The audio social chat app is invitation-only and is available on iOS, but it has seen an explosion of growth in the past couple of months as users invite their friends to join.
As of February 1, it had over 3.5 million global downloads and 8.1 million by Feb 16, 2021, and has quickly garnered attention in the U.K., Germany, Japan, Brazil, and Turkey, wrote Lexi Sydow, an analyst at App Annie, in a blog post.
“It is like plugging into the zeitgeist in real time,” said Jon Radoff, CEO of game development platform Beamable, in a message. “I learn an enormous amount in every conversation I’ve experienced.”
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Radoff’s Game Industry Cocktails room has been running nonstop for four days now, as different moderators take over the conversation and keep it going. I’m joining him at 6 p.m. tonight for a talk on game venture capital.
Like many other social businesses in the pandemic, Clubhouse is benefiting from the need to replace what we’ve lost.
“It certainly replaced the void I had in my ability to network once there were no more conferences to go to,” said Oden Sharon, a game developer in Israel, in a message.
I’ve been a regular, especially during my evening jogs, when I have time to listen. I’ve frequently joined rooms with 5,000 people listening to luminaries like Marc Andreessen, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz, which led a $100 million investment round for Clubhouse on January 25. Other well-known figures who joined conversations include Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.
I like it because I get to join instant panels on game topics. There are regular discussions about virtual reality, blockchain and cryptocurrency, gaming careers, raising money, the acquisitions frenzy, and more. Anyone can create a room, and you can invite all your friends to join, and they can invite their friends. You see the rooms that your friends are in, and you can explore other rooms randomly.
With hundreds of people joining the rooms, the odds are pretty good that there’s an expert available to discuss a topic. Moderators can promote audience members to join the stage, and audience members can raise a virtual hand to ask questions. After they ask a question, the moderator can put them back in the audience. The moderator can also boot anyone out of a room.
Elena Mazhuha, investment manager at Genesis Investments, has been on Clubhouse for about six weeks, and she co-hosts the Hype News show each Monday at 10 a.m. Pacific time.
“It’s an awesome tool for online events. It takes one minute to create an event and let every follower know when it will happen. The quality of voice is high. The UX (user experience) is easy even for non-sophisticated users,” she said in a message. “You don’t need to bother how you look when you network via Clubhouse. No video calls, no problems. The conversations between speakers feel lively and human. They’re not as refined as podcasts, which makes them better for a wide audience, because the wide audience loves “rough edges.”
She also said, “Clubhouse fills the gap that radio once filled. When I was a kid, I dreamed of calling to the radio station and saying ‘hello’ to my mom and dad. On Clubhouse, people can raise their hands and say hello in the livestream.”
Mazhuha said, however, that it’s hard to find the right conversations, as friends will invite her into irrelevant talks. And there’s no recording, so the fear of missing out is pretty high.
There are a lot of tech people and celebrities on the platform, as well as influencers. I have seen more game people join, but that community is still nascent. Clubhouse is at its strongest when it has spirited but civil debates. Last night, Eros Resmini, former chief marketing officer for Discord, joined a session talking about Discord vs. Clubhouse. Only once have I see an audience member ask something totally off topic, when he asked if anyone in the room knew how to fix a Wii U game console.
“Clubhouse is great because it serves as a business network, like LinkedIn, yet with a panel format. It’s a great tool for connecting with like-minded businesspeople,” said Ryan Detert, CEO of Influential. “The audio-only format is great, largely because of our collective video meeting burnout from the last 10 months of lockdown. Also, the ephemeral nature of the platform and the ability for big names to drop into a chat, makes it exciting and unpredictable. Not too much to say on the bad side. I will mention that it’s still a limited audience because it is in beta and it is still yet to be seen how they are able to integrate brands and influencers.”
The app has had 2.6 million downloads in the U.S. to date, and invitations are increasingly easy to get. Facebook is reportedly building a rival audio chat product, and other competitors on the global scene include Dizhua, Tiya, Yalla, and Quilt.
“As someone who worked in public radio, it’s a re-imagination of audio. It reminds me a lot of talk radio with a layer of social media for a younger generation,” said Swatee Surve, a maker of health-focused games, in a message. “I like the fact Clubhouse is an experience that gets you away from a screen. I have really enjoyed the diversity of audience — specifically more [Black] perspectives. I am still trying to find the sweet spot. There’s a lot of great business and startup content, but that isn’t the content I am looking for. I am looking for different topics that can I can learn new and unfamiliar things, help me see a different perspective, or connect with kindred spirits. I am finding it hard to find that type of content. I find it difficult to have insightful conversations with people I’ve never met or whose background I don’t know — especially with sensitive topics. Some of this can be resolved through UX/UI improvements but other things — like the quality of the content is at the mercy of the participants.”
Not everybody is a fan of Clubhouse, as it has a kind of elite (or elitist) audience at the moment.
“My impression is that Clubhouse is just another example of Silicon Valley trying to ‘sex-up’ an existing solution that isn’t broken,” said veteran public relations man Jonathan Hirshon, in a message. “It’s called a conference call over IP. Yes, the user interface is good and the overall UX works, but I’m highly skeptical this concept can’t be easily cloned by Twitter, Zoom, or Cisco.”
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