- 1 History
- 2 Features
- 3 Unique Uses
- 4 Ethical Concerns
- 5 References
Founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth previously worked on multiple entrepreneurial ventures together. Most notably, Talkshow, an application that allowed users to hold public text conversations. The goal of Clubhouse was to develop a social app driven by “conversations rather than posts.” The iOS app is invitation only, allowing each new member 2 invites to send to their friends.
Celebrities joining the social media network spiked Clubhouse’s usage since its early development in March 2020. Celebrities Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Drake among others have joined the platform. The media reported heavily on a Clubhouse conversation Musk held with Robinhood CEO Vladimir Tenev about the unprecedented rise of GameStop stock. This incident surpassed the app's conversation room limits and was recorded and live-streamed on YouTube. Later Holocaust survivor Sami Steigmann crashed Clubhouse's servers while hosting an interracial conversation for 16 hours.
Clubhouse's competition has grown as other social media platforms test similar audio-based products and functionality. On March 10th, Twitter released a new app update to experiment with their new audio-based platform: Spaces, which features similar functionalities to Clubhouse. Shortly after, on March 31st,Discord updated their platform to include Stage Channels that offers an audio stage platform. On April 7th, Facebook released a new Q&A platform Hotline. It differs from Clubhouse in that it allows video and scheduling for more formal presentations. Q&A functionality is built in at its core and allows the host to field questions from the audience supplied via chat. Hotline is currently only accessible on the web, but iOS and Android apps are reportedly in development. Rumors are circulating that Slack and LinkedIn are also building a similar product.
According to Bloomberg, Twitter recently held talks with Clubhouse about acquiring them for $4 billion. These talks are no longer active, though it is unclear why they fell through. Instead, Clubhouse is reportedly seeking to raise new funding at a valuation of $4 billion, a 4x increase from their most recent evaluation of $1 billion in January 2021.
Similar to other social media platforms, Clubhouse allows users to create a profile. Each profile contains a photo, follower and followers count, a short bio, and an @ handle. The application features a plain-text editor that supports emojis in profiles, direct messages, and comments. The application allows users to connect their Twitter and Instagram accounts to help users find their friend's Clubhouse profiles.
The Hallway is Clubhouse’s name for their main feed. Here, users can find active and ongoing chatrooms to drop into and the ability to schedule a room. Using the menu in the top right corner, users can search for a member, invite new members, view a calendar with upcoming rooms, view their notifications, or edit their Clubhouse profile.
In Clubhouse, rooms are accessed from The Hallway, and users can enter and exit any room as long as the room size is under a set limit. The three roles of users are Listeners, Speakers, and Moderators. When you first join a room, you are a listener who can listen in on speakers in a room. Moderators can upgrade Listeners to either Speakers or Moderators. Speakers can mute and unmute their microphone and speak for everyone there, while Moderators can control the room through upgrading and downgrading user roles.
- No save data
In short, real-time voice communication can reduce the social pressure in one to many scenarios. Everyone has the need of expression and emotional communication, but it is easy to feel social pressure when expressing opinions in public. This is also why there is often a phenomenon that "people in large groups don't speak, while they don't stop talking in small groups". Moreover, in the Internet age, many people, especially those with status, are worried that what they have said will be taken out of context and be used to argue again themselves. Therefore, if the dialogue is not archived, they are more likely to speak freely and say whatever they want without worrying about their personal opinions being regarded as official opinions. In addition, the audio content without playback can arouse people's loss aversion, so as to participate in a dialogue more actively. Take a counter example. For example, many people have a lot of articles in their wechat favorites, but they never read them. It's because we all know that the collected articles are here. We can wait until we have time to read them, but they may never read them again.
- Help users realize social break
In the process of experiencing such products, users have a feeling that it can help them break the personal information cocoon room. For example, on the early platform, there are many rooms discussing the topic of "how do you come to this platform". Many people will express a similar opinion: their usual circle is too narrow to meet some different people and absorb different opinions. For Internet practitioners, people around them are either product managers or or technical staffs. Usually, they work for a long time without weekends, it is difficult to get along with people outside the Internet industry. Entering this platform brings chances to reach investors, voice actors, third and fourth tier city auto repair plant owners and other people from all walks of life. People can discuss views on a topic in an equal and deep way with these people in round tables. Thus, Clubhouse attracts many people.
