|Original author(s)||Paul Davison, Rohan Seth|
|Developer(s)||Alpha Exploration Co.|
|Initial release||March 2020|
|Operating system||iOS, Android (beta)|
Clubhouse is an invitation-only social media app for iOS and Android where users can communicate in voice chat rooms that accommodate groups of up to 5,000 people. The audio-only app hosts live discussions, with opportunities to participate through speaking and listening.
The app was first introduced to iOS by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth of Alpha Exploration Co. in March 2020 with a beta launch for Android in May 2021. Clubhouse has stated it remains invite-only to ensure that their team is able to manage the growth of their user base and continues refining the app to be capable of supporting a larger audience. Clubhouse plans to extend its accessibility to the public in the future and launch the full Android version in 2021.
Conversations are prohibited by Clubhouse's guidelines from being recorded, transcribed, reproduced, or shared without explicit permission. This has been a source of controversy because instances of bullying, harassment, and racism have occurred on the app. Additionally, Clubhouse has been criticized for its inherent privacy issues. Countries such as Oman, Jordan, and China have blocked access to the app or completely banned its use.
Clubhouse began as a social media startup by founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth in Fall 2019. Originally designed for podcasts under the name Talkshow, the app was rebranded as "Clubhouse" and officially released for the iOS operating system in March 2020. Clubhouse was valued at $100 million after receiving funding from several venture capitalists, including a $12 million Series A investment from the venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, in May 2020. As of April 2021, venture capitalists valued Clubhouse at nearly $4 billion in a funding round.
The app gained popularity in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and had 600,000 registered users by December 2020. In January 2021, CEO Paul Davison announced that the app's active weekly user base consisted of approximately 2 million individuals. On February 1, 2021, Clubhouse had an estimated 3.5 million downloads globally and grew rapidly to 8.1 million downloads by February 15. This significant growth in popularity occurred after celebrities such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg made appearances on the app. In January 2021, the app became widely used in Germany when German podcast hosts Philipp Klöckner and Philipp Gloeckler started an invite-chain over a Telegram group, bringing German influencers, journalists and politicians to the platform. A year after the app's release, the number of weekly active users was greater than 10 million, but the user base declined 21% during a three-week period from late February to early March. The decline is reportedly caused by a decrease in the number of Clubhouse users after its initial release. Currently, the app remains accessible only by invitation, with some invitation codes on eBay once costing up to $400.
In April 2021, Twitter had entered discussions to purchase Clubhouse, at a $4 billion valuation. The talks ended with no acquisition. This would be followed later in the same month by a Series C round of funding. The app has also seen interest in partnerships, with the National Football League announcing a content deal that same month.
The main feature of Clubhouse is virtual “rooms” in which users can communicate with each other via audio. Rooms are categorized based on differing levels of privacy. “Open rooms” can be joined by anyone on Clubhouse, and all rooms default to this setting on creation. In “social rooms,” only users followed by the moderators are allowed to join. Users need to receive an invite from the moderators to join “closed rooms.” Within a room, there are three sections: the “stage,” “followed by the speakers,” and “others in the room.” The profile picture and name of each user present in a room are displayed in the appropriate section. When a user creates a room, they are assigned the role of “moderator” which gives them the power to call users to the stage, mute users, and remove speakers from the stage. The moderator role is denoted by a green star that appears next to the user's name. When a user joins a room, they are initially assigned to the role of a “listener” and cannot unmute themselves. Listeners can notify the moderators of their intent to join the stage and speak by clicking on the “raise hand” icon. Users who are invited to the stage become “speakers,” and gain the ability to unmute themselves. Users can exit a room by tapping the “leave quietly” button or the peace sign emoji.
Many conversations on Clubhouse occur spontaneously, but users also have the ability to plan conversations in advance by creating events. When scheduling an event, users can first name the event and then set the date and time that the conversation will begin. Users can also add co-hosts to help moderate the event. Once an event is created, it is added to the Clubhouse “bulletin.” The bulletin displays upcoming scheduled events and allows users to set notifications for events by clicking the bell icon corresponding to the event. Users can access the bulletin by clicking on the calendar icon at the top of the home page.
Clubs are communities of users who regularly converse on the app to discuss a shared interest. There are many different clubs pertaining to a wide variety of topics. Only active users who have hosted at least three rooms are eligible to create a club, and because Clubhouse manually approves applications for new clubs, each user can only create one club. Clubs can be private or open to the public and consist of founders, members and followers. Users can search for clubs in the Explore page and follow them to be notified when a public room within the club is created. To become a member of a club, users must be added by one of the club's founders. Club members can nominate users to be reviewed by the founders for admission or the founders can add users from the followers of the club. Only the founders have the ability to start public club-branded rooms; however, members can host private rooms with other club members. The clubs that a user is a member of are displayed on the user's profile page.
