Photo: Unsplash/William Krause

Are you listening? It's Clubhouse, the new audio-based social network

Since last week, Clubhouse, a new American social network, has dominated trending topics and newspapers and has sparked the interest of anonymous and famous people. Here are my two cents on the subject

It is everywhere. Since last week, Clubhouse, a new American social network, has dominated trending topics and newspapers and has sparked the interest of anonymous and famous people, with their iPhones in their hands and AirPods in their ears.

Despite the risk that the hype will end as quickly as it started, making this article more of a historical record than a journalistic one, here are my two cents on the subject.

First, let’s get to the basics. Clubhouse is a social audio network. No text or video messages, it’s all audio. This is the revenge of WhatsApp audio lovers, who have always been criticized by everyone, including those who are online all the time at the Clubhouse.

In the app (for now, only for iPhone), users have access to chats listed according to who they follow and the interests indicated in the registration. Each chat room has a theme, moderators, “speakers” (who can speak) and the audience. Just choose a chat room to listen to the conversation and see on the screen the faces of all the users who are there too. It is also possible to create a chat room without any restrictions.

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Everything is very exclusive and a must see at the Clubhouse. To get a login, you need to be invited – something like Orkut in 2004. Once inside, each user can only invite two other people. This scarcity of invitations would be fostering a parallel market for invitations (in Mercado Libre, prices vary from BRL 30 to BRL 120).

In addition, at the moment the app only works on iOS (iPhone), which excludes more than half of the people who have cell phones and could be on the social network – if they were invited.

So, being in the Clubhouse today is for a few, and in this restricted club there are a lot of famous people, like José Bonifácio Brasil de Oliveira, Boninho, who appeared out of nowhere in a chat room to answer questions from Big Brother Brasil last weekend, an event that can be considered the starting point of the Clubhouse here.

(Clubhouse invitations are tied to phone numbers and the app tries, in different ways, to access the contact list on the cell phone and other social networks. Oh, and prohibits pseudonyms. We really haven’t learned anything!)

That’s the part about exclusivity.

The unmissable (perhaps “unmissable”) part is in the architecture of Clubhouse.

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Chats room can be programmed or created on the fly and in both cases, when someone you follow is in it, the app triggers a notification. It has to be that way because it is all broadcast live and you cannot record it, that is, those who have not heard, do not hear anymore. You know, if two chats interest you at the same time, be patient: choose one and deal with it.

The atmosphere at Clubhouse, in those early days, is like an endless conference, with seminars on various subjects, but which invariably return to three themes: the Clubhouse itself, digital marketing and productivity.

I laughed out loud when I saw on Tuesday 9th a chat room entitled “Prohibited to talk about digital marketing for the love of God”. In the next chat room, the subject was “Clubhouse verification seal: how to guarantee yours?”. There is no such thing at Clubhouse.

Photo by LABS

Some chat rooms are open for hours. Even in those where the chat does not go through the main topics mentioned above, it seemed to me that, except for the famous people, all other speakers are advertising, “startupers” or “growth hackers”. This initial group of enthusiasts can be the blessing or curse of Clubhouse.

Another comparison that has been made is between Clubhouse and podcasts. The rooms really resemble live podcasts, but with the possibility of listeners’ participation. Those YouTube lives that became popular during the pandemic, that bring three or more people together to talk about a subject, would make sense at Clubhouse – and with the advantage that the audio stream is lighter and the Clubhouse app doesn’t interrupt when the phone screen turns off.

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Rohan Seth (former Google) and Paul Davison, the Clubhouse’s founders, have already realized this potential. One of the focuses of the app’s expansion, which is estimated to have already raised $ 112 million in two rounds, is features such as subscriptions, tips and chat room tickets. The idea, it seems, is not to use advertising to finance themselves. It will work, only time will tell.

The Clubhouse’s sudden popularity has not yet been noticed in Brazil. The app was launched in April 2020, but it drew attention only in the last few weeks, after famous people like entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg filled chat rooms (maximum capacity: 5,000 people).

Clubhouse has also been successful in Germany and has already been blocked in China, which ironically signals that a social network has become popular. According to the startup, in the middle of January, so before the big wave of new users, 2 million people used the Clubhouse.

Depending on the social group you live in, it may seem like everyone is in the Clubhouse. But not quite. It ‘s really cool to run into familiar names exchanging ideas freely, without filters, and at the moment the app is bubbling – these days I accessed it at 6 am and already had chat rooms with hundreds of people.

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On the other hand, many conversations (most of them?) quickly become tiring. Compared to podcasts, Clubhouse’s chat rooms have no edition. Live streaming is an art that few have mastered and, believe me, you might not hear your favorite podcasts if they weren’t edited.

Clubhouse fits the scene. An app for public audio conversations, live and for large audiences makes sense and is something that did not exist. It remains to be seen whether after the initial excitement (and the second wave, when the Android version comes out), the model will be sufficient to sustain the operation and satisfy the startup’s 180 investors.

And also how competition will affect this scenario. Twitter is already testing a similar one called Spaces and billionaire Mark Cuban is funding another one that focuses on live podcasts. For now, there is much talk and few certainties in and about Clubhouse.

Translated by Carolina Pompeo.