Exploring Clubhouse, The Platform Revolutionizing Group Chats

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After the trading app Robinhood froze the ability to buy stocks such as Gamestop, AMC and others that had gone viral on Reddit, Robinhood Co-Founder Vlad Tenev hopped on Clubhouse, an audio-based social media platform, to explain what happened.

Tenev had previously appeared on traditional news outlets like CNN and CNBC, where he was interviewed during brief segments. In a 16-minute interview on Clubhouse on Jan. 31, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk interviewed Tenev and pushed back against Tenev’s statements and Robinhood’s actions. Listeners had the ability to virtually raise their hand to ask questions on the platform, unlike the viewers of nationally televised interviews.

Clubhouse, the invite-only social media app described as a live podcast, focuses solely on live group voice chats. Launched less than two years ago, Clubhouse has already inspired copycats and is beginning to play a major role in both news consumption and the social media landscape.

In less than two years, Clubhouse has grown from 1,500 users at its launch to six million as of this month. The company currently has a $1 billion valuation despite having raised only $10 million in funding.

Clubhouse is structured around simple, unending “rooms” in which users can listen to or participate in conversations. Users have the option to join an existing room or start their own. Although anyone can join a room, not everyone can speak — that’s up to the moderators of each room to decide.

Rooms can be set to allow all participants to speak, but to prevent potentially hundreds of voices from talking at once, most rooms with a sizable following don’t allow this.

Listeners in the room also have the option to raise a virtual hand, signaling to a moderator that they want to speak. Moderators can then allow listeners to join in momentarily and potentially move them into a speaking role.

As with all social media platforms, the user experience differs from person to person. Clubhouse magnifies this difference because of its invite-only nature.. For someone with only a few friends, associates, or contacts on the app, the user experience will be dominated by larger rooms. For someone with a robust network on the app, small rooms with friends might be more common.

Room topics are innumerable. From “What will the artworld look like after covid” and “French Supremacists” to “Do we need traditional journalists” and “Shoot your shot: India edition,” Clubhouse rooms can be created to discuss virtually anything.

Moving from room to room is smooth and cohesive. When browsing the app’s virtual hallways, the user’s most recent room plays in the background. Joining a room often feels like listening to a podcast, with speakers taking turns while trying to provide an entertaining conversation for listeners.

As CNBC Tech Reporter Salvador Rodriguez reported, the app’s invite-only design originally confined it to Silicon Valley and the donors of large tech companies, from which technology-focused rooms emerged. As the user base grew, Clubhouse carved out a niche among Black users and other communities.

“A few months ago you might’ve opened the app to a panel discussion on the future of artificial intelligence or the potential of Bitcoin. Now, you’ll still see the tech talk, but it’ll be alongside debates over the music of rappers DMX and 50 Cent or the latest happening in the NBA,” Rodriguez wrote.

During a heated conversation in a room titled “Is Kevin Hart Funny?”, Comedian Kevin Hart summarized what he believes the app can be and why it’s unique.

“We got thousands of people in a room, and there was great dialogue. Guys, the purpose of this app was to be able to connect with real people, have real conversations. If everybody argues, or everybody gets to a point of crazy back and forth of volume, well then we’re not serving any service,” Hart said. “This is extremely entertaining and valuable cause I’m talking to the people.”

Similar to Snapchat’s stories and TikTok’s video timelines, Clubhouse’s unique live voice chat feature is already being mimicked by other platforms. Twitter announced the launch of Spaces in November and Facebook is working on a comparable product, according to the New York Times.

Another rival application named Stereo was launched last year by Andrey Andreev, the founder of the dating app Badoo. Although it has the same basic features, Stereo allows anyone to join, unlike Clubhouse’s invite-only system.

Clubhouse does not record conversations or offer a way to record a room, although Instagram and Facebook do with their live streaming options. But this does not mean it is impossible to record or store conversations on the app. Recently, Clubhouse has come under privacy concerns after the Stanford Internet Observatory found the possibility of a backdoor accessible by the Chinese government.

The concern comes from a Shanghai-based company named Agora, which provided some of the digital infrastructures for Clubhouse. The SIO report details that Agora may have access to raw audio data that could potentially be provided to the Chinese government. The concerns arose in light of an SEC filing in which Agora said it is obligated to assist the Chinese government with criminal investigations and national security issues under Chinese cybersecurity law.

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