with over 600 people in it. Moderating the room, Behnam brought in New York Times bestselling author and transformational journalist, Neil Strauss, where speakers such as myself, comedian Leah Lamarr, technology attorney Matt Bilinsky, among others were part of the two-hour conversation.
Recently, Behnam began regularly hosting FBI Negotiation Tactics with Chris Voss, while simultaneously helping launch the first comedy show on the Clubhouse platform, alongside Lamarr. She has since partnered with OverheardLA to continue producing comedy shows on the platform.
Behnam officially became a household name on Clubhouse following the success of the first-ever Clubhouse Passover Seder back in March. The all-inclusive, diverse “Night of 1,000 Jewish Stars” was sponsored by Buzzfeed’s Tasty, and produced by Randi Zuckerberg, with Behnam and Lamarr hosting it. The event benefited the non-profit organization, Value Culture, founded by Adam Swig.
Special guests included actress Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory), Rabbi David Wolpe, Billboard charting artist and rapper, Kosha Dillz, Holocaust survivor Sami Steigmann, Michael Rapaport, Jeff Garlin, among many others. Dillz, recently interviewed by TMZ, Worldstar, and Variety went viral for his content that started in Value Culture on Clubhouse. Dillz is most known for bringing the first Holocaust survivors to the platform (and into Value Culture), along with a larger Jewish community to the platform and into Value Culture, which has since grown to 3,700 members.
The result of Behnam and Dillz' efforts, with the help of those supporting their respective clubs, is Clubhouse seeing a larger increase of the Jewish community signing up.
“I hope we can continue to bring on stories that impact tens of thousands, yet also shed light on Anti-Semitism and bigotry,” Dillz told me in an email, adding that it’s time to “bring together marginalized communities all across the board.” The rapper recently shared an older video of him rap-battling the late DMX, also sharing a photo via Twitter from a special event celebrating DMX's life.
In Facebook’s recent announcement, the Clubhouse competitor will allow users to record their conversations and distribute them (privacy trigger, cough), and eventually charge individuals for access to these rooms, either through a subscription or one-time fee.
For example, event planners, like VSummits, highlighted in Forbes, are creating worlds for corporate events and music festivals, while educators, schools, and universities are creating worlds to host their classrooms, virtual field trips, job fairs, and study groups.
RedRex, a platform that allows companies and/or individuals to create digital buildings, floors, rooms, and walls in a way that reimagines remote collaboration, is one such platform, which I recently took part in last month for the Quest Academy event, where I found myself in a classroom speaking alongside Pop Culture Hero Coalition founder and CEO, Chase Masterson, and Global Minnesota President and former Minnesota Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie.
Theater companies and ticketing platforms, such as The Ticket Fairy are creating immersive, ticketed, interactive experiences for consumers. I reached out to its CEO, Ritesh Patel, via email, who intends to provide his feedback in the coming days.
Regardless of which platform you support and the reasons behind it, it’s certainly refreshing to see these types of innovations come to light, as each seems to offer users their own “unique benefit.”
But for social platforms that existed before this “audio phenomenon,” both Dillz and Behnam are optimistic.
“I think that social platforms that existed before the audio phenomenon will ultimately survive, because of their other features,” Behnam told me.
“However, I think it’s going to be incredibly difficult for a native audio app to rise up and challenge Clubhouse at this point.”
Dillz, who continues to remain active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Clubhouse shared his optimism of wanting to be proactive in trying other apps to “dip into.”
“I want to connect with people by all means necessary, so it is my job to make sure I do!” he shared with me when asked about alternative apps that could emerge.
As of today, Topia has 10,000 users hosting events every day, with Fortune 500 companies and small businesses using the platform to host daily workspaces that foster camaraderie, creativity, and productivity.
In an interview with Topia’s CEO, Daniel Liebeskind, I admittingly asked some pretty tough questions, rightfully so, as Topia seems to be entering a highly competitive, harsh, and fickle arena with some pretty top contenders.
In comparison to platforms like Houseparty, Clubhouse, or RedRex, Topia is much more than events, Liebeskind told me.
“It’s a much different experience than your typical virtual meeting platform. We provide a more human experience by providing a space for communities to come together, and strengthen the bonds between individuals and small groups.”
Liebeskind went on to describe that the audio and video aspects of the Topia platform are “proximity-based,” so when you are near another person or group of people, the user’s camera and sound fade into your view, and fade away when you leave.”
The CEO went on to explain the platform’s ingenuity, by encouraging creativity and exploration in “world-building”:
“[The platform] allows [users] to transition from conversation to conversation as we do in real-world social spaces. Additionally, Topia worlds are unique to each user. Anyone can go and create a Topia world for free, and populate it with things that interest them or by using the templates and assets available on our platform.”
