Photo by William Krause on Unsplash

Don’t believe the haters: Clubhouse is here to stay

Needs a little warm up first no? “In tech’s inimitable way, one day you think a Clubhouse is merely a place to kick back after some sporting exertion, but the next it’s suddenly the hottest startup ever and we’re all hunting across our networks for that rarest of treasures, the invitation!!! (until next week maybe). Yes, Clubhouse is hot right now.

First thing’s first. Clubhouse is not perfect. But what is? In its’ nascent form: I don’t think Clubhouse is for everybody and yes, I think they could work harder to foster a more diverse audience as it grows from insiders out.

However, I do think it’s a genuinely exciting new platform that is a godsend in the pandemic era, providing much-needed intimacy and connection in a time of screen-fatigue.

If you’ve been holed up in a cave (or pulling a November-January digital detox?) and your only view out is an appointment-only Zoom mosaic of distant formal faces, you’ll probably feeling a cataclysmic lack of human connection right now. A primer: Clubhouse is an audio-based social media app that allows you to join discussions on different topics. Speakers hold forth on areas of expertise. You’re automatically muted — but you can raise your virtual hand if you want to speak and join in the conversation. It’s like an audio-only digital fishbowl. But right from the getgo the pressure’s off. No appointments, this is a drop-in.

So far, there’s been the usual wave of hype followed by an even greater wave of hate: it’s currently only available for iPhones, excluding Android users; the audio-only aspect means those with hearing difficulties are excluded. I don’t want to undermine the importance of these claims: I think both aspects need to be addressed. Also if you responded to all the critics you’d just end up with Facebook again. And we’ve got one too many of those already! However, as someone who has seen the other side of things — how hard it is to establish your own social network? — I’m still impressed by what they’ve achieved so far and genuinely excited about a new platform for the first time in years.

Back in 2006, I co-founded a social network called aka-aki. If you’re French or German, you’ve probably heard of it and we achieved a certain degree of success before the platform ultimately failed, winning the Best Mobile Social Network in the 13th Annual Webby Awards. The premise for aka-aki, was that we wanted to do what virtual networks often struggle to achieve: to establish genuine connections between new people. The premise was this: maybe you’re in a bar one night and you want to play table football. You’re out of luck, none of your friends you’re with at the bar feel like playing that, they want to drink and gossip instead. This didn’t have to be a problem. If you were an aka aki user, you’d open up the app and you could see the digital profiles of those around you and their interests. If you saw someone was also interested in table football (alongside their other interests), you might send them a message. That was our dream! But what really happened — it’s a story for a different time ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But maybe Clubhouse will make our dreams come true.

So far, I’ve joined groups which offer mindfulness resources and others which experiment with different game formats. Some, I’ve joined purely for the great out-there names — check out Burnt Chicken, the perfect group for vegans ;)! I love the people I have in my life, but in this strange moment in time, I miss forging new connections. Every time I’ve headed to a discussion, I’ve left it feeling like I’ve learned something new, met some fascinating people and feeling nourished and refreshed.

It seems to take technologists a long time to respond to human nuance. We had to go through painful decades of clunky, overbaked and underpopulated intranets before Slack was born and took the business world by storm. We had to go through Skype and Zoom, Teams and Hangouts and half a pandemic to get to Clubhouse with its’ drop-in culture grafted from gamer platforms like Discord that have long managed the more casual communion of the like-passioned.

Photo by Good Faces on Unsplash

Clubhouse acknowledges an important cultural development: location has never mattered so little when it is about to find a tripe of kindred spirits. This is something that’s become obvious during the pandemic, when so many people I know have reconnected with high school friends or old university friends who live halfway across the world. Lockdown has meant timezone are the only meaningful measure of distance. Proximity has been trumped several times over by shared passion. And Clubhouse has risen to snap this emergent zeitgeist.

But I would argue this isn’t a post-pandemic phenomenon. In a time of globalisation, where the internet lets us work from anywhere, I believe location has mattered less and less for some time. Clubhouse isn’t about quick, superficial connections — the woman round the corner who you get coffee with because you keep running into her…before discovering you have nothing in common. Instead, it’s about nourishing real sparks between people: something which happens, of course, when that’s what you’re looking for and you visit the right rooms.

So yes, it isn’t a flawless product. Just a little raw. Given the tech world’s preference for launching MVPs, I would have been surprised if it had been! But what Clubhouse can offer is something incredibly special: real connections, new knowledge and a fresh perspective. A new kind of space that not only fills the lockdown world’s missing serendipities, but offers something altogether new and exciting.

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Stefanie Palomino

Stefanie Palomino

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