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Explained: Why Clubhouse is the popular new entrant in the social media club

Explained: Why Clubhouse is the popular new entrant in the social media club
Elon Musk  |  Photo Credit: Reuters
3 Feb, 2021

Unless you’re living under a rock, away from all things internet, it is safe to assume that you have heard a thing or two about social networking app Clubhouse.

Such is its popularity that it sent the shares of a Chinese company with the same name rallying, and had Tesla and SpaceX chief Elon Musk tweeting about it.

But -- and there’s always a but -- here’s the catch. One needs to have an iOS device as well as an invitation from an existing Clubhouse member to use the app. Launched in April 2020 by entrepreneur Paul Davison and former Google engineer Rohan Seth, the app is an audio-based product that has built its reputation around exclusivity. 

We all know forbidden fruit is the sweetest, don’t we? Despite the restriction, the service has more than two million users. The app was downloaded 2 million times in January 2021 alone, as per Sensor Tower data. 

The valuation of Alpha Exploration -- the company that runs Clubhouse -- has also surged. It rose from $100 million in May 2020 to $1 billion at the end of January 2021, after reportedly raising a $100 million round from returning investor Andreessen Horowitz.   

What exactly does Clubhouse offer?

The app hosts live voice-only chat rooms. Registered users can join rooms of their choice to  listen to people discuss varied subjects. There’s no restriction on the number of conversations one can participate in or the chat rooms one can visit. Already have friends on the app? You can just talk to them in your own private chat rooms.

High-profile speakers  

While the ability to allow podcast-style voice-based conversations in real time in a world driven by Facebook and Twitter is a breath of fresh air, Clubhouse’s USP is its exclusivity and high-profile user base.

As per a Vogue report, Clubhouse is used by Drake, Kevin Hart, Oprah Winfrey, Jared Leto, Virgin Abloh, Tiffany Haddish, Chris Rock, Ashton Kutcher, and most recently, Elon Musk. They all host virtual chats from time to time, giving users the opportunity to listen to their stories and get in touch with them.

This opportunity to connect with celebs, influencers, activists and technology bigwigs who are typically out of reach for the average person adds to Clubhouse’s attractiveness.

You would still have to raise a virtual hand and get moderator approval to talk to that celeb you’re crushing on, but it may be a step above responding to all their tweets, hoping that they notice you. Bear in mind that the moderator can also block, mute and remove speakers from chat rooms.  

Yay, privacy!

Once a voice chat ends on Clubhouse, it cannot be accessed again. In its guidelines, the company says that it records and encrypts chats in live rooms but only for the purpose of conducting incident investigations. This way, if an issue is raised in an active room, the recording is used for investigation and deleted once the case is closed. In all other situations, the recording is deleted once the chat ends. 

Issues that warrant investigations include policy violations, such as recording conversations on a secondary device, hurling racial abuses and promoting hate speech against people in the room. Clubhouse relies on user reports to initiate investigations. 

However, there have also been reports on the platform not taking strict action against violators.  

Bot block 

There’s no indication on when the iOS-only app will be rolled out for Android users. 

Will you ever get to have a first-row seat to an Oprah Winfrey talk?

There may yet be hope, as the company website says that the currently beta-mode app is in the process of opening up the platform to a broader audience. 

It will be interesting to see how the app plans to handle the influx of more users who are all looking to share the stage with high-profile speakers.

Queries sent to the company remained unanswered at the time of publishing.