T E C H N O L O G Y – A P P
Clubhouse is an invite-only drop-in audio chat platform. In order to use the app, you need an invitation from an existing user. No matter how dumb this system may sound, Clubhouse has already amassed 8 million users as of 22 February. Despite being a relatively new social media app, it has reached a valuation of 1 billion USD. If you are an existing user, you will be able to listen in on conversations, discussions, and interviews. The app has likely been compared to being a type of live podcast.
Clubhouse launched in April 2020 by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs — Paul Davison and Rohan Seth. The app was in relative obscurity until Elon Musk, billionaire, playboy, genius, and CEO of Tesla Inc, SpaceX, and The Boring Company, hosted a chat-in with the CEO of Robinhood, Vlad Tenev, and called the idea behind the app — “Fear is not the mind-killer, context switching is the mind-killer” — during his chat-in. Elon has also publicly invited Vladimir Putin to the app and tagged the Twitter account of the Kremlin.
It has also shown to be popular among political leaders. Most recently, South Korea’s current prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, has officially joined Clubhouse. He stated that he learnt this app was ‘hot’ at the moment and wanted to use it.
“I was a little startled by the unexpected questions and reactions, but the new experience was enjoyable. I think I’ll participate from time to time in the future.”
Moreover, social media apps and other websites not of Chinese origin are usually banned in China, owing to China’s extremely strict censorship laws. Although very few foreign companies have been successful in breaking through The Great Firewall of China, Clubhouse was such an app that breached the firewall and operated for a few months under the radar. It had become a hugely popular app among Chinese tech enthusiasts and people generally involved with the tech world. It had slowly started to reach a higher count of people in China, but the sudden popularity in the West and use of the app by Chinese nationals to discuss politically sensitive topics that are banned in mainland China — led to the ban of the app.
It was hugely popular in China as it allowed the Chinese to easily discuss political topics and listen to discussions they would not have access to in mainland China, due to the government censorship of political dissent and content deemed harmful to the CCP. Singaporean Journalist Melissa Chen tweeted that she was able to take part in a Clubhouse room filled with thousands of Mandarin-speaking Uighurs and Han Chinese currently living in mainland China, discussing everything from surveillance and re-education camps to everyday normal gossip. A conversation has started online on whether a platform like Clubhouse can ever flourish in China where discourse is not well-received by the government.
Additionally, pro-democracy protesters in Thailand have also started using the app to be able to speak freely since criticism of the monarchy is a punishable offence there. The reason behind the use by protesters of the app is the crackdown by police forces of protests. The app allows them to discuss monarchy-related issues freely without the fear of retribution from government forces. Thai authority has also started to threaten users of the app if they violate the Computer Crime Act.
A valid concern is whether the sudden surge in its popularity is sustainable or not, since copycats have already started to appear. Existing social media companies and music streaming giant Spotify which has recently entered the podcast arena, are making huge investments there, trying to create a drop-in audio feature within their app, and utilising the already existing (and large) user base to shun Clubhouse completely.
There is also the question of how long the popularity is going to last — is it a fad or the dawn of a new entertainment platform that is going to completely change the way we consume news?
Not sure how many still remember Casey Neistat’s Beme app and the later CNN run Beme News — both of which flopped despite much fanfare. The only feature that can’t be copied completely is the exclusivity that the app preaches, however, invites to the app can be bought easily now on the internet like most things in the digital world.
The main issue of this app seems to be the exclusivity feature the company is preaching. Exclusivity will likely only last as long as it is not accessible to most, but with the rise in the sale of invites aforementioned on third-party websites, it is possible that almost anyone would become a user of the app within the coming months. What would then be the distinguishing feature of the app that differentiates it from existing social media apps, like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc?
There is also the question of financial viability. How is the app going to monetise the content available on the app? Will they go the old targeted ad selling route or create a new way to monetise content altogether? Or is this just another #WeWork? The comparison to WeWork is because how quickly its valuation has increased just like WeWork’s had, and I have a feeling it will go down in infamy just as quickly.
Rabab Rayan is a Business undergrad trying to excel academically but failing spectacularly.