Wondering why you’re hearing a lot about Clubhouse? Much like the “Gamestonk” controversy, we can partially blame Elon Musk. By popping up in a Clubhouse room in January 2021, the world’s (sometimes) richest man brought the service a lot of attention. Bill Gates did the same, and it has steamrolled on. Here’s what you need to know about the audio chat app.
Okay, so what is it?Here’s the gist: Imagine you have an app on your phone that lets you listen in on other people’s live conversations. But not in a creepy way; these people want to be heard. They may even be famous, or at least interesting or knowledgeable (no guarantee, however). And you may be given the opportunity to join the chat. Think of it as an audio-chat social network. Or as PCMag’s Jordan Minor says in our review: “What if Twitter was a podcast you lived inside of?”
When did it launch?Clubhouse launched (along with COVID in the US!) in March 2020. It became a big deal to a select few in part because of its initial invite-only exclusivity, much like a real-world club membership. In those early days, it was a tiny community, mainly consisting of venture capitalists. After all, the company behind Clubhouse—Alpha Exploration Co.—received a $12 million investment from Andreessen Horowitz after two months of existence. It was quickly worth $100 million, and it only had 1,500 users at the time. (Valuation as of April 2021: $4 billion.)
So there are no pictures or videos?No. Only profile pics for each user.
Where can I get the Clubhouse app?Clubhouse is currently available on iOS and Android. It launched on iOS last year, and the company started a US-only Android rollout in early May. It is now available on Android worldwide. Downloads of the Android version crossed 1 million in less than two weeks, and that topped 10 million in July.
Can I use Clubhouse on the iPad?Sure, but it’s not optimized for iPadOS. So you’ll be using the app in a small window, or looking at it in a weird, zoomed-in 2x size. It should be okay on an Android tablet, however.
Why did it take so long to make an Android app?The developers wanted to scale up slowly. There are more Android users than iPhone users worldwide. Starting on Android might have killed the Clubhouse servers after a publicity stunt (like, say, having Musk in a room).
Naturally, there are scumbags who will take advantage of this growth and popularity. A fake website at joinclubhouse[.]mobi circulated a Trojan program pretending to be Clubhouse for Android. It tried to steal your login credentials for almost 500 online services. Be very wary.
So all I need is the app? There’s no website?There’s clubhouse.com (the new official site) and also joinclubhouse.com (the original pointer that’s more mobile-oriented). Neither site gives access to Rooms. They point to the iOS or Android apps and provide some info (Clubhouse has a blog.) The app is the only way to listen to or participate in audio conversations.
Don’t confuse this service with clubhouse.io, either. That’s a project manager.
What’s with the app icon? While Clubhouse does have an official logo, it doesn’t use the logo (or the waving hand art) on an app icon. It has opted for an ever-rotating black-and-white portrait of a person to appear on a smartphone screen.
Each person is a real-life user of Clubhouse. Usually, it’s someone who has had an important impact on the platform, or is at least someone Clubhouse believes has a deep understanding of what it is doing. Each icon lasts a few weeks and gets changed with a major app update. Some have praised Clubhouse for this design choice as breaking up the monotony, but others think it just makes it hard to find the app on your phone when the icon changes.
To date, Clubhouse is on its eighth iconic person—social activist and visual artist Drue Kataoka. Previous icons included musicians Axel Mansoor and Bomani X (pictured above), startup promoter Erika Batista, and tech podcaster Espree Devora.
How much of my data does Clubhouse want for registration?You have to give Clubhouse your phone number and your real name (in theory). You’ll get a link via SMS text, telling you to visit joinclubhouse.com/app and sign in with that number.
Link your Twitter account to Clubhouse if you don’t want to set up a profile from scratch; it’ll even pull in your existing Twitter profile pic. Clubhouse also pushes you to link your contacts, in the name of making it easier to find people to follow. Don’t bother if you don’t have a contact list full of influencers. Once you’re logged in, verify your email address with the service so you have it as a method for reconnecting if there’s an issue.
