Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard of Clubhouse —the drop-in audio chat app with over five million downloads and two million active users in India alone. Since its launch in March 2020, the app has attracted tremendous attention with its ‘invite-only’ policy inducing FOMO across generations (at its peak last year, invites went for a smooth $400 on online listings platform ebay). But what exactly is Clubhouse?
“It’s social media without the visual aspect,” says Gurugram-based Meetali Kutty, a marketing professional. She adds, “People actually have to make an impression through their conversation, not just rely on looking good.” Ashima Acharya, Consultant and Food Content Creator from Bhubaneswar, calls it an elite club, as most conversations are in English, and participation is restricted.
Some of Clubhouse’s unique features include virtual ‘rooms’, where hosts choose a topic and invite eminent panelists to speak. Audience members raise their hands to ask questions or request to speak. There are also ‘clubs’ built around specific subjects, which can have many rooms. In the US, creators can monetise the large audience they bring in their wake, but not yet in India.
Even the most reticent of industry professionals shed their inhibitions and willingly share their wisdom here. Sameer Malkani, co-founder of the Food Bloggers Association of India (FBAI), hails Clubhouse as a great networking tool, saying, “These sessions have educated me on global perspectives and insights in my area of food, drink, hospitality and community building.”
However, all is not hunky-dory. A constantly growing user base has dimmed the exclusivity factor. Akin to other social media platforms, political subterfuges between national parties, privacy issues and in Kutty’s words, “Creepy men lurking in rooms, attempting to find out where you live,” are now part of the parcel. Minor technical glitches also annoy regular users. Malkani dislikes the fact that moderators have to constantly ‘refresh’ the room to explain the topic being discussed, and the fact that one has to search for the speaker, as their icon is not prominently displayed.
In April 2021, Clubhouse suffered a personal data breach with private information and account details of 1.3 million users being leaked. The app has been banned in countries such as China and Jordan for a variety of reasons.
Having said that, its popularity continues to surge every day, with several copycat versions launching soon. It remains to be seen, however, whether the appeal of Clubhouse will endure or be relegated to the status of just another app on one’s smartphone.
✥ Audio-only means no pressure to dress up or look a certain way
✥ Access to expert speak in your field
✥ Ability to jump conversations in different rooms, log in and log out quietly
✥ Exclusivity factor with invite-only usage
✥ Good way for small businesses to reach a new clientele
✥ Meaningful business connections can be made from around the world
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
✥ It’s a fun way to interact but you can’t learn a skill the way you would by watching a YouTube tutorial or reading an article
✥ Those already famous continue to hold sway here
✥ Bad sound quality and frequent technical glitches such as the crashing of ‘rooms’
✥ Current algorithm doesn’t allow in-depth topic searches
✥ No time limit to conversations
✥ Users cannot interact privately through DMs