For those of you who have been living in your closet the past few months, Clubhouse is an invite-only social networking app based around audio-only conversations. For the first 6-10 months of its existence it seems it was just a small cadre of mostly Silicon Valley folks on the app, but they've been busy scaling it up and in the past two months it’s exploded to 10 million active users. Currently it is on Apple devices only (iPhone / iPad) but they plan to release an Android version "soon" (probably at least a few months out).
Briefly, the way Clubhouse works is users can create a room. There are three types of room - public, private, or club-only rooms. In a room, some people are “on-stage”, which means they can participate in the conversation, and other people are “in the audience” which means they can only listen. Some of the “on-stage” people are moderators, which means they can invite audience members on-stage or boot people off stage. In most rooms a feature called “hand raising” is turned on, so members of the audience can raise their hands and request to go on stage.
There was a really interesting conversation on the app recently between Joe Rogan, Paul Davison (co-founder of clubhouse), Lex Fridman, Brett Weinstein, and Naval Ravikant (one of the sages of Silicon Valley). It is against Clubhouse's terms of service to record conversations but of course high profile conversations like this are recorded. One of the interesting things Naval said is he believes Clubhouse will "be the largest social network".
I have trouble seeing clubhouse ever surpassing Facebook, especially if Facebook rolls out similar audio-only rooms (something they are supposedly working on furiously now). However, after using the app for a few weeks I've become a big believer in it and I can easily see it becoming larger than Twitter is now (192 million active users). Part of the reason I say this is that Twitter’s number of active users has famously plateaued over the last ~2 years. It seems only a subset of people are interested in spending time under the constraints of Twitter’s system. Twitter has also become notorious for having a toxic environment. Clubhouse, I believe, will be attractive to many more people.
At the risk of sounding like yet another booster, here are some reasons I think this app will eventually be bigger than Twitter:
Voice is a much higher bandwidth medium than text. Emotional tone, cadence, etc all carry important information.
It’s easier to feel a sense of connection and intimacy with voice. Especially right now, people are desperate for connection. The experience on Clubhouse is markedly different than other social networking apps where a sense of connection is generally non-existent.
Not feeling pressure to go on video is a good thing. Going on video is a hassle - you have to set up your webcam, get it configured, and then sit in front of it. Lag between video and audio can fatigue people’s brains. Not having to worry about how you look and what your house / background looks like takes a lot of pressure off people.
You can be "on stage" and participating in an interesting conversation while doing other things (laundry, cooking, driving, etc). Or, like a podcast, you can just stay in the audience and listen while doing other things.
The monetization of the app will not be using ads, rather content creators will have control over how they want to monetize. They are still figuring out monetization but likely it will be through donations to people hosting rooms and/or small fees to join events.
It seems people are nicer over voice than over text.
Anonymity is not allowed on the app. Anonymity can be useful under certain scenarios, but here enforcing real-names and one account per person is a very good thing, in my view.
The only content allowed is a single profile picture, your profile, and links to your Twitter and Instagram. This sounds lame, but it's actually very powerful. It means to grow a following on the app you have to say interesting things (ie actually have good ideas or be an interesting personality) rather than just have nice pictures or memes. The app incentivizes having interesting conversations, not superficial things like posting memes, snarky tweets, or news articles. Many people who have millions of followers on other platforms have only a handful on Clubhouse, and vice-versa.
There is a "magic" to conversations on Clubhouse which cannot be found on eg podcasts. The first source of "magic" is that people let their guard down on the app so the conversations are more natural and less scripted and stilted than on most podcasts. The second source of "magic" is that members of the audience can get invited on stage spontaneously (or they can raise their hand and request to join the stage). This leads to a fun dynamic where famous people can hop on stage. For instance, I was in an interesting conversation and the topic of android came up. It turns out the co-founder of Android was in the audience and got invited on stage. In another case, Elon Musk invited Vlad, the CEO of Robinhood, on stage to ask him questions, completely spontaneously and unscripted. Some famous podcasters, like Lex Fridman, Brett Weinstein, and Eric Weinstein are extremely active on the app and often show up announced into rooms and get on stage to join the conversation. Another growing star on the app is the AI professor and musician De Kai. He is very active in hosting and participating in many rooms on AI related topics. Amusingly, Sam Harris and other high profile people like Marc Andreessen are often seen lurking in the audience of rooms.
The app is phenomenal for networking, especially during COVID-19 when there aren't many other opportunities. I'm trying to learn about BCI, for instance, and there have been some incredible rooms with multiple BCI researchers (professors, postdocs, PhD students etc) on stage where members of the audience could go on stage and ask questions. There is an re-occurring event hosted by a club called “Science on the Rocks” which is called "pitch your research". During the event audience members can go on stage and pitch their scientific research and get feedback / questions. As another example, there is a room called "medtech lobby" which runs 24/7 where a lot of MDs hang out and network nonstop and bounce entrepreneurial ideas off each other.
If anyone is interested in joining Clubhouse and has an iOS device, please feel free to email me your phone number and I'll send you an invite! If you don’t have my email you can also send me a DM on Twitter. I'm currently sitting on 6 invites and may get more soon.