Uber Clubhouse

by Dave Michels

I’ve now hosted three conversations on Clubhouse. Each one gets better. It’s a fascinating social and retro experience.

If you are not familiar with Clubhouse, it’s a new social app with an old take on chat rooms. It’s in beta, so currently limited to 1) iOS and 2)invitation only. That gives it a bit of exclusiveness which makes it even cooler. It’s also attracted a few celebrities including Elon Musk and Oprah.

Clubhouse is the first social network, in the social network era, that is voice-based. It’s essentially a party-line. It’s an obvious concept: chat rooms with actual verbal conversations. It’s not much more than an audio conferencing bridge, but has a better UI than a telephone. For example, you can see who is speaking by looking at the app and even touch their avatar to view profile information. It reminds me of UberConference (by Dialpad) because that was the first audioconference service (that I saw) that had similar functionality. Uberconference launched in 2012.

Clubhouse is shockingly primitive. There’s no recording option (or allowed per terms of service). There’s no video or chat. Simply join a room and listen and/or participate depending on the moderator. I think that retro/limited feature set is part of its appeal. There’s no way to delegate this or queue it for later – be there or be square- it’s now or never. I can say for sure the lack of recording enables many to speak more freely. I can also say it’s dumb, because there’s been some really good content lost forever. I have heard they are working on a recording option.

Depending on the room you may be in, Clubhouse is something between radio, podcast, and audioconferencing. An enterprise version of Clubhouse would be fairly easy to create. Teams, Webex, Zoom, or any video meetings service without the camera or an app-based audio conferencing solution is all you need. Audio is in, but don’t even think about using PSTN dial-up. The app is getting a lot of attention, and there will be copycats. Rumor has it that Twitter and Facebook are working on its own versions. Zuckerberg has even participated on a Clubhouse chat.

I can’t help but laugh a little because this is so retro. Party lines were not cool, they were cheap. One line of wires to multiple homes. Audio conferencing is hardly new tech, but the enterprise comms industry evolved beyond it (decades ago). Of course, social networks are typically more about the networks than the medium.

Clubhouse is another validation of voice is back. While the baby boomers are accepting the decline of audio-only, the Alexa generation has more to say. It seems like everyone has a podcast now, and check out the audio-only advice this week from Ms. Magazine: “For employees who identify as female and are feeling the grind of keeping up appearances, this is perhaps the most salient tip for working from home of all: Simply decline being on video.” There’s even a climate angle that favors audio-only comms as recent research suggests that turning off the video camera cuts carbon emissions by 96%. Long live telephony.

Just like SMS was the return of the telegrams, or more accurately how Mamma Mia brought back Abba —  “Here we go again” (with audio-only).

I’ve been hosting Clubhouse conversations on enterprise communications and collaboration. The next one is this this Friday. Follow me (DaveMichels) on Clubhouse.

I do enjoy Clubhouse, but I wonder how much the iOS-only and invitation-required components fuel its exclusive coolness. It seems odd they haven’t embraced Android yet, or perhaps they are afraid to.

By the way. Clubhouse is only 11 months old, and the company employs 12 people. That may seem small, but also note there’s no visible revenue model yet.