In busy market, social media app Clubhouse hopes to break through with audio

They come and go, the apps that try to capture a place in the already crowded social media market. One is currently throwing high eyes in Silicon Valley and beyond: Clubhouse. The app is growing and is gradually being discovered in the Netherlands. At the same time, the platform is already facing challenges.

Clubhouse chooses a different route than competing apps. Instead of photo or video (which made Instagram and TikTok big), audio is central.

The name gives it away: the idea is a kind of clubhouse, where in theory there are infinite virtual rooms (rooms). Talks take place here, on all kinds of topics. As a user, you can start a conversation, speak in a room or just listen to it. Rooms can be public or closed. You can also track rooms and users so you know when new calls are taking place.

The model now seems to be popular among American stars.

Invitation Only

The app is currently invite-only. So anyone who knows how to get an invitation now belongs to a somewhat exclusive club. In addition, the app only works on Apple‘s operating system iOS. The app started last March; two months later the platform had 1500 users.

According to market researcher Sensor Tower, Clubhouse has been installed around 14,000 times in the Netherlands. Whether all those people are using the app is not to say. Worldwide, the app has been installed about 4.1 million times.

Clubhouse has recently raised $100 million in investment capital and its business value would have been estimated at $1 billion. At the moment, the app does not yet have a revenue model.

โ€œ Normally, these kinds of conversations take place at events, but now there are no, Clubhouse,โ€ says Janneke Niessen, partner at tech investment fund CapitAlt and a member of the app since November. โ€œBesides that, I think that after a day of video calling people are tired of screen and it’s nice that you only have to listen at Clubhouse.โ€

The question is how this need will be when the pandemic is over.

Technologiecolumnist Tae Kim is enthusiastic in any case. โ€œIt offers the potential to transform how we communicate, share knowledge and make new friends,โ€ he recently wrote on the opinion site of news agency Bloomberg.

Early this week, Elon Musk was interviewed in the app. โ€œHis coming to Clubhouse is an approval for the company and the concept of live audio in general,โ€ wrote tech journalist Casey Newton afterwards. Later in the week, Facebook top man Mark Zuckerberg also showed himself in the app.

Listen here to the interview with Elon Musk:

One lesson social media companies have constantly learned in recent years is that their platforms are full of trouble. Facebook and YouTube have hired tens of thousands of moderators for this and they still recognize: we are not doing enough.

Now Clubhouse is many times smaller. At the same time, it is already facing the same problem. Although the platform has house rules, maintaining them seems to be a big challenge for the time being. At the end of last year, Vanity Fair described the lack of moderation. In addition, audio is something different than moderating a text, photo or video. The platform says to act on the basis of notifications from users.

Clubhouse did speak out against racism, hate and abuse in a blog post in October. The company calls this an important part to invest in. The question is whether the good intentions are also consistent with the experience of users.

What comes after the hype?

Now the audio platform is still the new hip thing, the question is how long they can hold this and whether they really grow up. Because a valuation of $1 billion, while the app doesn‘t even exist for a year, isn’t nothing. Niessen even calls it โ€œextremeโ€ (her fund has invested in another social media app). Such an appreciation is absolutely not a guarantee of long-term success. The art is not necessarily getting users in, but especially letting them return in the app.

In addition, there is a chance that competing platforms will come with a similar audio function. The first is already there: Spaces from Twitter. It is not unthinkable that Instagram or Facebook will try something similar; it is also not excluded that Zuckerberg will try to buy or invest in Clubhouse.

Niessen doubts whether Clubhouse will be really big, such as Instagram or Facebook. โ€œThat happens once every ten years.โ€

However, she notes that the app builds on the trend that audio is becoming increasingly popular – think podcasts and voice messages. It also points out that a lot of money is being invested in it, which is why development continues. โ€œThat keeps you relevant and can make something lasting out of it.โ€