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Should You Care About Clubhouse?

Clubhouse is the hot new social media property of the moment, now hitting the peak of its hype cycle. With only a few million users, Clubhouse has attracted a frenzy of interest based on its high-profile early adopters, including Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.

On the surface, Clubhouse seems like the worst of all worlds – a combination of “everyone has a podcast” audio delivered by appointment – no listening at your convenience. If you don’t catch it live, you don’t catch it at all – talk about FOMO. Clubhouse is a closed platform – you need to get an invitation to join. Exclusivity is always a shrewd marketing strategy, and it’s done wonders to encourage people to sign up, amping up the platform’s desirability.

Clubhouse is built around “rooms” – group discussions offered by specific users that can be either public or private (a virtual velvet rope). A moderator controls who speaks and can allow someone to offer a comment or remove a disruptive presence from the room. Continuing the elitist pattern, people followed by moderators appear at the top of the list of participants, the equivalent of a front-row seat. It’s clearly a product of Silicon Valley, and brings with it that bro-tastic, male-dominated, techno-utopian flavour, or as Will Oremus wrote, “Clubhouse at this juncture in its development , feels like the answer to the question, “What if SXSW, but an app?”

I’ve been on a Clubhouse for a few weeks. Some of the rooms seem interesting and relevant but a lot of it is the same people hustling content on LinkedIn and Twitter. No, I don’t want to take your course or buy your ebook.

The appointment-listening feature is a challenge when we’ve grown accustomed to checking in on Twitter or listening to a podcast whenever we want, knowing the content will be there. Now we are back to appointments for content, like we are watching original Seinfeld episodes on Thursday nights on NBC in the 1990s…but as the structure establishes itself, and stars are created, I can see it becoming more useful.

Twitter is trying to jump on the trend, launching a private-beta feature called “Spaces” late last year to support real-time audio communication, with some similar features to Clubhouse. There is precedent for this – recall how Instagram shamelessly poached features from Snapchat to make that Facebook-owned social network a powerhouse player amongst younger users. But Twitter is an egalitarian place. Anyone can join and post pretty much anything (well, not Donald Trump…). The forced exclusivity and walled-garden approach of Clubhouse doesn’t really reconcile with Twitter’s strength as a digital commons. And let’s not forget how bad Twitter is at introducing and sustaining new functionality – remember voice tweets?

Will we be talking about Clubhouse next year? Maybe.

It all comes down to the value users will derive from the platform, the signal to noise ratio. That’s been a challenge on massive networks like LinkedIn or Twitter – there’s lots of good content but it often takes work to find it. And exclusivity, by definition, is hard to scale. Clubhouse will need to decide how open it wants to be going forward. That might be a challenge.

What do you think? Is appointment-audio something you would be interested in?

Allan Gates

Allan Gates is the president of Bonfire.