So, you want to join Clubhouse?

The lowdown on the sensational app that has taken many hostages, even in Nepal

Some of you will remember the roaring 90s, when AOL chat rooms were a way to pass time talking to, or flirting with, strangers. Well, two decades later here comes Clubhouse.

The difference is that Clubhouse is voice-based (no texting allowed) and on mobile (not available on desktop or tablet). Treading on the toes of many other social media platforms, Clubhouse has made its way into our mobile app galleries as a social audio app that is now trending worldwide.

Clubhouse Drop-in Audio Chat, as it is officially known, is a voice-only app that allows users to drop in and out of ‘rooms’ created to explore a specific topic through instant voice chatting, almost like a phone call. The app defines itself as, ‘a new type of social product based on voice  allows people everywhere to talk, tell stories, develop ideas, deepen friendships, and meet interesting new people around the world’.

It is a virtual world where conversations are called Rooms and are usually launched by a Club, run by people who are enthusiastic about a particular area of interest. Each room has Speakers, who are visible immediately once you enter a room and see the ‘Stage’ section of the app page, out of which at least one person is a Moderator, whose assigned role is to host everyone, mute users, remove users from the room, and pull up a listener or audience member to become speakers.

The invite-only app allows existing users a handful of invites to dole out to their friends who they think will take to Clubhouse. This way, the app has earned millions of users on both Apple and Android. The app will likely go public later, just like Facebook did after its initial days of being used exclusively by Ivy League college kids and their friends.

You enter a room muted, and if you want to speak, you raise your hand (virtually, by tapping the ‘raise your hand’ emoji) and a moderator can invite you to speak to everyone. Joining a club helps you catch sessions scheduled by that club, so you don’t miss out on a potentially fun conversation with like-minded people.

The ‘Leave quietly’ button is a crowd favourite because it allows you to leave without making a statement, unlike a WhatsApp or Viber group where everybody gets notified when you exit. The newsfeed that is your home page on the app is called your Hallway, which only shows active conversation rooms that friends who you follow are currently participating in.

You can click and join in without any password or permission required, keeping things casual and spontaneous. So far, Clubhouse is ad-free and without revenue streams for users, but that is likely to change later once it rolls out ways for creators to earn from curating content (launching rooms that get a lot of traction).

What’s so special about it?

With no text comments, likes, images or videos being shared, Clubhouse has been dubbed the ‘anti-Facebook’ as it relies on engaging conversation, clear communication and oratory skills for users to to gain popularity. The app clearly encourages users to be genuine and stay true to themselves.

The platform thrives on ephemeral content, with audio recordings that disappear instantly once the conversation is over and the room is closed. There is no recording or proof of conversations, except Clubhouse maintains records for a while in case somebody reports an incident.

The instant exchange style makes Clubhouse similar to an intimate phone call, except there are dozens of strangers listening in, instead of just one trusted friend at the other end. Clubhouse is an opportunity for introverts to be social, as the lack of video feature makes it a more comfortable, welcoming space for those who feel shy or conscious in front of new people.

Clubhouse fills a void formed by the pandemic and serial lockdowns, a unique time in history that has made many people feel incredibly lonely and bored. For those who miss socialising, attending dinner parties and meeting new people, it is a brilliant getaway.

Compared to the performative nature of Facebook usage and exhibitionist style of Instagram feeds, Clubhouse counters narcissism, letting people’s voices and personalities shine, instead of superficial factors like appearances and pictures of expensive lifestyle. It also seems to be more equitable and meaningful than other social media platforms that people are hooked onto.

Conversation types vary from private one-on-one chats and group discussions to free talk shows, musical performances, crowd-sourced entertainment (singing, sharing jokes and stories), music listening sessions, workshops like table reads of scripts or poetry reading, webinars with experts invited as speakers on a serious topic, and even group meditation rooms (where everybody puts down their phones and meditates synchronously to relaxing instrumental music played by the host). Clubhouse is a place to share, a place to learn, and a place to chill – in every sense!

