No, it’s not Mickey Mouse, but what is Clubhouse?

February 23, 2021

Last summer, the social media app Clubhouse had just a few thousand users—mostly mostly Silicon Valley tech workers and venture capitalists who wanted to connect with one another during the pandemic.

Today, it has millions of users, a valuation of roughly $1 billion and a ton of buzz—which only got louder this month when Tesla CEO Elon Musk invited Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin to join him on Clubhouse for a drop-in audio chat. (Putin still is thinking it over.)

What’s more, The New York Times’ Steven Kurutz reports, Musk recently joined Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a conversation on Clubhouse—and their joint appearance caused such a stir that the platform nearly crashed.

Still, it remains a small club, so to speak—certainly when compared with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you’ve heard about it, and want to know what the fuss is about, Kurutz provides a primer, as follows:

What is it? Clubhouse is social networking app that enables users to gather in audio chat rooms to discuss various topics, whether it’s sports, wellness, art or why Bitcoin is headed to $87,000. Rooms are usually divided into two groups—those who are talking and those who are listening (participants can see a list of everyone who is in a conversation, and the numbers sometimes run into the thousands).

Unlike Twitter, Clubhouse is a closed, hierarchical platform: A moderator oversees discussions and has the ability to let someone chime in or to kick out the unruly. In addition to the “clubs” sorted by topic, two or more users can join together and start their own chat room, the Times notes.

The app was unveiled last spring by two tech industry veterans, Paul Davison and Rohan Seth. Their prototype of a podcasting app seemed too much like a broadcast, so they added a feature that enabled users to join the conversation. Clubhouse has been variously likened to a podcast with audience participation; the 2021 version of AOL’s Instant Messager; and an old-fashioned party line.

The focus on audio, rather than text, photos, or videos is a differentiator and part of the appeal. Delia Cai, of the newsletter Deez Links, wrote of her experience on the app: “It felt spontaneous, low-commitment, and blessedly did not involve turning any kind of camera on.”

Who is on it? As its name suggests, Clubhouse is built on exclusivity: You have to be invited in by an existing user. Early members of the club include Silicon Valley venture capitalists (Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, both early investors in the app), web-savvy entrepreneurs (Mark Cuban, Tim Ferriss), a smattering of performers and cultural influencers (Tiffany Haddish, Drake, Virgil Abloh) and people with random claims to fame (Vanilla Ice, Roger Stone).

According to the Times’ Kurutz, Clubhouse has been criticized by some for its male-dominated, bro-y energy (though plenty of women are on the platform, too). Its open information exchange has also made it popular with users from countries with repressive governments. China blocked Clubhouse this month. Right now, the app, which is still in the beta stage, has the rare (and likely fleeting) feeling of a small world. It’s still a surprise when you bump someone you know, or when, say, Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) pops up in a chat room.

What happens on it? Clubhouse can at times reflect Silicon Valley’s relentless focus on personal optimization. Networking, weight training, retiring early, pitching investors and Bitcoin, Bitcoin, Bitcoin—the hustle culture is real and present. But there is also a huge theater scene, with staged plays—and a dating scene, too. And conversations are often free-form, meandering, and completely unscripted. That unpolished quality is part of the charm.

How can you get an invite? Clubhouse is currently available only on iOS. Each person invited to join is, in turn, given invitations to hand out (users who are active on the platform are granted more invites). So try hitting up a friend or colleague already on the app.

f that fails, you may be able to buy your way in: Invitations are going for between $30 and $20,000 on eBay. (But be aware that Clubhouse lacks some of the privacy filters of other platforms.)Or you can wait, Kurutz advises. The Clubhouse website suggests the app will open up to a wider audience, or everyone, in time.

Research contact: @nytimes

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