Clubhouse is a social audio app for iOS and Android where users can communicate in audio chat rooms that accommodate groups of thousands of people. Other social audio apps like Discord Stage Channels, Facebook Live Audio Rooms, Reddit Talk, Slack Huddles, Spotify Greenroom, Telegram Voice Chats and Twitter Spaces which all directly compete against Clubhouse.
|Original author(s)||Paul Davison, Rohan Seth|
|Developer(s)||Alpha Exploration Co.|
|Initial release||March 2020|
|Type||Voice over IP (VoIP)|
Clubhouse began as a social media startup by founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth in Fall 2019. Originally designed for podcasts under the name Talkshow, the app was rebranded as "Clubhouse" and officially released for the iOS operating system in March 2020. Clubhouse was valued at $100 million after receiving funding from notable angel investors, including Ryan Hoover (Product Hunt), Balaji Srinivasan (Coinbase), James Beshara (Tilt.com), and several venture capitalists, including a $12 million Series A investment from the venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, in May 2020.
In January 2021, CEO Paul Davison announced that the app's active weekly user base consisted of approximately 2 million individuals. The company announced that it would begin working on an Android version of the app. In that month, the app became widely used in Germany when German podcast hosts Philipp Klöckner and Philipp Gloeckler started an invite-chain over a Telegram group, bringing German influencers, journalists, and politicians to the platform.
On February 1, 2021, Clubhouse had an estimated 3.5 million downloads globally and grew rapidly to 8.1 million downloads by February 15. This significant growth in popularity occurred after celebrities such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg made appearances on the app. In that month, Clubhouse hired an Android Software Developer A year after the app's release, the number of weekly active users was greater than 10 million, but the user base declined 21% during three weeks from late February to early March. The decline is reportedly caused by a decrease in the number of Clubhouse users after its initial release. During its initial rollout, the app was accessible only by invitation, and invitation codes on eBay were selling at up to $400.
On April 5, 2021, Clubhouse partnered with Stripe to launch its first monetizing feature called Clubhouse Payments. Although testing began with only 1,000 users, after a week, the company rolled out the functionality to another 60,000 or more users in the US. In the same month, Twitter had entered discussions to purchase Clubhouse for $4 billion. The talks ended with no acquisition. Later, the company held a Series C round of funding. The app has also seen interest in partnerships, with the National Football League announcing a content deal that month. As of that month, venture capitalists valued Clubhouse at nearly $4 billion in a funding round.
In July 2021, Clubhouse announced its partnership with TED to offer exclusive talks. and on July 21, 2021, the company discarded its invitation system and made the application available to all, though a waitlist for registration is still applied as user accounts will be created over time to manage new traffic. As of the time of the announcement, the company stated it had 10 million users on the waitlist.
The main feature of Clubhouse is real-time virtual “rooms” in which users can communicate with each other via audio. Rooms are categorized based on differing levels of privacy. “Open rooms” can be joined by anyone on Clubhouse, and all rooms default to this setting on creation. In “social rooms,” only users followed by the moderators are allowed to join. Users need to receive an invite from the moderators to join “closed rooms.” Within a room, there are three sections: the “stage,” “followed by the speakers,” and “others in the room.” The profile picture and name of each user present in a room are displayed in the appropriate section. When a user creates a room, they are assigned the role of “moderator” which gives them the power to call users to the stage, mute users, and remove speakers from the stage. The moderator role is denoted by a green star that appears next to the user's name. When a user joins a room, they are initially assigned to the role of a “listener” and cannot unmute themselves. Listeners can notify the moderators of their intent to join the stage and speak by clicking on the “raise hand” icon. Users who are invited to the stage become “speakers,” and gain the ability to unmute themselves. Users can exit a room by tapping the “leave quietly” button or the peace sign emoji.
A lot of conversations in Clubhouse happen spontaneously, but users can schedule conversations by creating events. When scheduling an event, users can first name the event and then set the date and time that the conversation will begin. Users can also add co-hosts to help moderate the event. Once an event is created, it is added to the Clubhouse “bulletin.” The bulletin displays upcoming scheduled events and allows users to set notifications for events by clicking the bell icon corresponding to the event. Users can access the bulletin by clicking on the calendar icon at the top of the home page.
At the Clubhouse, clubs are user communities that regularly discuss a common interest. Many clubs are present in Clubhouse representing a wide array of topics and users can find clubs by name under the search tab. A club consists of three categories of users - “Admin”, “Leader", and “Member”. Members can create private rooms and invite more users into the club. Leaders have all the privileges of a member, also authorized to create/schedule club-branded open rooms. An admin can modify club settings, add/delete users, change user privileges and create/schedule any type of room. There are three types of clubs - “Open”, “By Approval”, and “Closed” for membership. Any user can join an open club by pressing the "Join The Club" button on the club profile. In case of approval, users need to apply and wait for membership by pressing the "Apply To Join" button on the club profile. The admins of the respective club are privileged to accept or reject the user's request. In a closed club, membership is limited to users selected by the club admin. All users of a club will be notified when a public room within the club is created. The club creation is restricted to active users and whoever creates the club will become the club admin. Eligible users can create a club by going to their profile, press the “+” sign located in the “Member of” section. Clubs in which a user is a member are shown on their profile page. 
