Over the past year, a new social media app called Clubhouse has gained immense traction and celebrity support.
The app allows users to join conference calls and either listen or contribute their own ideas to the candid, real-time conversations.
Tech elites, business gurus, and spiritual guides have flocked to the app to exchange ideas and grow their following in a new way.
Clubhouse looks like it’s going to grow into a new powerhouse in the ever-evolving social media landscape, especially after the $12 million venture capital investment it secured.
Given the app’s dramatic growth, we thought it would be useful to break down the app and how it might affect the culture in the years to come.
How does Clubhouse work?
A social conference call app is the simplest explanation I’ve come up with for Clubhouse.
Users organize “Rooms” with a specific topic such as Bitcoin, Entrepreneurship, or Personal Growth.
Once you’re in a Room on Clubhouse, you can easily “Ping” your friends to invite them or you can switch to another room that seems more interesting.
If you want to contribute to the discourse, you “Raise Your Hand” to ask moderators for speaking privileges.
This simple, lightweight app facilitates some of the best online interactions I’ve ever had, largely due to the democratized moderation.
All moderation takes place organically, with either room organizers or trusted community members selected to curate speakers and guide the conversation.
Mods can also easily give other users moderation privileges, which can be a double edged sword.
I joined a room discussing stock trading, and immediately someone made me both a speaker and a mod.
Despite my lack of in-depth stock market knowledge, I suddenly had the power to guide the conversation and decide who was allowed to speak.
If I was malicious, this could’ve gone horribly wrong.
Fortunately for me, Clubhouse doesn’t record conversations, so no one can go back and listen to my half-assed thoughts on Gamestop shorts.
Similarly to disappearing Snapchat pictures, everything that happens in clubhouse happens once then disappears forever.
Social Media doesn’t allow real conversations
Clubhouse’s success comes from the unique type of interactions it enables.
Since the dawn of humanity, vocal communication has been the primary way humans bond and exchange ideas.
Existing social media platforms allow you to exchange words, but in a very compressed, superficial way.
Communicating through text alone removes, body language, facial expressions, and vocal intonation from communication.
The result is a series of fractured interactions rife with conflict and misinterpretation.
Zoom improves communication slightly with its video, but as soon as you have 3 or more people in a room, the camera switching can become very jarring.
Zoom’s audio also only allows one microphone to be active at a time, so when multiple people speak up the audio streams cut into each other.
There are still issues when multiple people are speaking in Clubhouse, but the audio comes through much clearer.
Even when 5-7 people talk over each other you can still make most of it out.
The audio quality allows you to hear the unique qualities and idiosyncrasies in different people’s speaking styles.
Vocal style has a powerful effect on empathy and building connections with people.
A good conversation on Clubhouse makes me feel far more connected to people than even the most engaging podcast because it’s live and temporary.
Bringing people together
Clubhouse helps people make quick connections with other folks who care about the same thing.
The app beats live streams and Zoom calls in a few key ways.
Livestreams are engaging, but largely one-sided, even when viewers can write text comments.
Zoom calls allow more interaction, but the experience becomes less pleasant with each additional person who joins the call.
Clubhouse conversations, on the other hand, are much more two-sided and the audio-only model makes conversations between multiple people a lot easier.
You can also effortlessly tap into conversations with high-profile people.
I’ve been in rooms with Naval Ravikant, Soullja Boy, and venture capitalists from Andreesen Horowitz.
Without Clubhouse, there would be no other way for me to instantly join live intimate conversations with such high-profile thinkers.
Soulja Boy’s crypto chat room perfectly demonstrated the quality of interactions you find in Clubhouse.
Normally on social media, Soulja Boy is loud, brash and outrageous.
In the clubhouse chat, though, Soulja calmly and articulately discussed NFT tokens for creatives with crypto experts.
One flaw with visual social media like Instagram, is that people can easily excel based on looks alone.
It’s easy to amass a huge following by endlessly posting sexy photos, clicheed quote cards, or exhibitions of wealth.
There’s nothing wrong with using your natural beauty to get ahead in life, but some people with more valuable knowledge and experience simply get overshadowed by booty pics.
So far, it seems that clubhouse truly rewards intellectual quality and the ideas you bring to the table.
I spoke up a few times in a stock trading room, and one mod felt I wasn’t contributing enough useful ideas about stock trading. (I really wasn’t, I don’t know much about the technical aspects of stock trades.)
The mod switched my mic off, and more experienced traders went on with a more useful conversation.
Content moderation is mostly democratized in this app because of the community-based moderation.
People with better ideas to contribute tend to rise to the top, while trolls and troublemakers get muted and booted.
However, Clubhouse also piggybacks on clout people have amassed through their careers and other social media platforms.
Joe Budden, for example, has 1 million clubhouse followers due to his existing fame from Hip-Hop and podcasting.
There’s a direct correlation between someone’s follow count on Clubhouse and their follow count on Instagram or Twitter.
You can likely climb the ranks just by routinely making thoughtful contributions, but it will be a lot easier if you already have a large following.
