Thoughts on Clubhouse

You can’t

  • Listen on demand
  • Restart/replay a conversation
  • Record a conversation or audio snippets
  • Trace back when a conversation started
  • See who is talking, you can only hear them
  • Send (text) messages to other Clubhouse users
  • Share pictures, videos, gifs or audio files
  • Use it on Android

You can

  • Listen to audio conversations as they happen
  • See avatars of who is in the conversation
  • Start a group audio conversation with people you know
  • See Clubhouse member profiles with who they follow and who follow them
  • Minimize the app and do other things while listening
  • Receive conversation notices, as they happen, based on people you follow*

What you get

  • Raw, unscripted watercooler conversations

So there are a lot of things Clubhouse doesn’t do and only a few things it does do. But the almost archaic possibilities of the Clubhouse app are a large part of the appeal. The constraints punctuate the experience.

Developers, developers, developers

Ephemeral group conversations are of course as old as humans. And we didn’t even have to wait for the internet and smartphones for this human need to be implemented in technology. Theoretically the Clubhouse experience was already possible — pre-internet — with the plain old telephony system and it is also basically what happens on the amateur radio network frequencies (this is still a thing).

Remember this bad boy?

Which is why it is remarkable that it took to 2020 for such an app to exist on a smartphone. Was the idea maybe too simple? No. Clubhouse may be a primal experience but it is also a logical iteration from text messages, Instagram Stories, Snapchat and TikTok. Clubhouse adds something new to this line of — increasingly real-time — social interactions, by taking away a lot of barriers. And by being the only one that is actually real-time.

The Clubhouse experience is the lowest bar to participation of any social app out there. You don’t have to leave the house, sit at a desk, straighten your hair, you don’t even have to be able to type. It is just you talking or listening to people.

And Clubhouse strips down the human need for sharing without showing your face (Zoom), or having to be overly creative (TikTok). Remember that Instagram and Snapchat filters are not only successful because they are fun, they also obfuscate what you don’t want to be seen. Clubhouse doesn’t have this problem.

Realness

This all boils down to the lowest denominator of participation of any social app out there and the result is a very real experience. So real that it hardly makes sense for people to get ‘verified’ (blue checkmarks) you know right away if the person talking is who they say they are. I was listening to a room with Steve Ballmer, and trust me, that was Steve Ballmer.

It’s the algorithm

So Clubhouse offers one of the oldest human experiences of just people talking. But here is the really clever part and why we did need the internet and smartphones.
*The Clubhouse algorithm sends a push notification when conversations you might be interested in are happening. This is probably also the only reason Clubhouse uses profiles and following/followers lists. Because your interests are, of course, based on people you follow. And this — social graph — is exactly what the internet and smartphones bring to the table that the telephone system and amateur radio can’t.

So now what?

A lot of Clubhouse conversations are about Clubhouse. Also a lot of people on Clubhouse are talking about social media and social influencing in general. It feels very meta. But I guess that is what typically happens when these things start.

Clubhouse is the hottest new app at the moment, either because of their clever iOS only, FOMO inducing invite only approach, or because of the tech VC entourage that pushes the interest for the app, or maybe because that the pandemic has emphasized the need for humans to connect. It’s probably a little bit of all of the above. But you also know because of the app’s succes either one of these two things will happen: 1. Facebook will buy Clubhouse or 2. Facebook will clone Clubhouse. We’ll see.

I see different paths forward for Clubhouse and I am curious to see how it will pan out. And the app right now is very bare, which is also the appeal. So it’ll be interesting to see how and whether they will pivot, maybe they will start adding features, maybe they will introduce recording conversations (podcasts)? And they of course will have to find ways to monetize. And they will have to do so all while the question looms: will it stay fun or is it just the newness that is appealing?


Also published on Medium.

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