Backchannel is the messaging function that allows users to interact individually or within a group via text. The Backchannel feature was initially leaked on June 18, 2021, in response to the launch of Spotify Greenroom. This is notable because, until this point, Clubhouse was voice only with no way to hyperlink or message. It was entirely dependent on Instagram and Twitter for text messaging. The feature was initially leaked in the App Store, which the company says was an accident on Twitter. A month later, after multiple failed attempts, the Clubhouse Backchannel finally launched on July 14, 2021.
The homepage of Clubhouse provides access to ongoing chat rooms, which are recommended based on the people and clubs that are followed by the user. By tapping the magnifying glass icon, users will be redirected to the explore page. On the explore page, users can search for people and clubs to follow, and also find conversations categorized by topics.
This is the direct payment service provided by the app, which allows users to send money to content creators who had enabled this functionality in their profile. Users may send money to a creator by clicking on their profile, press "Send Money", and enter the desired amount to send. When a user does this for the first time, they'll be prompted to register a credit or a debit card. The total received amount will go to the creator. The user will also be charged a small card processing fee according to Clubhouse's payment processing partner, Stripe.
Creator First paid $5,000 a month to 24 creator shows for 90 days as it failed to secure any sponsorships for the creators. The pilot program drew heavy criticism from users over lack of transparency over the selection criteria and terms of the Creator First contracts.
Clubhouse app icon is a regularly changing grayscale profile photo of a social change leader and platform users. This is unique in app development, as most companies hire a designer to create an icon, whereas Clubhouse harvests user photos instead. Its tenth and current icon is Leah Lamarr.
Here is a running list of Clubhouse app icons:
Clubhouse app is available on Android and iOS platforms. Users can download the App from their respective stores. The Android customer requires Android 7 or above to launch the app. iOS consumers need iOS 13 or later to run the app.
Pierre Stanislas and Philippe Breuils have developed a free third-party desktop client (Mac and Windows) for Clubhouse, called Clubdeck. This app is noteworthy because it provides multiple features not available in the official Clubhouse app, including the ability to record and add a soundboard to your rooms.
Presently Clubhouse works using funds supplied by its investors. The company intends to monetize the platform via tips, paid events, subscriptions, and connecting creators with brand partners.
Clubhouse records audio in the virtual rooms to support incident investigations. When a discussion is reported of violating Clubhouse's rules, the audio of the associated room will be reviewed by the staff. In the absence of a report, the room's recording is automatically deleted when the session ends. Clubhouse does not explicitly explain the review process.
In April 2021, an SQL database with 1.3 million Clubhouse user records was leaked on a hacker forum. It contained real names, social media user names, and other account information. Clubhouse issued a statement on the incident on social media, stating that they did not experience a breach of their systems. The company stated that the data is already accessible to the public and can be accessed by anyone through their application or API.
In February 2021, China banned Clubhouse. Before the ban, Clubhouse attracted a significant amount of Chinese users to discuss various topics, including politically sensitive topics, such as protests in Hong Kong and the political status of Taiwan, which became the main reason for ban. In early March 2021, The UAE reportedly throttled access to the app, making access in the country impossible. Later, mid-month, Oman blocked Clubhouse for not having a proper license to operate. Jordan also blocked the app for conducting sensitive conversatons late that month.
The Clubhouse Guidelines forbid the recording, transcription, reproduction, or sharing of conversations without explicit permission. This has been a source of controversy as cases of bullying, harassment and racism have occurred on the app. Numerous incidents of Islamophobia have been reported.
Clubhouse is known to harbor various hate rallies, including those spreading antisemitism, Islamophobia, and incel ideology. In May 2021, LaKeith Stanfield found himself moderating a room where some users shared antisemitic viewpoints. Complaints were also made in September 2020 and April 2021. Following her anti-Muslim remarks in a room hosted by a PR consultant, far-right figure Laura Loomer was suspended for Islamophobia.
Clubhouse has led to the emergence of a new social media segment known as social audio or drop-in audio. Soon realizing the potential of this segment, a handful of companies came out with their social audio solutions as standalone products or as an expansion to their current products. Clubhouse being the pioneer in this segment, all competitors eventually adapted its features to their products.
Telegram Voice Chats - In December 2020, Telegram introduced the social audio feature Voice Chats in its app. Later, In March 2021, Telegram released Voice Chat 2.0. It allows unlimited participants and conversation recording.
Facebook Live Audio Rooms and Podcasts - In April 2021, The Facebook NPE team launched a product called Hotline in closed beta, requiring a Twitter account to login. It offers a room where only some people can speak while others listen. Also, speakers can turn on video.
On June 21, 2021, Facebook has released its social audio feature known as Live Audio Rooms and Podcasts to users based in the United States. The company said it would deploy the feature globally in the coming months. It enables users to participate in the rooms with a maximum of 51 people (1 host and 50 speakers) onstage and an unlimited number of listeners. Also, provide access to a podcast library for its users.
Twitter Spaces - On May 3, 2021, Twitter added a social audio feature named Spaces to its platform. It allows users to engage in rooms with a maximum of 13 people (1 host, 2 co-hosts, and 10 speakers) onstage and an unlimited number of listeners.
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