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.)

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.

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.

Go deeper

Jim Lanzone named CEO of Tinder

Jim Lanzone in Sun Valley, Idaho on July 11. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Former CBS Interactive president Jim Lanzone has been named CEO of Tinder, the dating app's parent company Match Group announced Monday.

The big picture: Lanzone's appointment comes in the midst of the dating app industry's foray into original content. He oversaw all digital products at CBS Interactive, including its streaming network CBS All Access. Tinder began to experiment with scripted content last year. 

Jul 28, 2020 - Technology

Tech defenders, critics line up shots ahead of hearing

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Either Big Tech's top companies preside benignly over healthily competitive markets, or they ruthlessly exploit their power to crush upstarts and challengers.

The big picture: Which conclusion you draw will depend upon where you dip into the slew of new studies, polls and policies the firms and their critics are unleashing ahead of Wednesday's historic congressional testimony by the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.

Updated 4 mins ago - World

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrested under national security law

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai at the Next Digital offices in Hong Kong in June. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai has been arrested for "collusion with foreign powers" and the offices of his newspaper raided, said Mark Simon, an executive at the tycoon's media firm Next Digital on Monday.

Why it matters: He was arrested under the new national security law that gives Beijing more powers over the former British colony. Lai is the most prominent person arrested under the law — which prompted the U.S. to sanction Chinese officials, including Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, over Beijing's efforts to strip the territory of its autonomy.