Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The annual South by Southwest festival has long been the launchpad of choice for new social apps looking for attention — but even with the festival's cancellation this year during the pandemic, app makers are finding ways to garner buzz.
Driving the news: Over the last few days, Silicon Valley insiders have been obsessing over a new app called Clubhouse, which lets users join group audio chat rooms.
- Created by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, the app is still only available via invite, and like many others that take this approach to solicit early feedback before being widely released, it’s also benefiting from the buzz generated by the exclusivity.
Yes, but: Just like the many apps that saw fast success amid SXSW attendees and subsequently faded into obscurity, the same can easily happen now. Only Twitter and Foursquare have truly endured in the years after hot SXSW debuts.
- This may be a great time to bring consumers new social networking products, since so many people have to much time on their hands, says David Thacker, a new consumer-focused partner at venture firm Greylock — but it's tricky to distinguish fleeting fads from longer-term successes.
Notably, Davison was behind Highlight, an app that became the breakout hit of SXSW in 2012. (Remember Highlight? Didn’t think so.)
- The company tried its hand at a different short-lived app, but was eventually acquired by Pinterest in 2016. Davison later moved on to new jobs and projects.
Houseparty, the group video chat app seeing renewed popularity right now as people seek to connect with friends and family online, also has roots in SXSW.
- Its makers garnered quick buzz at the festival in 2015 with the debut of live video streaming app Meerkat, but eventually sunsetted that app and built Houseparty instead. It sold to Fortnite-maker Epic Games last year and co-founder Ben Rubin has moved on to a new project.
The bottom line: Don’t be surprised if more social apps take advantage of the collective need for new entertainment and digital socializing to become hits — but lasting beyond that will be the real challenge.