In some ways, this app is designed specifically to create echo chambers.
Most of the rooms you find are either about technology, stocks/crypto, online hustle, and dating.
The topics people discuss on Clubhouse are almost identical to the posts you find on Medium, now that I think of it.
I haven’t seen any rooms discussing politics on Clubhouse yet, but that’s probably because I didn’t follow the political interests when I signed up (Update: I found the politics).
Aside from minor disagreements, everyone seems to be on the same page.
People agreed with each other, reinforced their assumptions, and offered advice to less experienced listeners.
Maybe I’ve just been in the wrong rooms.
Eric Weinstein has been extremely active on Clubhouse, and his entire purpose in life seems to be disagreeing and challenging the status quo.
If there are contentious conversation on Clubhouse, I just have yet to participate in one.
Echo chambers are a feature and not a bug for Clubhouse, though.
People organize rooms with specific goals and ideas, so people organize themselves into silos based on their interests.
Maybe the combination of good organic curation and authentic live interactions creates an environment that rewards empathy and kindness.
Given our conflict driven social media environment, this would be a blessing.
Clubhouse’s most significant downside is also one of its strengths: users don’t have the option to record their conversations.
Initially I thought Clubhouse could be a great way to record informal podcasts with a lot of different guests.
Once I logged in, I noticed that a lot of rooms include the tag “RECORDING” in their title.
This could either indicate that the conversation is a playback of something prerecorded, or it could mean the hosts are recording the conversation live.
At this point, though, it seems that there’s no way to use Clubhouse to record the conversations, though there may be third-party recording apps you can use.
From a content creation standpoint, this is bad. Without recording capabilities, there’s no way to make lasting content in Clubhouse.
Everything is ephemeral and if you miss out on important information in this app, you missed it forever.
On the brighter side, if you say something stupid or offensive, there’s no record of it aside from the people in the room with you.
I found one case where a room host chose to apologize on Twitter after anti-Semetic stereotypes apparently surfaced in her discussion of Israel-Palestine issues.
There’s no audio record from Clubhouse, so we’ll never know what really went down.
The one other downside is relatively minor.
You can search for people and clubs to follow, but you can’t search for specific rooms that are currently active.
It’s still easy to find good conversations to drop in on, though.
Privacy and data collection
Despite Clubhouse’s claims that they don’t record conversations, I would assume they do.
Tech companies are notorious for lying to the public and collecting our data.
Facebook said they weren’t sharing your data with third-party apps, but that turned out to be a lie.
Clubhouse plans to monetize the app soon, and the fact that the app is free means that the users are the product.
It would obviously cost a lot to record and store all of the audio files, but if there’s one thing tech companies love, it’s recording and analyzing your data.
And live, candid conversations would create a powerful data set unlike any other.
Based on my experience, Clubhouse users speak much more openly and honestly than they would in a recorded podcast or youtube video.
A database of organic conversations, if analyzed using machine learning, would give incredible insights into human interaction.
Clubhouse would also be able to sell this data to Google and Amazon for massive amounts of money.
This robust human voice data would enable the tech Titans to drastically improve their Google Home and Alexa voice products.
Furthermore, it’s hard to believe that with paranoia about extremists organizing on the internet that a company would create a perfect tool for people to come together and organize.
People could just create closed rooms with coded titles and have all kinds of heinous conversations, as comedian Tim Dillon pointed out during his rant in an “Overheard LA” chat.
Neo-Nazis could create “Nancy’s Wholesome Perennial Gardening Tips,” invite their friends, and plan a synagogue bombing with no way for outsiders to know.
I suppose that even if they’re not actively recording conversations, Clubhouse could have AI listening for certain keywords.
Prevention of troublesome interactions could be the motivation behind their invite-only model.
Who do you know in here?
Clubhouse has grown exclusively through personal invites; each new user can invite two of their friends.
Clubhouse started with celebrities and Silicon Valley elites, so at first everyone was mostly on the same page politically.
I’ve heard some wild conversations, though.
It seems the network has already begun spreading into more controversial and out-there communities.
The invite-only model is relatively common with new social media startups. This helps keep growth at a slower pace and ensures some level of real connection between its users.
It could potentially get out of hand, though.
If clubhouse started with 1 user, that person invited 2 people, those two invited two more, and so on, It would take about rounds of invites for Clubhouse’s user base to grow larger than the US population.
Theoretically the entire world could be on clubhouse in a matter of weeks.
This technology is remarkable, though. I wonder how they manage the server load of live audio chats between thousands of different people at the same time.
Allowing people to seamlessly switch between rooms can not be easy to manage.
If Clubhouse effectively monetizes this app, it could grow to be a new social media giant.
Quality interactions with high-caliber individuals and an easy app interface create a great platform for real-time connections.
Monetization will require either in-app ads or data mining, both of which would degrade the app’s quality.
Clubhouse’s engineers have keyed into a powerful social force, though, so it’s highly possible that they’ll think of a business model as innovative as their app that generates profits without exploiting the users like other platforms.
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