We walk and scroll happily from one virtual chat room to another, hoping to meet the greats of the world. If you’re fluent in English, you might be able to chat with Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, host Oprah Winfrey, or actor Jared Leto… But you still need to be invited if you want to use Clubhouse App. This is one of the reasons for the buzz surrounding, these days in the world, a social network resembling a VIP dinner: Clubhouse, an application based solely on live conversations, to be followed by several people or hop in as a listener and hear what others are talking about.
Access is currently only possible through sponsorship of an already registered user – each new user receives two invitations to distribute to those around them.
A classic subscription system, common to most social networks, seems to be appropriate: you fill your list of friends, you gain followers, you subscribe to chat rooms…
A system “more oligarchic than democratic”
Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people. These people may be distinguished by nobility, wealth, education, corporate, religious, political, or military control.
Gradually, the invitations are starting to tear up, so much so that some Internet users are reselling them at high prices on eBay. Today, Clubhouse weighs heavily in the still nascent ecosystem of voice social media. In January, the company passed the symbolic billion dollar mark invested. From some 1,500 users posted in May 2020, Clubhouse now claims 1.5 million according to the founders – a figure that could, however, decline, since China has just banned the application in its territory.
High-tech pundits like Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, but also actors like Jared Leto and Ashton Kutcher, have recently met in chat rooms. Enough to shine the spotlight again and make the curious want to try to meet in the right salons at the right time.
In Europe, the app is most popular in the UK and Germany, where it claims around 120,000 and 93,000 users, respectively, according to the AppFigures website. France has been slowly catching up with the trend since the start of the year.
It’s all about the voice
But at Clubhouse App, it’s all about the voice. There are no posts, no messages, no photos, no videos, no hashtags: you can’t communicate in writing. Everyone is free to create their own chat room and regulate access, private or public, like a Facebook group, to start live conversations with broken sticks. Or, the “Explore” tab offers a selection of rooms classified by theme – humor, politics, travel, music… – each accommodating up to 5,000 people simultaneously.
“When you want to speak, you can raise your hand and ask the administrators of the room to speak, who then make you ‘go on stage’,” says Jonathan Noble, 25, French user and digital entrepreneur, who is taken to Clubhouse gambling in recent weeks.
The ease of use and the boiling point of a still young network make it easy to discover – some early users told The New York Times in May 2020 that they spend dozens of hours there. “It sounds like the spirit of the early days of Facebook or Twitter,” says Jonathan Noble. We’re all like kids. We really talk to people. We let each other talk, everyone listens… It sounds a bit like free radio”.
“Many people compare Clubhouse with an application called Meerkat, which allowed live video with the same system of chat rooms,” Matt Navarra, British consultant expert in social media, told World. Except that Meerkat, which caused a sensation in digital circles at the start of 2015, did not last – notably competing with Periscope. “Meerkat died because creating something interesting in live image is not that easy,” said Matt Navarra. People had nothing to show. With audio, it’s easier: people always find interesting conversation topics, they like to talk to each other and communicate”.
Connecting to others by voice, this intimate and spontaneous tool, is welcome in times of pandemic and near-containment: oral discussions with strangers are once again possible. Jonathan Noble confirms: “We are human, we miss meeting people, interacting with them. Clubhouse, this is exactly what I was looking for. It allowed me to “reach” people I had wanted to reach for a long time, but who weren’t following me on other networks”.
Why has the app been censored in China?
What happened then? “One by one, participants in a chatroom [in which they attended] spoke while thousands of people quietly listened to them,” The New York Times recounts in its article on the subject. A Chinese man said he doubted the existence of concentration camps in the Xinjiang region. Then a Uyghur woman spoke, calmly explaining that she was certain of the existence of these camps because her relatives were among those interned. A man from Taiwan intervened to urge mutual understanding between the two sides, while another from Hong Kong praised the Uyghur woman for her courage”.
Photo credit: Pxhere