Clubhouse’s rapid growth has taken it to more that six million registered users (active users or those who have downloaded the app to reserve their name) as of February 1, putting it at the center of cultural phenomenon that takes social audio to heights of popularity that many years of podcasting apps and platforms have never managed.
As Jeremiah Owyang discusses in his analysis of Clubhouse, a live audio social app is ideal for when video is too much and text is too little. But Clubhouse’s rampant growth, despite still being iPhone-exclusive, invitation-only and without even a decent website, has seen it emerge as the outright winner in a category in which there were no fewer than 25 competitors — from upstarts like Twitter Spaces or Sonar, to the likes of Chalk, Discord, Locker Room and many more — but in which none stood out.
Clubhouse’s growth model, based on invitation only, reminds us of launches we hadn’t seen for a long time: the app first appeared online in March 2020, but it wasn’t until April that it debuted on Apple’s beta testing app, Testflight, garnering 10,000 users before being released on the App Store in early October. In late November, Clubhouse gave 20 invites each to beta testers on Testflight, which triggered growth and kicked off the near vertical part of the hockey-stick shaped graph: after that, an event with Lion King actors staging a live broadcast on Clubhouse continued the upward growth of an increasingly well-known app whose next notable event was the appearance of Elon Musk, which has given it even more traction. A significant part of recent growth has been driven by Chinese users, who still have a chance to use an app that has escaped the attention of the authorities, and who are able to talk freely on it.
There is now a constant succession of events announced on Clubhouse, along with all kinds of casual chats with larger or smaller audiences. And there are many other possibilities for those who dare to explore them. Obviously, not everything is wonderful: there are skeptics, there are those who complain about the poor moderation, there are many boring conversations, and many others that are simply not worthwhile. From personal experience, the issues that need to be addressed involve setting a duration for the activity of a room, so as to avoid the feeling of “we’re going to be here all day”, along with moderation, which means not accumulating too many speakers at the top of the screen (those who have already had a chance to intervene should be returned to the bottom as audience) and perhaps imposing a time limit per speaker.
We should bear in mind that Clubhouse’s current popularity has to be seen in the context of its subscription business model, revenue from which will be partly spent incentivizing content creators who are able to maintain traction, following a model similar to Ev Williams’ Medium. If that ends up being the business model, the company will need very high growth to be able to keep going when users unwilling to pay a subscription abandon it.
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That said, this is one of the few truly brilliant adoption phenomena in the tech sector for a long time, and that so far hasn’t been bought or copied by one of the big players.
It will be interesting to see how Clubhouse evolves. If nothing else, social networks now have something that could be a killer app for live two-way voice, opening up a new communication field — like live radio, but with no entry barriers.