Businesses on Clubhouse
Clubhouse actively pushes for big brands and creative collectives to adopt their platform. In December 2020, Clubhouse announced its Creator Pilot Program, offering in-house services to help brands produce events and widen their reach. Audio Collective, an audio creator community, is an example of a company that took advantage of this program, offering partnerships with creators and brands to build audio events on the iOS app.
During Clubhouse’s weekly Town Hall on March 14, 2021, CEO Paul Davidson announced the new Clubhouse Creator First accelerator program. The program's goal is to “support and equip emerging creators with the resources they need to bring their ideas and creativity to life.” The program provides creative development assistance, promotion on and off the app, a monthly stipend, and other support options. The first year of the program with accept 20 creators.
In its early stages of development, Clubhouse was commonly used in China to express users' opinions against government censorship. Many users recount that the non-permanent nature of Clubhouse influenced people to share more personal stories and have conversations with less of a filter. For Chinese users, Clubhouse included many political discussions that were otherwise not allowed on the Chinese Internet. The Chinese government blocked Clubhouse on February 8th.
Clubhouse has faced multiple accusations of mishandling user data. The Stanford Internet Observatory found vulnerabilities in the app infrastructure after discovering that Agora Inc., , the company that provides the backend infrastructure for the mobile app, was based in Shanghai, China. SIO raised concern that Clubhouse users' unique ID numbers and chatroom IDs are transmitted in plain text to Agora, which implies that Agora likely has access to raw Clubhouse audio linked to users. When Clubhouse was still available in China, this caused great concern for mainland Chinese users who criticized the government. Under Chinese cybersecurity laws, Agora is legally required to assist in locating any audio if the government decides it jeopardizes national security. Agora responded to the SIO by claiming it does not store audio or data other than to monitor network quality and bill clients. Clubhouse also commented that they plan to roll out changes that add encryption to the data and block pings to Chinese servers.
Many critics have acknowledged Clubhouse's lack of industry-standard security practices designed to protect user data. The lack of security led to a leak of 1.3 million Clubhouse users' data in April 2021. The leak included users' names, profile names, and other details. Clubhouse refuted the claims saying that all the data collected was public information that "anyone can access via the app or API."
Bloomberg published a recent article highlighting third-party websites that were web scraping and organizing Clubhouse chatroom audio for later streaming at a different site. SIO warned users that they should assume all conversations on the app are recorded. Clubhouse’s lack of anti-scraping technology meant anyone could easily record the activity from a public channel. In February 2021, the app suffered a data breach in which a third-party developer in China designed an application that allowed Andriod users to access Clubhouse without an invite code or iPhone. The open-source code for the app was posted on GitHub. The application was later blocked and Clubhouse added safeguards to protect from this type of breach in the future. 
Clubhouse has been criticized for collecting user's contacts personal information, including those who are not Clubhouse users. When users sign up Clubhouse requests access to all user's phone contacts, beginning data collection before any of those contacts may have an account. This practice raises the question of ethicality since the user's contacts did not approve the data collection. Furthermore, Clubhouse forced users to hand over their contacts to send out invites to other users. If a user initially declined they were rerouted to a page that informed them this step was necessary to send invites.  This also raised the question of Clubhouse making shadow profiles for users that were not even on the application. People have anecdotally claimed that Clubhouse creates these from the contact lists of users currently on the application. To address this, Clubhouse released an update on March 12, 2021, that no longer requires access to user’s contact lists for them to invite others to use the app. Instead, users can send out invites by directly inputting phone numbers. Clubhouse also collects information from user's Twitter account that seems, to many, unnecessary. The information includes all tweets from a user's timeline, accounts followed, muted, and blocked, and Twitter profile information and account settings. Clubhouse does not make clear why this magnitude of information is needed from users. 
In late March 2021, French regulators opened an inquiry as to whether Clubhouse had violated EU privacy laws over mishandling of user data. The violations surround concern over the application not having any corporate entity in the EU or an obvious chain of custody for the personal information of users in the region. 
