If you’ve been spending time on social media over the past month like the vast majority of Americans, you’ve probably heard of the infamous Clubhouse. But what is Clubhouse, and what kind of future does it have? 

What is Clubhouse and Why is it Unique?

Clubhouse is a new social media app currently available only to a limited number of iPhone users. Clubhouse is in private beta, so it’s very exclusive and very nearly impossible to join up on – for now. 

What Clubhouse does that’s unique is provide a social media platform with more social and less media. In Clubhouse, you can participate in virtual round-table or TEDTalk-like discussions with a moderator and participants. The person hosting the chat session, which is audio only – no video – is able to call upon and un-mute or mute chat participants, directing the flow of conversation.

The contact on Clubhouse is solely peer-to-peer; whether influencers, celebrities, sports stars, or typical users, there’s no one between people and their audiences. This allows celebrities and sports figures to reach their fans in an unprecedented way. It provides fans a way to get close to their favorite celebrities or influencers and have real-time discussions with them not possible on platforms like Twitter, and hard to manage on platforms like Facebook or Instagram Live. It allows big-name users to show fans a more human and accessible side of themselves, as well as discuss things that are of import to them. Branding and contact-building are easier on a peer-to-peer platform where you don’t need to reach a certain number of engagements to have a post boosted, you can just reach out. 

And one unique aspect to Clubhouse for now at least is the exclusivity. You can only join Clubhouse by invitation, and each member only has one invite to hand out once their account is created. You can earn more invites by participating in chats, but with a one-account, one-invite ratio, most people are choosing carefully who they bring along on the ride. Your reputation on the platform is also tied to how your invitee or invitor behaves, so it behooves members to choose wisely. 

What are the Downsides to Clubhouse?

Clubhouse Logo

Although it’s also considered a plus, exclusivity is definitely a downside to Clubhouse. Because only certain members can join, it creates a system of inequity. Celebrities and influencers with more reach to begin with can gain more by virtue of being well known. Those trying to grow their name have to get lucky and know someone who can toss them an invite – or they’re shut out and miss the growth opportunity.

The peer-to-peer chats are also hard to control. Conversations that are focused on a single topic can quickly devolve into a chit-chat about a wide variety of topics, and loud voices can drown out quieter ones, which can further inequity where it hoped to solve it.

And for celebrities, speaking off the cuff isn’t always the best outcome. While it may be good for celebs to connect directly with their fans, to do it in real-time with no public relations expert over their shoulder means that there will be faux pas and slip-ups. On written platforms, at least you can glance back over the things you’ve said before sending them into the ether forever. Spoken chats like Clubhouse don’t provide that buffer, so one poorly thought statement could end a career. 

Per Vulture, “The app can be a place to chat shit, make connections, and talk shop; the best rooms are peaceful ones in which people commiserate over shared experiences around identity, taste, and work. A discussion about The Source brought out some of the hip-hop magazine’s venerable alumni. On Jay-Z’s birthday, December 4, Roc-A-Fella Records insiders like Just Blaze, Dame Dash, and Kyambo ‘Hip-Hop’ Joshua shared stories about the heyday of the label and the experience of working around Jay. Beat battles give up-and-coming producers an audience with artists and industry figureheads without petitioning through email and social media. But as much as it can be a place for expressing pride in your region or country, it can also devolve into exclusivism, regionalism, and diaspora wars. As often as you might see venture capitalists of real-world renown offering business tips, or lurk on, say, Lupe Fiasco pontificating on science and music, there’s also plenty of empty motivational pablum, pseudoscience, chauvinism, colorism, shameless self-promotion, and abject mess.”

Does Clubhouse Have a Future?

It’s hard to say what a Clubhouse future might bring. The creators want to expand access to more people, eventually. But is Clubhouse just a rehash of 90’s-era phone chats, or Yahoo! and AOL chat rooms of the early 00’s? Both consistently provided platforms for bullying, racism, homophobia, and other abusive behaviors. And eventually, once more interactive options became available, became relics of the past. Is Clubhouse doomed to the same fate? First, it will have to rise on it’s star to see what the fall will look like, if indeed a fall is inevitable.

If Clubhouse can roll out it’s options and maintain some exclusivity while also being inclusive of diversity and a variety of opinions, it could replace more corporate-heavy platforms like Facebook. The content is not curated by algorithm to the same degree as other social media platforms, so you’re less likely to end up in a boring echo chamber on Clubhouse – for now. But as the app expands and more people join, the future remains uncertain. 

When Will Everyone Be Able to Access Clubhouse?

Clubhouse User

For now, there are only two ways to join Clubhouse. Social Media Examiner shares, “Clubhouse is still in a private beta phase and available only to iPhone users, which is what fuels its exclusive nature.

As of now, there are only two ways you can get onto the platform and they both require close relationships with people already on the app:

By personal invitation: When someone joins Clubhouse, they’re automatically granted one invitation they can send to someone using their phone number. This means members are going to send invitations to people they have a close connection to, like a good friend, rather than merely an acquaintance. Once someone is on Clubhouse for a while and spends time moderating rooms and speaking… they can earn more invites to send.

Exclusive side-door: When you try to visit Clubhouse’s website, they give you an option to download the app from the App Store so you can reserve your username. Depending on how many of your friends are already using Clubhouse, they may receive a notification letting them know that you’ve reserved your username and downloaded the app. When this happens, they get the option to wave you through even if they don’t have an official invitation to send (and it doesn’t use one of their invitations if they haven’t already used it yet).”

It’s unclear when the beta period will end and it will become available to more users.

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