WORK IN PROGRESS
Clubhouse is an audio-chat social-networking application founded by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth in March 2020 (2). The platform is currently in its beta stage and uses an invitation based system where existing users have two invites to onboard to new members to download the application. The mobile app allows users to listen and participate in a conversation room usually centering around a specific topic or purpose (1). Unlike most popular social media platforms, once the room is closed, the live chats in the room disappear and are not recorded. Clubhouse after 11 months has now grown to over 10 million users and reached a valuation of $1 billion. In its short lifespan, Clubhouse has garnered the attention of many celebrities that have shown up on its platform; making headlines that added to its buzz among social media users. Social media companies, looking at the success of Clubhouse, have additionally joined in on competing in the growing audio chat space on the internet. In contrast to its successes, Clubhouse has furthermore posed many concerns around its operations with questions of its handling of user data and the platforms lack of moderation and security. The creators have announced that their goal is to open up Clubhouse in a worldwide release later this year.
Founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth previously worked on multiple entrepreneurial ventures together. Their most notable was Talkshow, an application that allowed users to hold public text conversations. Their goal with Clubhouse was to make a social app driven by “conversations rather than posts.”
The joining of notable celebrities spiked Clubhouse’s usage since their early development in March 2020. Notable celebrities such as Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Drake have all joined the platform. Musk notable held a Clubhouse conversation with Robinhood CEO Vladimir Tenev about the unprecedented rise of GameStop stock. This incident surpassed the app conversation room limits and was recorded and livestreamed on YouTube.
The competition for Clubhouse has grown as social media platforms have been actively testing similar audio-based products and functionality. On March 10th, Twitter released a new app update to experiment their new audio based platform Spaces that features similar functionality as Clubhouse. Meanwhile Facebook has additionally been heavily rumored to be building a similar product as well.
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 that offered 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.
Clubhouse in the early stages of its development, was commonly used by users in China to freely express their opinions against the Chinese government’s censorship. Many users recount that the non-permanent nature of Clubhouse influenced people to share more personal stories and have less of a filter on their conversations. For Chinese users, the range of discussions included many political discussions that were otherwise not allowed on the Chinese internet.The Chinese government eventually blocked Clubhouse on February 8th.
The company has faced multiple accusations of mishandling user data. In one instance, the Stanford Internet Observatory confirmed that Agora Inc., the company that provides the backend infrastructure for the mobile app, was based out of Shanghai, China. This raised many concerns as anyone observing the internet traffic could see the users that were ultimately using the application. Furthermore, many have pointed at the lack of industry standard security practices needed to adequately protect user data. Bloomberg in a recent article highlighted third-party websites that were web scraping and organizing the audio from Clubhouse chatrooms that were eventually streamed to a different site. Clubhouse’s lack of anti-scraping technology meant that virtually anyone could easily record the activity from a public channel.
Lack of Moderation
Clubhouse’s lax moderation on its platform has caused many users to use it to connect with others on topics that are censored on other platforms. In its early adoption, numerous public figures associated with QAnon and similar extremist groups used Clubhouse to communicate with their supporters. Additionally the app, similar to other social media platforms, continuously fights with misinformation. To mitigate this issue, on March 5th 2021, Clubhouse updated their community guidelines and released new tools to report specific instances that violated such guidelines.