Lack of Moderation
Clubhouse’s lax moderation has encouraged its users to discuss topics often censored on other social media networks. Numerous public figures associated with QAnon and other similar extremist groups were early adopters of Clubhouse, using the app to communicate with their supporters. The app, like other social media platforms, has continuously struggled with misinformation campaigns. To mitigate this issue, on March 5th, 2021, Clubhouse updated its community guidelines and released new tools to report specific instances that violated such guidelines.
Harassment, hate speech, trolling, and other infractions to Clubhouse’s terms of service are allowed to rampantly occur since there is no sufficient mechanism in place for users to report such violations when they observe them. Moreover, this app has no functionality allows users to block other users, further reducing the ability for users to combat harassment on the app. On top of that, conversations carried out within chat rooms are not recorded so that there is no documentation of instances of harassment occurring other than what individual users can attest to hearing or can record themselves. The lack of any serious moderation functionality to combat this type of malignant behavior has led to some criticisms regarding the app’s disregard for establishing and enforcing community guidelines that are necessary for maintaining healthy online communities.
Moderation specialists from other companies have expressed that there many complex challenges with implementing processes to enforce effective moderation on web platforms that make it difficult for Clubhouse developers to address the above issues. These challenges include difficulty processing auditory information and identifying and combatting social patterns. Moderation specialists explain that recording and reviewing audio of negative interactions, determining what negative behavioral patterns look like, and addressing deep-seated social phenomena in culture are tasks that are too complex for the young platform to handle.
Spread of Misinformation
Clubhouse is particularly vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation campaigns due to the relative difficulty of confirming claims during a conversation. campaigns due to the relative difficulty of confirming claims during a conversation. The flow of listening and talking is unfiltered by nature, and interrupting speakers isn't possible in certain rooms. Thus, speakers and moderators can significantly impact the topic and direction of conversations. Much of the app's initial appeal to users revolved around creating a space safe from Cancel Culture ongoing in other mainstream social media platforms like Twitter. Racism, conspiracy theories, and gaslighting are some of the countless methods of spreading disinformation that has surfaced on Clubhouse. In particular, conspiracy theories related to coronavirus and the anti-vaccination movement have spread on Clubhouse. It has also been reported that Clubhouse has hosted anti-Semitism, LGBTQ+ hate speech, and false health claims. In terms of relations between speakers and listeners, the unique connections that Clubhouse offers its influencers and their fans can strengthen parasocial bonds but can also create new outlets for misinformation and abuse. One journalist interrogated Kevin Hart on questionable moments of his career through a Clubhouse room but was unable to conduct the interview properly due to frequent interruptions from other users defending him. While users can affect influencers, the inverse is arguably the app's most controversial and worrying feature. Elon Musk has been criticized for encouraging his Clubhouse listeners to invest in GameStop and cryptocurrencies like bitcoins or dogecoin, assets that he has financial ties with. Within Clubhouse, influencers wield exponentially more power and not necessarily for the better as their self-interests aren't always aligned with the general public's.
A form of disinformation conducted by some users on the app is online impersonation. Celebrities such as Tim Cook and Elon Musk have been impersonated on the app. Clubhouse user MC Hammer has petitioned the company via Twitter to implement a “real name” policy in order to prevent impersonators from using the platform.
Accessibility has been a growing concern of Clubhouse. The platform is exclusive in nature due to its invite process; this led to a lack of diversity and inclusivity for certain demographic groups. Part of the appeal of the app is its “invite” setup. The users of this app include tech elites/celebrities, high performers of hustle culture, and the privileged. Users who receive an invite feel important even if they have no personal ties to the elites. Clubhouse is also only available on iPhones, making the app less accessible due to the associated cost of purchasing an iPhone, making Clubhouse favored among upper-class users. Additionally, the app's design excludes people with disabilities. Since it is an audio chat app with a lack of support for live captioning, individuals with auditory disability cannot effectively use the app. Furthermore, the visibility for those with vision issues is a problem; the app does not support text resizing and has difficulty to read text. Despite its bad app design, this app would appeal to people with vision issues, as it is an audio chat app.