Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or Ashton Kutcher are some of the celebrities who have been seen participating in Clubhouse rooms. And, at this point, who has not heard of this new social network? In less than a year, and despite being available only for iOS and requiring an invitation to access, it has already been downloaded more than 10 million times worldwide. Clubhouse was born as the promise of a new platform that brought together the two big trends in digital media consumption: audio and social media. Science, health, digital marketing, singing lessons, meditation, sports or even cooking. In this social network you can talk about (almost) everything.
If TikTok was the most downloaded app of 2020, Clubhouse promised to be in 2021. Content creation is very simple: you join rooms like in Discord or listen to the conversation as if it were WhatsApp audio. Anyone can create a new room or join an existing one. It is a striking format with the possibility of creating different content compared to other social networks.
However, almost a year after its birth, the ‘boom’ of the social network has fizzled out. According to a recent study carried out in Germany by the University of Duisburg-Essen and the market research company Civey, 50% of people who have downloaded the app admit to using it rarely or never. In addition, the number of Clubhouse users is still very low and is around 4% of the population.
“50% of people who have downloaded Clubhouse say they rarely or never use it”
To write this post, I delved into the world of Clubhouse for several weeks. Did I find it as amazing as they describe it? Definitely not. I believe that its success has been due in large part to the current situation. The reduction in mobility and teleworking have led to the success of this networking alternative. Interacting in the app is also more comfortable than on other platforms, as the audio reduces user exposure (nothing new considering other apps like Discord or, if you’re just a listener, most of them). But the main factor that, from my point of view, has caused this sudden success has been the exclusivity of being part of the service, making it an object of desire for the rest.
After testing the app over this time, here are my 4 least favorite things about Clubhouse:
1. Entering the Clubhouse is like entering the VIP area of a nightclub.
The new social network is only available for iPhone and iPad. According to a Stadista study, Apple’s iOS devices represent less than 14% of the world’s population, so only a small percentage of the population has access to Clubhouse. Now, even if you have an Apple smartphone, it does not mean that you have access to the social network. Invitations to join the Clubhouse are received like a precious commodity. Each new user is given two unique invites, so first you need to find a good Samaritan who will give you one. In the United States, they have even been sold for $89 on eBay.
“In the US, invitations to access Clubhouse have been sold for $89 on eBay”
The creators affirm that the app is still in beta phase and that it will reach all devices in the coming months. However, this halo of mystery and exclusivity seems exaggerated to me for what you really find once inside the Clubhouse universe. Many meetings, countless people, unlimited themes (and the most diverse), but nothing that you can’t find in a similar way on other platforms.
2. Audio rooms: specific function or application.
It is a platform focused on live and direct conversations, no text. I find it a striking and interesting format, but is it enough to dedicate an application to these audio rooms? Or should it be rather a functionality within another social network? We already saw it before with Instagram Stories, very similar to the content we published on Snapchat. In fact, Twitter is already working on Spaces, its service to create chat rooms within its own social network. Facebook has revealed that it is preparing the arrival of audio rooms on Instagram for everyone, called Instagram Live Rooms, and Telegram is preparing its own alternative, a kind of interactive podcast in round table format. Therefore, now it is Clubhouse who, if they want to differentiate themselves, will have to add some innovative functionality.
“Now it is Clubhouse who, if they want to differentiate themselves, will have to add some innovative functionality”
The conversations are not recorded and the content is completely ephemeral. If no violations occur, they are deleted when the conversation is deactivated. Not having the ability to replay or listen to a conversation for the first time if you’ve missed it is, for me, a huge drawback. We may be interested in certain meetings, but if we are not available at that time or cannot be present for the entire talk, we miss the context. There is no possibility to listen to the conversations on deferred. One solution would be to save the chats and convert them into a podcast format to be consumed over a longer period of time.
“There is no possibility of listening to the conversations on deferred. One solution would be to save the chats and convert them to podcast format.”
3. Difficult navigation between rooms: choice of rooms.
It is essential to encourage people to navigate within the social network and facilitate the discovery of related content. Although Clubhouse began with a simple and intuitive operation, as its popularity has increased, the huge number of parallel rooms and different themes have led to greater complexity and difficulty in navigation.
In turn, the high capacity of the rooms (7,000 people can participate in a conversation) can be frustrating for those who want to intervene due to the excess of people. In debates with such a large volume of users, you usually enter as a listener and you don’t have the option to participate as a speaker.
“In debates with such a large volume of users, you usually enter as a listener and you don’t have the option to participate as a speaker“
I have left for last what is possibly the most controversial aspect of the social network. A few weeks ago, those responsible for the app announced their intention to improve its security after a data leak occurred. However, they insisted that the incident occurred because a user realized they could be in multiple rooms at once, connected the Clubhouse API to their website, and shared their login with more people.
In turn, the user must give up a large amount of personal data in exchange for enjoying the platform. First of all, all the phone numbers of your contacts on the smartphone. Second, to verify your identity, users are asked for information about their Twitter and Instagram profiles and their particular interests. Finally, you must grant permission for the social network to access your microphone. On this aspect, there are suspicions related to personalized advertising after some conversation.
“The user must give Clubhouse all the phone numbers of their contacts on the smartphone”
All conversations that take place in the Clubhouse are recorded for security purposes. However, the creators of the platform ensure that they cannot be shared and that, for users, there is no possibility of listening to them again. If no violation occurs, the conversations are supposed to be automatically deleted.
Clubhouse promised to be an innovative and groundbreaking platform, however, after getting hooked on the novelty for a few days, it made me lose interest and realize that it is not an essential application for me. As with the Stories and filters that Instagram mimicked from Snapchat, if Clubhouse doesn’t break away and create a new feature, I think it will stagnate and other apps will take advantage of its success.
The platform has great challenges ahead. There are rumors that there is a good chance that a subscription format will be introduced, that is, that the app dedicates part of the income to encourage content creators or that it bets on establishing payment walls for certain rooms. It is possible that, over time, you will have to pay to participate in some rooms. It won’t take long to see if that’s the case.