Will Racket Change The Game For Audio?
Racket is looking to launch mini podcasts into the mainstream - can they change the creator and consumer landscape for audio?
After months of Zoom fatigue, unrelenting boredom, and restlessness, it seemed the world had found a new glimmer of hope in audio.
The Clubhouse app skyrocketed in downloads, Facebook, Spotify, and Twitter all began work on their own Clubhouse clones, Apple announced subscription podcasts, and even radio made a comeback as a form of pandemic solace.
But, not all that glitters is gold might be an understatement. Things have been up in the air as socializing finds new oxygen in 2021.
As the Clubhouse reign declines and larger tech companies are stuck doing their own retrospectives on Clubhouse gaps, a new product has caught my eye that seems to be hungry for a piece of the pie: an app called Racket.
Before we get into Racket and what role it plays in the larger creator sphere, it might help to start with a simple question: What the hell is Racket?
A voice app started by Austin Petersmith, Racket comes with a simple premise: Mini voice notes.
Somewhere between the dulcet vibrance of podcasts and the quick, energetic rush of TikTok, Racket is attempting to recreate what it truly sees as the opportunity in the larger audio wars. A home for short-form voice.
Racket is notable for its sheer simplicity. It’s web-based (no iOS vs. Android battles!) and includes a feed, a creator studio, a profile without much more.
Similar to TikTok, Racket has a binary discovery feed, a Trending and New function. There’s no further built-in discovery at the moment so the essence of discovery comes down to its primary value driver: the content.
In some ways, this is an interesting way to level the playing field.
With a world where follower graphs and platform popularity largely decide the platform’s top echelon of creators, Racket doesn’t seem to promote specific influence just yet. The app essentially just rewards people who make the content with a spot in one of its primary feeds, irrespective of how good the content is.
Are you looking to get content out without worrying about a complex distribution apparatus? It’s not a bad start.
If the largely unattached feed was one way to signal that having money and power wasn’t a silver bullet on Racket, the studio is another.
The simplicity continues. All recordings are nine minutes, there is no editing, and there is no further embellishment - no sounds, music, effects or anything that could distract from the raw stream of conscious thoughts.
It’s a way for the lonely creator to compete with multi-million dollar production powerhouses that can string together podcast networks at ease.
Rather than eliminate imperfection, it thrives in it.
With an average Racket, you can certainly hear the awkward noise fillers, but you can also hear the laughs, joy, and reflexive reactions. Instead of lying on the chopping block of podcast editors, these emotions thrive in the world of rackets.
What’s more, audience building is down to its purest form.
Signing up for Racket comes with a waitlist - but once you sign up, there is no connecting Twitter, Facebook, or any other accounts that could immediately give you a groundswell of following.
Are followers helpful and fun? Sure.
But they come as a meritocratic byproduct.
There is no inherent value in simply existing on the platform, similar to how Clubhouse and Twitter reward external popularity with high following for accounts that can be empty shells of content.
On Racket, you are only as valuable as the content you create.
At this point, you might be thinking… if Racket is so much fun, why has no one else attempted this?
It’s a valid question. What does the competition look like?
Twitter’s voice tweets feature has largely been forgotten due to the platform’s instinct for standard text and now investment into spaces. Facebook’s bet on short-form audio comes amidst a series of bets on audio that include short-form, long-form and Clubhouse style audio rooms.
More than crown Twitter or Facebook the winner of the audio wars, the company strategies almost create the suspicion that they could be aimlessly trying to pull all their hail marys at once, without a clear hypothesis.
I wrote about Clubhouse back in February, noting that they were facing an identity crisis of their own while trying to juggle and prioritize content. There are still questions on whether ephemeral content can last beyond the pandemic and already missed opportunities for early retention.
While Racket’s structure is built to compete against war chests that have no guarantee to succeed, it does beg the question: Is the future promising for Racket?
Can Racket Catch On?
A few days back, I saw a tweet from Racket’s founder Austin Petersmith that stopped me in my endless vacuum of doom scrolling.
He had shared the following picture with a simple question: “This seems to be true, but does anybody know why?”
Immediately the responses poured in from both podcast aficionados and skeptics alike.
On one hand, the burdens of podcasts came: the cost for recording equipment, the mammoth task of distribution, duration, audience expectation and so many other barriers that stopped people from scaling podcasts.
On the other hand came the praises for TikTok. Simplicity in creation and consumption, novelty in content, and ease of distribution.
Back in July when TikTok was almost going to be wiped out by the US Government (lol remember this), I wrote a piece looking at the following dimensions to compare TikTok alternatives:
Content Creation Friction Score: How easy is it to create?
Distribution Friction Score: How easy is it to share without reliance on a follower graph?
