Clubhouse 101: Understanding the Newest Social Networking App

I’m guessing most of you have heard the buzz about Clubhouse. Maybe you’re even one of the people who had been clamoring to gain access by gaining an invitation to join? Well good news! As of July 21, 2021, Clubhouse is out of beta and open to everyone – no invitation to join is necessary anymore.

For those of you who haven’t heard about Clubhouse, it is a free social media app that is voice based rather than text based. It’s more like a private, interactive podcast. Clubhouse members join virtual rooms to have live, unscripted discussions. Topics cover just about anything you could ever want to talk about and with thousands of different rooms going on an any given night, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for. 

“If you have a club, you can post your link far and wide. If you are a creator with an audience, you can bring them all on,” the company said in a recent blog post. “If you’re hosting a public event, anyone can attend. You can bring close friends, classmates, family members, coworkers, and anyone else you like — on iOS or Android,” the post added.

Just over a year since its launch in April 2020, Clubhouse has attracted 10 million users worldwide and is currently reportedly worth $1 billion. Currently, Clubhouse is available as an iOS or Android app. 

Once you join a live conversation on the app, the Host will moderate the conversation, so everyone “in” the room has an option to virtually contribute to the conversation, with the Host in charge of turning attendees’ mics on and off. New in July, hosts can now send and receive questions from the audience via text, and listeners can submit questions without wanting to speak.

Picture a semi-private ZOOM with everyone’s cameras turned off, which makes following who is talking difficult at time. Also, because of its audio-only format, there are some inherent challenges with content moderation, not too dissimilar to the same challenges faced by platforms that offer text, video and images, but the “live” element adds another layer of screening difficulty.

Founded by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, both of whom are well connected in the tech industry and worked at top companies, Clubhouse wasn’t developed to be exclusive. The founders said their goal with Clubhouse “was to build a social experience that felt more human — where instead of posting, you could gather with other people and talk.” In order to achieve that end, controls on membership needed to be created in order to build a new social ecosystem with a small team. With membership no longer invite-only, their vision for Clubhouse is fully underway. And, the recent deal Clubhouse struck with TED to bring exclusive talks on its platform means the Clubhouse reach is even broader.

Clubhouse is a unique way to gather a broad range of people in one place to discuss a specific topic. It’s no wonder that its membership reads like a who’s-who list of venture capitalists, tech leaders and celebrities. 

With this kind of success, competition is inevitable. Twitter has begun experimenting with a new feature called “Spaces,” which will be a live audio experience that enables multiple Twitter users to communicate and discuss or debate a topic. 

There are differences among its competition. On Clubhouse there’s no pressure to participate. Users simply listen to interesting people speak on interesting topics. The platform has both business and non-business topics, connecting diverse voices and global communities. Conversations on Twitter and Facebook groups can become free-for-alls, not so on Clubhouse. The moderator is in charge and can call on people who wish to speak, muting them if necessary. Any Clubhouse user can start a room and set it to be “open,” which indicates other users can pop in. A “social” room, however, indicates the room is only available to the people you follow. A “closed” room is for invited guests only. The app also has “clubs,” which can create reoccurring rooms and have members.

While it experienced explosive initial growth, Clubhouse is now at a tricky stage of growth. With all success comes hurdles, and Clubhouse has its share: user complaints about unclear moderation policies, failure to invest adequate resources in policing harassment or hate speech. Concerns have been raised, mostly by women and people of color, about cyberbullying, anti-Semitism, misogynoir, misinformation on COVID-19, etc.

Clubhouse says any hate speech and bullying are against its Community Guidelines, but users want more action.

As a growing number of people engage online, social media platforms need to adapt and grow to enable more people to connect in even more diverse and varied ways. Clubhouse is an exciting (though somewhat flawed) new platform that has many online users pretty excited to use it.

In my next blog, I will discuss more specifics of Clubhouse to help you get the most out of this new platform.  

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