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Wondering why you’re hearing a lot about Clubhouse lately? Much like last week’s “Gamestonk” controversy, we can partially blame Elon Musk. By popping up in a Clubhouse room this week, the world’s richest man (for now) brought the service a lot of attention. Here’s what you need to know about the exclusive chat app.
Okay, so what is it?Here’s the gist: Imagine you have an app on your phone that lets you listen in on other people’s live conversations. But not in a creepy way; these people want to be heard. They may even be famous, or at least interesting or knowledgeable (no guarantee, however). And you may be given the opportunity to join the chat. Think of it as an audio-chat social network. Or as PCMag’s Jordan Minor says in our review, “What if Twitter was a podcast you lived inside of?”
So there are no pictures or video?No. Only profile pics for each user.
What’s the Clubhouse app for?Clubhouse is currently only available on iOS. Any iPhone user can download the app, which is where you listen to conversations and how you participate.
Cool, so I can just sign up, right?Nope. At the time of this writing, you need an invitation from an existing Clubhouse user to even get access. Every new user gets two invites, and they earn more as they use the app.
Can I use Clubhouse on the iPad?Sure, but it’s not optimized for iPadOS. So you’ll be using the app in a small window, or looking at it in a weird, zoomed-in 2x size.
It’s not on Android? WTF!An Android app is in the works. But the developers want to scale up slowly, and there are more Android users than iPhone users worldwide. Starting on Android might have killed the Clubhouse servers after a publicity stunt (like, say, having Musk in a room).
So all I need is the app? There’s no website?The only website the company has is joinclubhouse.com, and that’s simply a pointer to the Apple App Store. (Don’t confuse this service with clubhouse.io, either. That’s a project manager.)
How much of my data does Clubhouse want for a registration?You have to give Clubhouse your phone number and your real name (in theory). You can register the eventual username you want for the service before you even get an invite. The person inviting you simply needs your phone number. You’ll get a link texted to you, telling you to visit joinclubhouse.com/app and sign in with that number.
Link your Twitter account to Clubhouse if you don’t want to set up a profile from scratch; it’ll even pull in your existing Twitter profile pic. Clubhouse also pushes you to link your contacts, in the name of making it easier to find people to follow. But don’t bother if you don’t have a contact list full of influencers. Once you’re logged in, you can verify an email address with the service so you have it as a method for reconnecting if there’s an issue.
How am I only now hearing about this? When did it launch?Clubhouse was launched (along with COVID in the US!) in March 2020. It became a big deal to a select few in part because of its invite-only exclusivity, much like a real-world club membership. In those early days, it was an incredibly small community, mainly consisting of venture capitalists. After all, the company behind Clubhouse—Alpha Exploration Co.—got a $12 million investment from Andreessen Horowitz after two months of existence. It was quickly worth $100 million—and it only had 1,500 users at the time. Now it’s open to a lot more than investors, even if it is still invite-only access.
What am I supposed to listen to on Clubhouse?When you finally get access, the app offers a page full of conversational topics to follow, from sports to tech to world affairs to faith to “hustle” and on and on. In each, you’ll find people interested in the same thing, and you can follow them. The more topics and people you follow, the more likely you are to get suggestions for a room that fits your desires.
The conversations aren’t permanent?Conversation rooms come and go as people launch or end them. And nothing is recorded by Clubhouse. But that doesn’t mean other members won’t find ways to record chats. The internet is still forever.
How many people can be in a conversation?The current limit is 5,000 people per Clubhouse room—which Musk busted through, of course. Users in that room started live-streaming the conversation on YouTube, which is a clever workaround for making a record of what’s said.
What do you really mean by a conversation? Isn’t it like a podcast?It depends on your podcast preferences, but remember—all the people involved are talking via their iPhones. They don’t see each other, so it really is like listening in on a phone call. There’s no professional editing, no sound effects, no transitions, and no advertising (at least not officially). That said, the “style” of the conversation is flexible: one room might be a casual one-on-one between friends, while another is a more formal talk-show-style interview, a big group discussion, or even a music-sharing session. If someone interesting drops into a room—like a billionaire—the room creator/moderator can put them on the “stage” as a speaker.
So I can only listen in?Not necessarily. Anyone listening in can virtually “raise a hand.” It’s up to the room’s creator/moderator if they want to let you talk.
So, is this really like ‘Medium for Podcasts?’To the extent that it lets anyone create a room on the fly, without any promise of future conversations, it is. Unlike Medium, there’s no record of it. The conversations are not recorded or stored for future listeners. Certainly there’s no way to monetize it. Yet.
Sounds more like Zoom without video.In some ways, sure…or you could always do a Zoom or Google Meet without the video on. But Clubhouse isn’t really that, since the conversations are open to any member who can find it, not a select few. The virtual dais is limited, which hopefully only gives the floor to people with something important or interesting to say. Also, not having to look at the screen while you’re talking is a nice change from today’s daily video calls.
What are the downsides?Clubhouse has had some issues already with hate speech and abuse, so it had to institute community moderation guidelines in October. It made a common mistake—believing it could trust users to not be jerks. There are always jerks.
Who’s really going to use Clubhouse?Right now, Clubhouse is for people who like to talk and miss having an audience—like needy celebrities—or lurkers who want to be the fly-on-the-wall near interesting conversations. Clubhouse may be the balm they need during another COVID winter. Eventually, as it grows and becomes a big deal, it may be a new medium we all have to keep an eye on.
Wait, wait wait. There are celebrities?Yeah, Kevin Hart, Drake, Tiffany Haddish, and a handful of others are using it. In fact, the app is becoming popular in the black entertainment community, in particular. Haddish was the first person to break 1 million followers on Clubhouse, which should tell you that the service is well past that 1,500 users mark. But that may play into the “pretentious, clout-chasing atmosphere” we noted in our review.
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