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Clubhouse: Get the skinny on the invite-only audio app

February 26, 2021LeAnne Gault

Let's face it, your average entrepreneur/tech guy doesn't have many opportunities to have a conversation with Elon Musk on a Tuesday evening. However, a new invite-only app called Clubhouse seems to offer that rare opportunity. 

In case you've been trapped in a basement for the last couple of months, Clubhouse is an audio-chat app that's been making news. It's captured the attention, money, and opinions of Silicon Valley, celebrities, and beyond. For an exclusive group of people who craved physical closeness and engaging conversations during the pandemic, Clubhouse came along at the perfect time, and it's fast approaching unicorn status. Fortune Magazine recently reported that the 9-month-old app was recently valued at $1 billion. Clubhouse has become the party everyone wants to go to, but few actually can -- for now. 

How does Clubhouse work?

Launched in March of last year, Clubhouse is an audio-based social network that was created by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth. Once you're inside the app, you can enter virtual rooms where you can listen and/or participate in conversations on any number of specific topics. You can also create a room, yourself, and talk about any topic that strikes your fancy. 

Clubhouse's main page, called The Hallway, is the place where you can scroll through rooms that are live at the moment. If a topic catches your eye you simply enter the room. Once inside, the conversation room is a lot like a conference call: some of the folks on the call will do all of the talking, and most just listen in. If you want to participate you can virtually "raise your hand". Each room has a designated moderator who gives you permission to speak. Once the conversation is over, the room is closed. 

Apropos of its name, you can also create and join Clubs within Clubhouse. Clubs are groups based on interests: Entertainment, Hustle, Wellness, Tech, etc. Clubs can start rooms within the club and host events. The app has a calendar showing upcoming events, as well, like a talk about mental health or Elon Musk discussing Dogecoin. See something you like? Set a reminder notification. 

How do I access Clubhouse?

The first thing to know about joining Clubhouse is that it’s only available on iPhone. If you’re an Android user you’re currently out of luck, but that might soon change. You also should know that you can’t just register, as you would Facebook or Twitter because Clubhouse is quite exclusive.

You have to be invited to use Clubhouse, and only existing users can invite new members. Even then they only have two invites to hand out. So unless you know someone that’s already joined, and they like you enough to hand over an invite, you might not be joining Clubhouse anytime soon.

CO Paul Davison has promised Clubhouse will be available to everyone, including Android users, eventually. Unfortunately, there’s no timeline on when that might be, but if you don't want to wait for an invite there are shadier options. 

Insider reported that a black market of invites for sale had sprung up on sites like Twitter and Craigslist when Elon Musk tweeted that he would be speaking on the app. And before the recent ban, Chinese citizens were paying up to 65 euros for an invitation to Clubhouse. 

Why is Clubhouse popular?

There are a few contributing factors to why Clubhouse has become so in demand. For one, it launched early in the pandemic, when physically gathering in a room with people is discouraged. Joining a room and hearing other humans talking holds a particular appeal in these times. There's also the exclusivity of the app -- often, people want what they can't have. 

What's Elon Musk got to do with it? 

Clubhouse burst onto the mainstream consciousness recently when Elon Musk hosted an audio-chat on Clubhouse with Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev. The event maxed out the app conversation room limits and was live-streamed to YouTube. It helped propel Clubhouse to the top of the startup charts and sparked a scramble for invitations. 

Musk summed up the appeal of Clubhouse during his chat with Tenev, noting that “context switching is the mind killer”. The idea is that when users are logged into Clubhouse, with notifications disabled, they can focus on one topic at a time.

Is Clubhouse growing? 

Clubhouse is still in beta, and while it was barely a blip on the radar last fall, the app has seen exponential growth since September. According to data from analytics firm Sensor Tower, global installs of the app from Apple’s App Store just passed 10 million—and the majority of those were in February.

Fast Company reported:

  • September 2020: 2,000 installs
  • October 2020: 18,000 installs
  • November 2020: 72,000 installs
  • December 2020: 994,000 installs
  • January 2021: 2,400,000 installs
  • February 1 – 18, 2021: 6,700,000 installs

Clubhouse China Ban 

Thousands of Chinese users flocked to Clubhouse over the past few months, enticed by the promise of unconstrained discussions with global users on issues like China-Taiwan relations, as well as the Chinese government's genocide of Uighur Muslims. For some users from mainland China, it was the first time they were given the opportunity to have direct communications with people from Hong Kong and Taiwan. 

But on February 8, TechCrunch reported that the Chinese Communist Party had blocked Chinese users' access to the platform using the world's most extensive system of internet filters. 

Recent narrative intelligence and conversation trends on "Clubhouse App" from Kudzu: US Media.

Security Issues

Concerns have been raised about the security of audio data on the popular new social media app Clubhouse, according to reports from the Stanford Internet Observatory and McAfee's Advanced Threat Research team

Stanford's Cyber Policy Center confirmed on Feb. 12 that tools from Shanghai-based company Agora were serving as the backbone of Clubhouse. The observatory also found that "a user's unique Clubhouse ID number and chatroom ID are transmitted in plaintext, and Agora would likely have access to users' raw audio, potentially providing access to the Chinese government." 

Last week Clubhouse stated last week that it has taken steps to prevent hacking, Bloomberg News reports that an unidentified user was able to stream Clubhouse audio feeds this weekend from “multiple rooms” into their own third-party website, according to Reema Bahnasy, a spokeswoman for Clubhouse. 

The company says it has permanently banned that particular user and installed new safeguards to prevent a repeat. But according to the Stanford Internet Observatory, the first organization to publicly raise security concerns about Clubhouse on Feb. 13, users of the invitation-only app “should assume all conversations are being recorded.” 

Conversation Matters

At EdgeTheory, we think of ourselves as "conversation engineers" in the field of Conversation Science. Clubhouse reminds us of the importance of conversation – it is the most direct and simple form of communication. The app reminds us of a time before SMS, text-based social media platforms, and instant messaging apps. Remember when we talked on the phone (sometimes for hours) when we couldn't see each other face to face? On Clubhouse and in real life successful conversations involve listening, participating, and engaging with conversational partners.

The question that remains is: will Clubhouse remain a platform that encourages open dialogue among a diverse group of people with varying beliefs or will it devolve into a community made up of closed-off tribes who share similar views. Only the future will tell.

If you're on Clubhouse give me (LeAnne Gault, @deltag) or our CEO (@joestradinger) a follow, and let's have a conversation about conversation. Talk to you soon. 

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