Inside the world of the invite-only app Clubhouse

Sahar Arshad
·7-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

Over the past few months the app Clubhouse, an invite-only audio platform, has taken the internet by storm. It's proven its worth in the middle of a pandemic, catering to our current online environment, by enabling multiple large scale discussions at a time where this would otherwise be pretty much impossible.

Launched last year, Clubhouse is the brainchild of ex-Google employee Rohan Seth and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Paul Davidson. It facilitates the gathering of people from all over the world, and offers up a vast range of topics up for discussion, theoretically being available for use by any community looking for space to host a dialogue. In my last usage of Clubhouse, I jumped from listening in on an insightful discussion about journalists' relationship with social media, to joining a community room speaking about sustainability in different aspects of life. It was surreal to be listening to such keen debates alongside creatives I had never even met. Following the chats, the pool of sustainable activists and journalists I knew had notably expanded, all in the space of just a few hours.

Okay, so how does Clubhouse actually work?

Clubhouse sells itself as a drop-in audio chat app, where instead of texting, it’s real time audio at play. It's unique from a regular group call with friends because, depending on who the host invites, hundreds of people you don’t even know can join in on the conversation.

The app’s "new interest feature" seems crucial to using it successfully. The tool allows you to find topics that excite you and carve out a space in the app where your specific interests lie. You’re then able to connect with people with similar passions, and can build your own mini community within the app that keeps you informed about discussions that pique your curiosity. Being free to download, the app was recently reported to have 2 million users; impressive since in December it was reported to have just 600,000.

Who is using Clubhouse?

Londoner Martina Gordeen runs an agency called Love, MGordeen, dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and businesses navigate the world of social media. Prior to the pandemic, she would attend regular in-person networking events, but she believes Clubhouse has the potential to fill that gap on a global scale. "Being able to listen in on rooms held by my favourite international creatives and artists without having to leave my house has been incredible. CH is like a podcast but in real-time; the hallway allows you to find rooms you may not have come across before. Simply being in rooms has caused an increase of followers on my other platforms."

All the way on the other side of the Atlantic, Meagan Loyst, 23, is a New York City-based venture capitalist and the founder of Gen Z VCs. Loyst holds bi-weekly conversations on the app to elevate the perspective of Gen Z investors in the broader investment community. She talks about topics of her expertise, such as the Top B2B (business to business) Trends of 2021. "It's been very helpful for our panel discussions - it just feels easier than Zoom, lower stakes in a way," she tells me. "Plus it gives anyone in the tech community the ability to just drop in on a conversation serendipitously. We've had people like [co-founder of Reddit] Alexis Ohanian and Harry Stebbings [founder of The Twenty Minute VC, the world's largest media brand in venture capital] just pop in to join the discussion or listen in. That kind of magic is tough to replicate anywhere else."

So, how do you get an invite to Clubhouse?

While Clubhouse does aim to connect today’s distanced world, it's also kind of... exclusive. At the moment you need to be granted an invitation to join in the fun, but once you secure a coveted invite, you're given one of your own to share with another potential user. It's this that has been one of the biggest discussion points on social media, as keen would-be Clubhousers have been doing call outs for any spare invites people have got lying around.

Clubhouse is also currently unavailable on Android devices, making it even less accessible to a broad pool of users. This is because the app is still in beta stage, but its creators recently announced that their goal for 2021 is to complete this stage so they can "open up Clubhouse to the whole world."

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Is Clubhouse a friendly place to be on social media?

While Clubhouse remains invite-only, limiting the people who can take part and observe, it is simultaneously a place of free, open discussion. Topics of conversation are not limited, and all exchanges are wiped once they end. This, however, has inevitably led to a number of questionable chats that encourage the spread of misinformation and hateful ideas. Users have been able to share racist and sexist views freely, with no way for listeners to report these interactions. Most recently, misinformation about coronavirus has been spread on Clubhouse, forcing many users to take their complaints to Twitter. User Meagan Loyst suggests "more moderation would be welcome and is actually quite necessary" on the platform.

The app-makers are working to combat this major flaw, however. Discussion rooms now have sections where "Rules of The Room" are listed, for example instructions to be respectful or to avoid yelling. Moderators now also have the ability to block, report, and investigate violations immediately in order to prevent misconduct from taking place amongst members. To affirm their guidelines, on 1 October 2020, Clubhouse released a statement condemning anti-Blackness, anti-Semitism, hate speech and abuse, and followed up with a list of guidelines and rules it intends to implement.

By allowing moderators to make sure members are following rules to keep debate civil, it would seem the app encourages productive and thriving discussion. However, the pattern so far seems to be that the people with the largest social platforms outside of the app tend to be the more dominant voices in the conversation. Which begs the question: is the discussion only taking place according to the host's worldview?

Should you join Clubhouse if you're given the opportunity?

Clubhouse’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it's a social media app that allows hundreds of people to be 'social' in live time. From a business perspective, it has been incredibly beneficial. "It's a great way to extend your reach, share your knowledge and network in a way that feels more authentic," Martina tells me.

But its multipurposeness also makes it a way for friends to hang out and chat without the formality of a Zoom screen. "I personally love joining rooms right when my friends join the app - it's a fun way to just casually say hi and welcome them to Clubhouse. I think it's intended to just be a place where people come to share ideas. I've had a great experience so far and have learned a lot through our discussions," says Meagan.

At its current pace, Clubhouse seems to be growing exponentially. It's clear the future of the app requires more regulation and more power given to listeners to contribute to conversations, rather than having just a few monopolise any given discussion. However, if used for healthy, productive conversation, the app definitely provides a platform for the world to come together and build empathic, strong, connections. Which, let's face it, is something we're all looking for right now.

Follow Sahar on Twitter.

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