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In Praise of Live

April 25th, 2021

If you've known me at all, you probably know that I'm a big proponent of live, synchronous communication and experiences. Silicon Valley, however, disagrees. Even Andreessen Horowitz, the lead investor in the synchronous communication app Clubhouse, pushes asynchronous recordings of Clubhouse rooms. This sorely misses the point of live experiences and in my opinion, undermines the most valuable part of Clubhouse.

To catch more a16z talks on Clubhouse (async, of course) subscribe to the a16z Live podcast.


— a16z (@a16z) February 10, 2021

I'm not the kind of person to go to a music festival. I don't like driving to a stadium, waiting forever, and paying for overpriced food only to get a brief glance at the performing artist. For all intents and purposes, I'm the kind of person who would much rather listen to a music video than my favorite artist live. And not to mention, why pay for music when I can get it for free on the internet?

This weekend Porter Robinson held his Secret Sky Music Festival. Watching this live changed my opinion about live concerts. I can't skip this song, I can't rewind, I can't jump to a specific timestamp. The experience wasn't about the music, it was about the moment. Now I understood why people choose to go to concerts. The content being inaccessible is a feature, not a bug. It makes the content a medium to enjoy the moment instead of an end in itself.

You had to be there to get it though. If you're reading this and considering watching the festival's rerun, don't bother. It's not the same.

Unlike concerts, however, making the festival free on YouTube means that the content is more accessible from a financial standpoint. Anyone can watch, anywhere in the world. No longer is the festival constrained to the privileged few who can pay for tickets, now the only expense is time. On Twitch those that watch replays of live streams are shamed as "VOD losers" or "VOD frogs". It's better to watch the stream live, not just to be able to interact, but because the fact that it's slow and in real time is a feature. Suddenly, it doesn't matter how much money you have to contribute, the only thing of value is time.

Making data available after the fact, like Clubhouse recordings, undermines the value that Clubhouse rooms have. It makes them transactional. The room isn't an experience anymore, it's just a source of information. But if your only goal is learning, there are much more efficient ways to convey information than listening to recordings. Not coincidentally, this is the chief argument made by Clubhouse bears.

Comparing other platforms, so many decide to gate access by money. They charge upfront like MasterClass, demand subscriptions like Coursera, or even charge for live Zoom experiences. All this does is bias access to those who have money. You're fighting against your biggest customer base. With a live stream, it's the complete opposite. In fact, if you have money, likely your opportunity cost is too high. It's no wonder that everyone on Silicon Valley Twitter believes that async is the future because they're the ones that are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to synchronous content. But there's a long, long tail of people with a lot of time and not much money.

Robinhood realized that empowering that long tail is wildly lucrative. I believe the same is true for content. Valuable content can be produced by people who can command viewers' time, not just those who have some financially-restricted knowledge. Charging upfront is an async, privileged way of thinking. To capture the value the rest of the world provides, think in terms of time, not money.

Andreessen Horowitz should disable recordings. My friends used to try to explain concerts to me. It always ended up with "you had to be there". But I never understood because it was so easy to just watch a music video. For those of you who clicked on the music festival link, maybe you felt like you missed something because there is no recording.

Make "you had to be there" a feature, don't undermine it.

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