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Can virtual socializing apps outlast the pandemic?

Brian Contreras, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Dating Advice

For its first few years, Teleparty seemed doomed to be a niche product. The browser extension, which lets multiple people sync up their Netflix accounts so they can watch the same thing at the same time, was a hit among couples in long-distance relationships. Otherwise, few people had even heard of it.

And then, in March 2020, the app suddenly found itself with a planet's worth of potential users.

Lockdowns weren't so great for movie theaters or the economy as a whole. But for Teleparty, they were "a huge accelerant," Chief Executive Shaurya Jain said. "We definitely grew a lot."

And they weren't alone.

Call it remote entertainment, a counterpart to the more-familiar remote work. At the end of a long day of video calls and Slack messages, workers unable or unwilling to meet up at the bar can mouse over to another tab for some virtual socialization on apps such as Discord and Clubhouse. Think of it as Zoom: After Hours.

The pandemic gave this burgeoning phenomenon a boost, pushing into the mainstream what had previously been the domain of gamers, overseas soldiers and other sub-communities. These days, everyone's living life online and at a distance.

 

Although the future of remote work is largely in the hands of employers, the future of remote entertainment will come down to what happens once consumers are free to resume the same face-to-face activities they were enjoying two years ago — whenever that happens. (With hospitalizations rising and cities reimplementing mask mandates in response to the Delta variant of the coronavirus, it may not be for a while.)

When Abraham Shafi named his event discovery app IRL — short for "in real life" — he certainly wasn't anticipating a future where meet-ups would be taking place primarily in cyberspace.

After a pause on featuring non-virtual events during the height of the pandemic, IRL is working on reintroducing them but also planning for a hybridized future in which there's less of a line between online and offline entertainment.

"We've all learned how to engage online more than ever," Shafi said, comparing remote entertainment to a muscle that consumers and creators have both strengthened during quarantine.

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