Spotlight on Clubhouse: What Is It and How Do You Join?

Touted as the next big thing, Clubhouse is an audio-based iPhone app that enables users to listen in on other users’ live conversations. Although the concept may sound sinister, the app only lets users listen in on people who want to be heard, such as celebrities or professionals. With Bill Gates and Elon Musk recently popping up in Clubhouse rooms, the app is currently enjoying a great deal of media attention.

Clubhouse Audio

As TechCrunch explains, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, Clubhouse is leading a wave of new social media apps prioritizing performance streaming. The app was the brainchild of former Google engineer Rohan Seth and entrepreneur Paul Davison. Launched in April 2020, Clubhouse expanded its base to 1,500 by May. However, on almost its first anniversary, Clubhouse has been downloaded close to 13 million times.

In the app, there are no pictures or videos, just a profile picture for each user. In addition to listening in on conversations, users are sometimes allowed to join chats. Although the developers do have an Android version in the works, Clubhouse is currently available only on iPhone. There are more Android users than iPhone users globally, but the developers plan to scale up slowly, indicating that in trying to do too much too soon, they run the risk of overloading the app’s servers.

How Do You Join Clubhouse?

Any iPhone user can download the app, provided they have received an invitation from another Clubhouse user. Every Clubhouse user can invite two new members, but they can earn the right to invite more people as they use the app. Anyone interested in Clubhouse could start by asking friends, seeking out a pay-it-forward invite chain, or even buying an invite on eBay.

Nevertheless, with Clubhouse attracting so much media attention, prospective users are vulnerable to scams. For example, a fake website presenting itself as Clubhouse for Android has already popped up, circulating a Trojan program that steals log-in details for more than 450 online services.

How Does Clubhouse Work?

With movement still curtailed by social-distancing policies in many countries worldwide, Clubhouse effectively has a captive audience. The platform provides virtual rooms for users to come together and discuss issues that resonate with them, whether it’s relationships, world affairs, technology, or pets.

Each room has a list of speakers, while the rest listen, as well as a moderator controlling who takes the floor and when. If a listener wishes to speak or ask a question, they virtually raise their hand. Clubhouse’s vast population of celebrity members include Ashton Kutcher, Jared Leto, Drake, and Oprah.

In its review, Glamour UK magazine describes the invite-only, audio-only social media platform as a mashup of Spotify, Zoom, and singing-competition show The X Factor. The magazine likens signing up to gaining entry to a VIP nightclub, enabling the lucky few (or rather, 3 million) “highly exclusive” members to enjoy thought-provoking conversations, talent shows, and ad hoc celebrity appearances from the comfort and safety of their own home—something of a priority right now. Straight out of Silicon Valley, Clubhouse enables users to eavesdrop on conversations that have already started or start a new one of their own.

Trialed in China for just a brief stint, Clubhouse is already banned there. According to reports from Bloomberg, the ban came after Chinese users started discussing sensitive topics such as China-Taiwan relations and the genocide of Uighur Muslims by the Chinese government.

Outside of China, Clubhouse is surging in popularity. As Glamour UK explains, it is like listening to a live podcast, but with the bonus of being able to contribute to the conversation, ask a question, or show off your singing skills. The app was used in tryouts for a forthcoming US tour of Dreamgirls. Glee star Amber Riley and Broadway actor Leroy Church judged auditions, while an audience of hundreds of thousands of users listened in.

Clubhouse is presented as a safe place for celebrities to answer questions from ordinary people, as well as a platform for showcasing talent, sharing stories, and presenting lectures. Conversations are live and cannot be recorded using the app, although there is always the possibility of participants being quoted on other social media platforms.

Within less than a year of the app going live, Clubhouse was valued at circa $100 million. Its founders indicate that there is much more room as they expand access, eventually making it available to all without an invite, including Android users. Elon Musk’s appearance on Clubhouse undoubtedly raised the fledgling social media app’s profile exponentially. However, the surge in demand left many would-be listeners out in the cold, forcing them onto pirate YouTube streams.

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