Learning Clubhouse

First impressions & thoughts on the hot new thing

This post was originally published on my blog Life Long Learners. Please subscribe and follow me there.

I have to give props to Clubhouse. Last year, I was feeling major FOMO from not being on the app yet. Reference to Clubhouse talks were showing up regularly in my Twitter feed, colleagues across startup land were using it to highlight trends in digital, designers were talking about its clean lines and engineers were touting audio tech as the new hot thing. The buzz created by scarcity of access was impressive.

That FOMO feeling muted somewhat in September when I started hearing about an incident involving antisemitic statements spewing for over 3 hours in a Clubhouse room. Turns out, the app wasn’t immune to challenges with content moderation and the debate on digital platform responsibilities. That FOMO feeling reduced, but wasn’t gone completely.

Finally, this year, a good friend of mine asked if I wanted an invite. I was honored and said of course, “Hell yea, I’ll take that invite!” I was finally in and ready to educate myself on the newest hot platform.

For those of you who haven’t experienced Clubhouse yet, it’s an app where you join “rooms” or “clubs” made up of people talking live about a specific topic. It’s audio only and the room owner can moderate who is allowed to speak.

My Clubhouse Home View

My first experiences with Clubhouse were not smooth — the app is only available on iPhone and I’m an Android guy. I installed it on my iPad but didn’t actually get the invite my friend offered to send (maybe a bug?) Luckily, I was able to create an account when I entered my phone number.

I joined many rooms in the first few days but found none that held my attention for long. My first reaction was: this is kind of like listening to talk radio. In other words, boring. I struggled to find content that would keep me using the app for more than a few minutes. The room titles in my feed felt like clickbait — e.g. “DREAM DINNER PARTY 🇯🇵 WAGYU ASMR” and “💥 7 Signs Your Website Needs A Makeover!”

After a day, my iPad was inundated with notifications, dozens a day, popping up from morning to night, and that would only get worse as I started to learn how to use the app.

The biggest thing I noticed in using Clubhouse was a need to depart from my now normal time-shifted media consumption world, where I’ve gotten used to having a say in when and where I consume almost every piece of content. I watch TV on demand when I want to, I download podcasts to listen to when I run, I bookmark articles online to read on the weekends when there are less distractions. But with Clubhouse, if you aren’t online when the “show” starts, there’s no pulling it up later or downloading a recording for listening offline. I’ve become spoiled by the power to determine how and where I consume media; this time-bound format felt like an imposition.

Maybe I was missing something. Maybe I just hadn’t spent enough time on the app, maybe I wasn’t cool enough to get it, maybe I was too old? I needed to keep educating myself.

I’m part of a network called On Deck, an incredible global community of people involved in or looking to be involved in startups. Someone in this network was hosting a session on how to be successful on Clubhouse. I signed up to watch with notepad and pen by my side, ready to learn.

I did learn a lot. I learned that it’s helpful to follow people and “clubs” to expand your view on what’s happening on the platform. This also helps you get notified of rooms that better match your interests. I did this and have seen more relevant topics (though my notifications are still through the roof). I learned that it’s a great way to meet new people, but the jury is still out on that for me — maybe at an earlier stage this was true, when it was just a small group using Clubhouse. And I learned that if I wanted to host a room or club, it was important to first build a following by consistently hosting on that topic, being patient as it takes time to gain an audience, and not to be spammy in how you promote it. I haven’t tried hosting yet but am considering some topics.

After a few weeks on Clubhouse, there are several aspects I really like. The audio-only concept is great. I think a lot of us are experiencing video fatigue from too much Zoom lately. I personally am afflicted by the condition where I can’t help staring at my face on a video chat, which is exhausting. (And apparently, I’m not alone in doing that — this is a great read on why we do it.) Clubhouse has a graphic avatar to represent me, but that’s it for visual stimulation. I like that a lot of the content seems focused on learning, sharing info and gaining wisdom; that’s close to my heart given the contents of this substack. It’s not just entertainment, which is the case with a lot of social media products today. And I like that the platform flattens hierarchies and gives equal access to celebrities, to joe schmo, to Elon Musk.

I do wonder how Clubhouse will fare as we leave our current work from home, shelter-in-place world behind, as vaccines continue to roll out and life begins to return to normal (soon?). Not only will the app have to compete with my regular Zoom happy hours and Dropbox video yoga sessions, but eventually, with evenings out at a restaurant, a live concert, a theater show. How will it stack up against the podcasts that I already listen to regularly, scheduling them when I want to?

And I wonder how the app will do as other tech players see the trend and copy it shamelessly. Facebook reportedly is, and Twitter already has a similar feature, Spaces. Will Clubhouse be able to hold onto its audience with new and innovative monetization models, maybe with the use of non-fungible tokens or social currency to reward its creators? Will they be able to handle the content moderation challenges, or leverage the inevitable mishaps for more PR? It remains to be seen.

My conclusion after a few weeks on the app so far: I’ll be keeping Clubhouse on my radar for now, watching what features they implement, and will hope to catch that next popular discussion in real time.

If you’re on Clubhouse as well, I’d love to hear what you are listening to and any tips and tricks you recommend!

This post was originally published on my blog Life Long Learners. Please subscribe and follow me there.

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Steven Traykovski

Ex Product/Ops guy, now exploring startup ideas, blockchain, crypto and more