Ease of Consumption Score: How likely are consumers going to use this platform on a regular basis?
Monetization Score: How likely are creators to monetize of this platform?
Quick Ship Score: How likely is the company going to be able to ship?
What’s interesting is that, outside of the monetization, I feel like Racket can prove itself well on all of these dimensions.
It is fairly easy to create content, friction free to get it shared on one of Racket’s primary feeds, and not a high threshold ask for people to listen.
It’s not absurd to think of Racket someday as TikTok’s audio counterpart.
Rapha Menezes, in his piece on the audio wars, states: “Creators will choose the path of least resistance to their audience.”
This is partly why TikTok has been so successful. It’s psychologically and logistically easy to scroll TikTok for hours.
It’s also a symptom of Clubhouse’s decline.
Where people once had the time and energy to sit in hour long rooms, this attention is quickly fading. People want to find meaning immediately from consumption - it’s hard to do that with live audio, where even the speakers sometimes have no idea what their points are.
Luckily, short-form with regular ability to speed up rarely begets the same level of energy as real-time attention.
In a piece titled TikTok and The Vibes Revival for the New Yorker, Kyle Chaka reflects on the idea that TikTok has brought people back into the beauty of candid living:
TikTok provides a rebuke to the truism that people want narratives. The man I saw paddling in his Manchester-skyscraper lap pool is not trying to explain or sell anything—he is simply vibing, and the rest of us are just watching, consuming that state of harmony without expecting anything more from it.
In some ways, this is true for a lot of Racket as well. Less than Machiavellian sales strategies, many of the most popular Rackets are just humans simply chatting, riffing, laughing, talking about life and reflecting on the future.
This isn’t to say there isn’t professional content mixed in, but creators are looking to unleash the more human side of their professions - Investor Jeff Morris Jr. has a nice balance with everything from investing advice to reflections on San Francisco.
The mere presence of unfiltered stories might be enough to make it an appetizing alternative to the more performative works of creation we see today. That, combined with the velocity at which one can create, one shouldn’t be surprised to see Racket do well.
I’ve made a handful of Rackets in the first few days and I hesitate to say they fit any kind of genre: a story about Alexander Hamilton, trivia on marketing, riffing about hypothetical questions with a friend, and even some meta ones talking about the power of Racket on Racket.
It does feel odd sometimes to wonder whether creating on a new platform without a set niche is a risk - but it feels simultaneously liberating to not overthink that very question.
For brands, Racket represents an optimistic new channel.
With ease of creation, low cost and risk, and relatively simple distribution, it might make sense for brands to start reserving their usernames as soon as possible.
This isn’t to say that Racket is destined to be wildly successful just yet.
Headwinds always exist for new social products. As tech writer Casey Newton once penned: “The default outcome for almost any startup is death, and we should rarely be surprised if and when it arrives.”
Outside of Racket critics that simply have no desire to go onto a new platform, the path to discovering new content will be critical for the team to capitalize on.
Right now, there is no built-in discovery or path to desirable content nirvana. Racket has an opportunity here to allow for custom curation of feeds, lists, tagging, themes, and even regular crowdsourced topics and asks (similar to how Linkedin Pulse used to have a content calendar).
The opportunity cost is basically the current state of Clubhouse - they have largely avoided any big changes to the main feed, much to the chagrin of their users.
Racket also may need an influential evangelist. For Clubhouse, it was Elon Musk, Tiffany Haddish, and a number of celebrities driving downloads. For TikTok, it was a group of prominent Youtubers.
While Racket does have some prominent creators, it will need a steady pipeline to really scale adoption. (Although, from what I’m hearing, Racket does have a waitlist of thousands. Maybe not!)
Content will also continue to be a point of contention for Racket’s growth.
Finding offbeat and interesting spaces on the internet is a game of whack-a-mole. Each new social network feels fresh at first, until the veneer of cool starts to peel a way, only to be replaced by a bevy of self-made entrepreneurs, marketers, and brands hard-set on turning conversation into content marketing. It happened to MySpace, it happened to Facebook, and it’s happening to Clubhouse.
There is definitely nothing wrong with a sprinkle of general practical advice, marketing, or business content - but Clubhouse has shown that hustle content at an overwhelming pace can be exhausting. It’s something Racket may also have to contend with.
Will the extrinsic motivation for clout that hits Clubhouse hit Racket? Is it destined to? Is any social network ultimately safe from the erosion of this veneer?
For now, Racket feels safe.
In the heat of the audio wars, it sits away from the battlefield, in an encampment serving warm tea.
Only time will tell until the first cannon hits.
If you’re curious to try out the platform, sign up on racket.com and let’s be friends. I’m at @kushaan!