It’s certainly a much different user experience, than the typical virtual meeting platform we are accustomed to. “We enable a more human experience by providing a space for communities to come together and strengthen the bonds between individuals and small groups. The audio/video aspects of Topia are proximity-based; when you are near another person or group of people, their camera and sound fade into your view and fade away when you leave.”
With today’s virtual meeting and webinar platforms on the market, whether it is Zoom, GoToMeeting, Webex, etc., most of these are considered “one-to-many” and “few-to-many” platforms, where only one person can talk at a time and the ‘meeting’ needs to be facilitated.
Topia, according to Libeskind, is a “many-to-many”, where users have the agency to navigate between conversations. “We have found that this provides for a much more dynamic and engaging experience.”
From my observation, the platform seems to encourage creativity and exploration of cyberspace which allows users to transition from conversation to conversation, as we do in real-world social spaces.
Libeskind also shared with me that Topia worlds are unique to each user, where anyone can go and create a Topia World for free, and populate it with things that interest them or by using the templates and assets available on our platform.
In August 2020, Topia was selected to co-host Burning Man, hosting over 25,000 people during the course of the festival.
“The organizers liked it so much that we were asked to co-host Burning Man again for 2021, and we expect it to be much bigger and even more interactive than last year’s festival.”
One of Topia’s first-time hosting an event, also happens to be one of Libeskind's favorites:
“One of our favorite, and most endearing events, was also one of our first. The non-profit group Reimagine, an organization dedicated to celebrations of life, provided us the first opportunity to show Topia in action. Attendees of the event were free to walk around and engage other attendees one-on-one or in small groups. Afterwards the organizers told us that it was the most “human” event they had been able to have since the pandemic started. Their feedback told us that we were on the right track and we’ve been growing ever since.”
When it comes to Topia’s growth, there are certain lessons to be learned from our current social media giants, ranging from Facebook and Twitter, to Houseparty and Clubhouse.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
Today’s social media landscape, unfortunately, is quite saturated, which is a double-edged sword for platforms like Topia.
“Sadly, most of the platforms we consider ‘social’ media do not enable ‘real’ social experience,” Liebeskind argues. This ‘real’ experience, according to the CEO, is one that “enables creativity and individuality, while providing an empathic experience where people meet face-to-face and create lasting and meaningful relations.”
“When Zuckerberg and Dorsey built Facebook and Twitter, respectively, they used iterative product decision-making to optimize for an attention economy,” Liebeskind explains.
“Topia is being built upon the shoulders of the many world-changing platforms that came before it. We have the advantage of being able to take learnings from those companies to create a social platform that truly fosters human connection and optimizes for creators and influencers, who bring people together.”
“They are often about broadcasting information, rather than creating spaces for human connection. The internet is saturated with one-to-many and text-based interaction platforms. Outside of some multiplayer games, the Internet is devoid of opportunities to have shared experiences and create memories together, which are the basis of real friendships and relationships.”
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Liebeskind told me that Topia takes elements of multiplayer games, and replaces all of the gaming content with spatial video chat. “Anyone can customize a space and bring people together inside of interactive experiences,” he continued. “There is no hiding behind a screen name, comment, or share; and most importantly, there is no algorithm that creates an echo chamber of polarization to optimize for attention and engagement.”
The major problem, which Liebeskind points out with today’s platforms, is that they don’t facilitate human experiences or the formation of real relationships, which are based on memories in a virtual world. “I think for what these social media platforms do, they do it well. However, forming meaningful relationships is easier to do if you can do it in a virtual space that provides real-time audio and video capabilities.”
With video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Skype, which have become essential to our workforce since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a major difference that Topia brings to the table, according to Liebeskind.
“Topia is not video-conferencing. When we think about video conferencing platforms, there are one-to-many, or few-to-many, where only one person at a time can talk and large groups require a facilitator. In Topia, it’s many-to-many where everyone in a Topia World has the agency to explore and meet anyone else in the world, at any time.”
Interestingly enough, Liebeskind was the former Chief Product Officer at Everipedia, who led the development of the Everipedia platform towards its goal of creating a modernized encyclopedia experience and the world’s largest knowledge base.
“Everipedia was another stop along my journey of incentivizing creators to participate in a community-driven platform. We built a platform that economically incentivized the crowd to collaboratively build a decentralized knowledge base. With Topia, we’re empowering influencers, artists, and experienced designers with our creator ecosystem.”
With privacy laws such as California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), today’s social media apps need to take lessons from Facebook about the importance of guarding user privacy.
“With Topia, all of our users are in control of their own data,” Libeskind interjected. “We do not collect or sell our user data. In fact, by default, our video streams are peer-2-peer, meaning the video streams never touch a server and, instead, travel directly between browsers through an end-to-end encrypted tunnel.”
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