Unless you’ve been living off-grid on the Andromeda galaxy for the last few months, you’ll have heard about Clubhouse, the live audio chat app launched in April 2020 and still in private beta, accessible by invitation only. Nevertheless, it’s already been valued at around $1 billion.
Clubhouse was set up by two friends who have known each other since 2011, who had taken their own paths but had always been involved with apps and social networks, reconnecting in 2019 to develop Clubhouse. They launched it in March of the pandemic year, and two months later, despite being in private beta and in lockdown (or thanks to it), it was being talked about in Silicon Valley circles. In January 2021, it moved to an invite-only system that allowed it to further expand its user base, and those of us with an account there began to witness the usual parade of familiar contacts joining it.
The app began to experience strong traction, reaching its peak on January 31 at 10 pm (San Francisco time), when Elon Musk (who claims that up until a week before he’d never heard of it), created a profile, announced his presence through his Twitter account, and spent quite a long time there talking about a wide range of topics and receiving open questions. Despite the late hour and the fact that it was a Sunday, Elon’s presence became, as expected, a powerful magnet: Clubhouse allowed the first chat room to exceed its limit of 5,000 people, made it possible to open several more secondary rooms that soon filled up, with some fans also broadcasting the chat on YouTube.
How does Clubhouse work? Very simple: live, unfiltered group voice chats. Users can open a room, promote it as they want, within Clubhouse or anywhere else, and set up a conversation on the topic they want, with the guests they want to admit. From then on, the conversation. In the face of early criticism due to its lack of moderation, the app has grown to two million users, and thanks to virtual conversations with celebrities such as Drake, Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and now Elon Musk, it’s popularity has risen sharply. Now, Clubhouse allows us to recall those moments we were used to almost ten years ago, when the social networking landscape was still open and we saw new applications appearing every so often.
Conversations are intended to be ephemeral: if you were not there, you lost it. However, anyone can record them and turned into podcasts (there’s no shortage of podcasting platforms these days), used for other material, or simply left to disappear into the ether. Like live radio, but organized in a virtual room, with participants entering via their smartphones, a moderator to offer them to speak, leave them as audience or even appoint other moderators, and completely free of charge. In the future, the plans of its creators seem to point to a business model based on subscription-based payments, with its most popular content creators able to earn money thanks to the use of the platform, very much in the style of apps like Medium.
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The idea couldn’t be simpler. Right now, if you log in, you will find everything from people telling jokes, interviews, soliloquies, thematic threads, and of course, many meta-conversations about the present and the future of Clubhouse. A few companies are starting to give it a try to entertain conversations about themselves or their offerings. But ideas, however simple they may seem, don’t just have to be put into practice: they have to be done well. And for the moment, Clubhouse has already achieved that all-important first phase of traction that so often determine whether an app has a future. For the moment, all goes well, and it looks as though it will establish a growing base of users.