To join Clubhouse, an invitation from an existing user is required. By tapping the "envelope" icon on the homepage, users can view the number of invites they are able to allocate. A text message with a link will be sent out to the new user when being invited. The link will lead the new user to a sign-up page. These new users will initially have two invitations, and can earn more by contributing to the Clubhouse community.
The homepage of Clubhouse provides access to ongoing chat rooms, which are recommended based on the people and clubs that are followed by the user. By tapping the magnifying glass icon, users will be redirected to the explore page. On the explore page, users can search for people and clubs to follow, and also find conversations categorized by topics.
Clubhouse is cooperating with Stripe to release their first monetization feature called Clubhouse Payments. Starting April 5, 2021, a small testing group of users were able to send money to creators by tapping "Send Money" on the creator's profile page if the creator had enabled the feature. The full amount is paid directly to the creator, while a small processing fee goes to Stripe.
Clubhouse mobile app is available for iPhone users. In January 2021, the company announced that they will soon start developing the Android version. In February 2021, Clubhouse hired an Android Software Developer and subsequently launched a beta version of the Android app in May 2021, initially available only for users located in the United States, with worldwide access planned for a later date. On 21 May 2021, Clubhouse became available worldwide for Android users.
Clubhouse records audio in the virtual rooms for the purpose of supporting incident investigations. When a discussion is reported of violating Clubhouse's rules, the audio of the associated room will be reviewed by the staff. In the absence of a report, the room's recording is automatically deleted when the session ends. Clubhouse does not explicitly explain the review process.
To receive invitations to invite other individuals, a user must grant Clubhouse access to their contact list. In this manner, Clubhouse gains data about individuals that have not yet joined the app from existing users. If a Clubhouse user links a social media account, Clubhouse will also be able to access information associated with that account, such as follower lists. If a user no longer desires to be part of Clubhouse, they are unable to delete the personal information Clubhouse has collected through contact lists or social media.
Clubhouse has plans to monetize the platform by tracking its users and selling user information. Similarly to Facebook's business model, this data will be used for increasing the efficacy of targeted ads, which advertisers can bid on. Clubhouse has stated that they may share their user's personal data to others without prior notification.
In April 2021, the personal data of 1.3 million users leaked online, including real names, social media usernames and other account details.
Governmental bans and criticism
Clubhouse was banned in Oman for not having a proper license to operate. Clubhouse has also been banned in Jordan and China. Before the ban in February 2021, Clubhouse attracted quite a number of Chinese users to discuss various topics, including politically sensitive topics, such as protests in Hong Kong and the political status of Taiwan. The lack of censorship and regulation associated with Clubhouse rooms is concerning for many governments. The United Arab Emirates has allegedly throttled the internet, making accessing the app impossible. Egypt has called Clubhouse a place for terrorists.
Facebook is planning to launch a feature that will directly compete with Clubhouse. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared on the Clubhouse app in February 2021 to talk about virtual and augmented reality. Shortly after, news of Facebook's competing feature was announced; it is in the early stages of development and does not have an official release date.
In April 2021, Facebook's NPE Team launched Hotline, a direct competitor to Clubhouse. The app offers a similar structure of a voice room where only select people can speak while the rest listens. However, Hotline also offers speakers the ability to turn on video. Listeners can ask questions in text form. The app launched in beta, requiring a Twitter account to log in.
Twitter spaces are available on Android and iOS. They are public and accessible by anyone. The creator of the Space can control who gets to speak by setting the room to 3 options: everyone, people you follow, or only people you invite. Unlike Clubhouse, there is no limit to the number of people that are able participate in a Twitter Space.
Discord Stage Channels
Discord introduced a feature in competition with Clubhouse called Stage channels. Similarly to Clubhouse, Stage channels only allows a few individuals to speak within a room. Discord is commonly used to facilitate communication between gamers. There currently is a limit of 1000 members that can participate in a Stage channel, but multiple Stage channels can occur at the same time.
On March 30, 2021, Spotify acquired Locker Room, a virtual space for individuals to discuss recent sports events in real time. With the acquisition of Locker Room, Spotify is looking to improve its app to include topics like music and pop culture in addition to sports. Conversations on Locker Room will funnel into Spotify's podcast library and cause chatting and uploading to be seamless.
Slack is planning to release its own feature resembling Clubhouse on its messaging platform. The CEO of Slack, Stewart Butterfield, was in a Clubhouse session hosted by PressClub when he announced that Slack will soon be rolling out a feature like Clubhouse.
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