It’s 2020, and the world is on time out, and creativity is at an all-time high. People are working out with water jugs and sacks of potatoes.
Social media is filled with death tolls, conspiracy theories, and everyone arguing about politics, masks, and how much they hate everyone else who thinks differently than they do.
Except on Clubhouse.
The Golden Era: A Journey to The Sun
Clubhouse is an audio-only app that launched in March 2020 with the ability to host campfire-style rooms that anyone could pop into and listen to or even contribute, after raising your digital hand to speak, or by being invited up to the “stage” to speak.
It was a golden era of naturally-aspirated conversations between strangers who would become digital, and perhaps real-life friends.
It gave users an outlet to have real conversations and connect with what seemed to be a much more dialed-in and authentic audience.
You could literally talk with Elon Musk, Diddy, or Snoop and have real dialogue. A one-in-a-million interaction could happen at any point in time. It could also be a massive hedge fund manager, or someone looking to hire a new marketing director.
The stickiness of the platform connections was something social media has not experienced.
Facebook, Twitter, IG, TikTok, and LinkedIn generally provide filtered and curated one-way conversations with users.
If I send a message or comment on a post, the user may or may not get back to me. Most times, if they don’t know you, the message is going into a filter, never to see the light of day.
With Clubhouse, you could talk with the CMO for Coca-Cola if they were in a room and ask them directly for a job. It was wild. With a capital W.
Every night, people hosted rooms talking about everything from politics to relationships, and everything in between.
Of course, there were plenty of ratchet rooms. Smoke weed and don’t talk room, or why niggas don’t want black women room, or the bitcoin billionaires room, but for the most part, it was a great time listening and learning.
One room, “Talk Nerdy to Me,” run by Australian super inventor and tech ambassador, Amanda Johnstone, provided college-level talks about everything ranging from neurophysics to space travel.
The talks could have easily charged admission, but since the platform was not monetizable at the time, the rooms grew by the thousands.
Although Johnstone wouldn’t have charged if she could have, she is a gentle soul, who truly wanted to give back to the community.
And that’s why Clubhouse was a great platform. It piqued curiosity, and when there was nothing to gain, people gave with clean intentions.
Unknown people suddenly became mini-celebrities, with audience members hanging on their every word and tuning in religiously, much like broadcast television in the 90s.
Other unknown users, like comedian Leah Lamarr, also launched into the stratosphere of clubhouse celebrity status and developed a loyal following while managing to be one, if not the first, clubhouse celeb to monetize a room and garner sponsorships.
Leah Lamarr: The Mayor of Clubhouse
It was the tits, and everyone was snorting clubhouse cocaine, with rooms lasting from 20 minutes to 15 hours.
People would emerge from their audio-induced hangover, ashamed from oversharing why their marriage ended and what weird sexual fetishes they have, only to do again the next night.
Lamarr hosted several rooms ranging from comedy showdowns to general conversation rooms where people would talk about addiction, abuse, and other serious topics.
She eventually was named the Clubhouse Icon, a coveted spot for the most influential users.
Here comes the money. And The Problems
Celebrities and industry leaders flocked to Clubhouse, hosting exclusive rooms and discussions that attracted a massive audience.
The platform’s early success drew significant attention from investors, leading to substantial funding rounds that valued Clubhouse in the hundreds of millions.
Life was good, the platform was frothy, and the whole planet wanted Clubhouse. It was going to be the next social media juggernaut…And then COVID ended.
The Challenges: It’s Getting a Little Warm Up Here.
As with any meteoric rise, challenges soon emerged for Clubhouse. The app’s exclusivity, initially a key element of its success, became a double-edged sword.
While it created an air of intrigue, it also limited the platform’s accessibility, hindering its potential for widespread adoption.
So, they opened the floodgates, and everyone joined, and then no one joined, and then everyone left. Post lockdown, usage went down drastically, well, because, people wanted to be outside again and post selfies at the bar while doing stuff with other humans.
We need to talk
The Clubhouse app, even though incredibly simple, took an extraordinary amount of effort to use correctly.
It was basically like having a 2-hour live conversation, and let’s be honest, we’re just not set up to have phone calls for hours on end. 75% of people prefer texting over a phone call.
Also, with rooms popping up at all hours of the day, it became increasingly difficult to manage room schedules with everyday life.
It’s hard to listen, let alone contribute to a room at 6 pm EST when you’re having dinner with your family.
Especially when the room moderator is on the West Coast, or in the UK. When the world was on a universal schedule of “whatever, I don’t have anywhere to go, I already bought toilet paper,” it was much easier to lock in and use the app for hours at a time, but with a reopening of the world, global usage tanked, understandably.
The Vultures are Circling
Competitors quickly recognized the appeal of audio-based social networking and began incorporating similar features into their existing platforms.
Twitter Spaces and Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms began to encroach on Clubhouse’s territory, offering similar audio-centric experiences to their massive user bases.
Although, Facebook’s Audio rooms were short-lived, dying out in 2022. Twitter Spaces is still going strong, but it’s simply an add-on to the platform.
The long-term viability of a two-way audio-only platform simply does not track when the world is up and running in a normal way.
Humans being annoying prompts drama and a mass exodus
Clubhouse also faced scrutiny regarding privacy and content moderation. Instances of inappropriate content, harassment, and misinformation within rooms raised concerns among users and led to a reassessment of the platform’s moderation policies.
As the platform grew, so did hate speech, racist rooms, sexist rooms, and overall hate for everything rooms started to pop up.
The purity and excitement of the platform were suffocated by the black mist of general society, spammers, and charlatans. The anchor users, seeing a decline, bounced, leaving the platform in shambles.
Much like a retail mall, anchor stores drive commerce for small stores, and as the anchor clubhouse users left, the platform began to waste away. A random Auntie Anne’s Pretzel and Claire’s boutique, patiently waiting for its death.
The lack of robust tools to control and filter content became a significant hurdle for Clubhouse’s growth and user satisfaction.
Scorched Wings: A Decent Back to Earth.
The final deathblow is the ownership group’s complete change of the user interface, which makes asynchronous communication the standard.
Initially, there was no easy way to start or join live rooms, which infuriated OG users, and the only way you could communicate was by leaving messages on a board for other people to respond to, which is a complete deviation from the core usage of the platform.
After several updates, you can now host and join live rooms more easily, but all the weirdness, coupled with the steep decline in usage puts Clubhouse in a prickly spot for continued growth.
Despite the unpleasantness, the staff seem to be optimistic about new updates to the platform with a promise of continued innovation.
However, if they don’t figure out a way to make the app something other than a glorified audio spam folder, the future looks certainly uncertain.