What am I supposed to listen to on Clubhouse?When you finally get access, the app offers a page full of conversational topics to follow, from sports to tech to world affairs to faith to “hustle” and on and on. In each, you’ll find people interested in the same thing, and you can follow them. The more topics and people you follow, the more likely you are to get suggestions for a room that fits your desires.
The conversations aren’t permanent?For now, Conversation rooms come and go as people launch or end them. That’s about to change. Coming soon is a feature Clubhouse calls Replay, which will allow the creator of a room to record the conversation, save it to their profile or club, and then anyone can download it (yeah, just like a podcast). If the creator doesn’t turn on the Replay feature, then the audio will be as ephemeral as it is now, though people have long found ways to get around that. This is just Clubhouse having to keep up with the times (and the competition).
Clubhouse is also introducing a feature called Clips. It will allow anyone who’s in a public room to create a 30-second clip of the conversation happening there, which they can share with others to get them to join. Clips is in beta now.
How many people can be in a conversation?The current limit is 5,000 people per Clubhouse room—which Musk busted through, of course. Users in that room started live-streaming the conversation on YouTube (which is a clever workaround for recording what’s said). That 5,000-person limit can be turned off, however, at Clubhouse’s discretion.
What do you really mean by a conversation? Isn’t it like a podcast?It depends on your podcast preferences. Remember—all the people involved are speaking via their smartphones, not fancy audio setups. They don’t see each other, so it really is like listening in on a phone call. There’s no professional editing, no sound effects, no transitions, and no advertising (at least not officially).
That said, the “style” of the conversation is flexible: one room might be a casual one-on-one between friends, while another is a more formal talk-show-style interview, a big group discussion, or even a music-sharing session. If someone interesting drops into a room—like a billionaire—the room creator/moderator can put them on the “stage” as a speaker.
So I can only listen in?Not necessarily. Anyone listening in can virtually “raise a hand.” It’s up to the room’s creator/moderator if they want to let you talk.
So, at least for now, is Clubhouse really like ‘Medium for Podcasts?’To the extent that it lets anyone create a room on the fly, without any promise of future conversations, it is. Unlike Medium, there’s no official record of it. The conversations, AKA “clubs,” are not recorded or stored for future listeners.
Sounds more like Zoom without video.In some ways, sure…or you could always do a Zoom or Google Meet without the video on. But Zoom meetings aren’t open to the general public by default. Clubs are open to any member who can find it, not a select few. The virtual dais is limited, which hopefully gives the floor to people with something important or interesting to say. Also, not having to look at the screen while you’re talking is a nice change from today’s daily video calls.
That’s all there is then, talking and talking and talking. Actually, now you can chat the new old-fashioned way, by typing with your thumbs. In July 2021, Clubhouse introduced a chat feature called Backchannel so users can text-chat with people via direct messages (DMs), even if they’re all in an active Clubhouse room, or after the room has ended. Speakers can use it to get audience feedback. No more need to go back and forth to Signal, WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger for chat, be it to gripe, gossip, or plan an event. Backchannel will also feature an inbox for message requests. You access it via the airplane icon at the lower right, or swipe left.
This, in fact, puts Clubhouse in better competition with Facebook and Twitter, more of which you can read about below. The ultimate goal, of course, is that people never, ever leave the Clubhouse app. Eventually, Backchannel will support sending images and video.
Can I make money?Yes. Clubhouse has rolled out a monetization scheme for creators on iOS in the US to start, in partnership with payment processing firm Stripe. It’s not ad-based. Users can send an in-app payment to creators, and 100% of the money goes to them, with a processing fee going to Stripe; Clubhouse says it isn’t skimming any of the dough.
The company had also launched a Creator First accelerator program to help the people really driving the traffic, providing everything from equipment to special guests to promotion. Finalists were announced in May.
Any Clubhouse user (also still on iOS in the US still) can send or receive payments. Find it in the app under your profile, then click the gear icon to enter Settings > Payments. It also requires a Stripe account.
Who’s really using Clubhouse?Right now, Clubhouse is arguably best for people who like to talk and miss having an audience—like needy celebrities—or lurkers who want to be the fly-on-the-wall near interesting conversations. It may be a new medium we all have to keep an eye on (or not).
That said, it’s also being hailed as a possible place for healing rifts, as evidenced by the room named Meet Palestinians and IsraelisMeet Palestinians and Israelis, where people from both sides of that conflict, from around the world, are coming together to talk.
Wait, wait wait. There are celebrities?Yeah, Kevin Hart, Drake, Tiffany Haddish, and a handful of others are using it. In fact, the app is becoming popular in the Black entertainment community, in particular. Haddish was the first person to break 1 million followers on Clubhouse. But that may play into the “pretentious, clout-chasing atmosphere” we noted in our review.
I feel like I can do this somewhere else…Clubhouse knock-offs—I mean competitors—are definitely here. Because, like everything else in tech, when there’s blood in the water, the big sharks come swimming. (Remember when everyone wanted to be TikTok?) Here’s a quick list.
- Shark Tank‘s Mark Cuban, an early Clubhouse user, is involved in one called FiresideFireside, a sort-of mix of Clubhouse and Spotify’s podcast software, Anchor, which they are calling a “story-telling platform.”
- Twitter’s Spaces is now open to anyone with 600 or more followers; select users will get access soon to the monetized Ticketed Spaces option.
- The Telegram messaging app now has a Voice Chat feature, with recording integrated. Users can seamlessly transfer the meeting into a video group chat with up to 30 people.
- Instagram has already improved its group live-streaming feature called Live Rooms to allow more than two users to stream together (but with video).
- Reddit has a sneak peek of Reddit Talk, for hosting live audio conversations in a community.
- Spotify has launched Greenroom, based on tech it acquired with Betty Labs. It runs on iOS and Android and offers a live audio experience geared toward music. Anyone can host or participate. This one supports recording.
- Slack has introduced Huddles as a new “lightweight audio-first way to start live conversations.” Meaning it’s a quick way to start an online phone call with your co-workers, so it’s not really a Clubhouse competitor since the audio isn’t public. It’s more Clubhouse-adjacent.
- Of course, Facebook refuses to be left out. It is launching a bunch of audio tools for the creation of Soundbites for posting, podcasts, and of course, Live Audio Rooms—its answer to Clubhouse. (Facebook also has a thing called Hotline to do recorded public conversations with video options, much like Instagram Live Rooms.)
Are third parties making any Clubhouse add-ons?Yes, but it’s not easy as there’s no application programming interface (API) for developers to actually tie things into the Clubhouse experience. For example, Direcon wants to help you with analytics for Clubhouse conversations (for $50 per month) but initially, that meant a little too much exposure to user info. There are a few other tools like soundboards (every conversation benefits from sound effects), a Telegram-based conversation recorder, audience Q&A boards, Clubhouse-specific link shorteners, and a bunch of apps for adding a ring of color on your Clubhouse avatar. This all shows that Clubhouse needs to decide soon about an API.
What are the downsides of Clubhouse?The service has had some issues already with hate speech and abuse, so it had to institute community moderation guidelines in October. It made a common mistake—believing it could trust users to not be jerks. There are always jerks.
It’s was blocked in China in February 2021, as it offers a little too much freedom of expression for the government there. That’s only a downside if you live in China.
Also bad: the service has already suffered a data breach after a third-party developer in China tried to create an Android version of Clubhouse that wouldn’t require an invite.
Privacy could also be a problem. As Inc.com reports, Clubhouse doesn’t spell out how long it retains those complaint-related recordings (“when the investigation is complete,” is all it says), or who at the company has access to them. Clubhouse is also scooping up other info about you, not only from what you share (your contacts and social media) but what others share (their contacts and social media). It’s always tracking you with all the usual tricks, like cookies.
What if I want to quit this club? Previously, you had to email “firstname.lastname@example.org” to ditch Clubhouse, but following user complaints, you can now deactivate your account by going to Settings > Account > Deactivate Account.