International leaders and influencers like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Malcolm Gladwell, Oprah and Tiffany Haddish (the comedienne who became the first Clubhouse celebrity to gain 1 million followers) have embraced Clubhouse in a big way, using it to casually voice their thoughts and opinions and build their personal brand.

Speaking of brands, the app is great for brands that are up for using ephemeral content without too many measurable insights to build communities. It is also great for the opposite of celebrities – regular folk who want to be noticed – to create a club (poetry, football, books, movies, etc. – it’s like being back in school, almost!) and find like-minded people to connect with. It would not be surprising if people landed job opportunities through passionate networking and socialising on Clubhouse.

To quote entrepreneur and speaker Gary Vee, platforms that replicate reality well, unlock something unique. If Twitter is imitating the town square, Clubhouse is imitating dinner tables, with conversations being dominated by 4-5 people who talk a lot.

To add to Gary’s perspective, Clubhouse is way more democratic and accessible than a dinner party, because even if you don’t speak, you can sit at the table, i.e., you can listen in on engaging conversations carried by interesting people.

OK, but what is the downside?

That said, Clubhouse comes with its downsides. Its addictive nature is worrying. It causes FOMO. Users have complained that it feels like everyone is selling something, whether it is themselves, or their business. Personal ego and desire for popularity can hinder the quality of conversation, as everybody dives into all kinds of rooms as and when they like.

Moreover, Clubhouse rooms do not always stick to the stated topic of discussion, as people meander with their anecdotes and trailing thoughts – common consequences of spontaneous speaking without any prepared notes. Some call it a never-ending party where influencers and motivational speakers enjoy their moment and preach to audiences that get bored quickly and move on to the next room.

There is always a conversation to join, and Clubhouse never sleeps, as users from different time zones log on and continue chatting away without any 40-minute meeting limit a la Zoom. People are wont to talk more than they should, delivering unedited speeches and leaving half-informed opinions floating about the virtual space. Within a few weeks, many users have begun to find it time-consuming and toxic, after entering a few disappointing rooms and wasting their time.

One anonymous Nepali user says, “Other social media do not compare to the dopamine rush it gives you; you are speaking to strangers and getting immediate feedback in return.” In many ways, it feels like the validation people used to seek from Instagram likes has now metamorphosed into attention we now seek through what we have to say.

People have shifted in droves from Twitter and Instagram, and moderators have a hard time practicing moderation as they easily spend 2-3 hours a day speaking in rooms, sacrificing regular meal times, sleep routines and family time for exciting virtual mingling with strangers.

Nepalis on Clubhouse

For many Nepalis, Clubhouse has been a convenient outlet for discussing socially sensitive topics such as divorce, interracial relationships, LGBTQIA+ matters and such. When signing up, the app only requests you to share your phone number and name (presumably, your real name) which makes it easy for those who seek privacy to engage publicly using a pseudonym.

A few popular Nepali clubs on the app are ‘Virtual Chiya Pasal’, ‘Nepali Kurakani’, ‘Entrepreneurship in Nepal’, ‘Tech Talks Nepal, and ‘Traveling Nepal’. Clubs that existed outside Clubhouse have found a new platform to foster an existing community, such as Toastmasters Nepal and Routine of Nepal Banda.

From cyclists to environmentalists, stoners to football fans, Clubhouse serves as a space to find fellow enthusiasts of every kind, giving a strong sense of community to those who struggle to find their kind offline. Ultimately, Clubhouse is what you want it to be, and it can be a positive platform that improves life if club rules are listed out by moderators and everybody respects one another while interacting online.

User Asmita Pradhan demonstrates how subjective experiences can be, by sharing her story of attending a 30s club hosted by a Nepali in the US that many thirty-something Nepalis found relatable and insightful. She says, “Everyone in that room connected at some level, giving each other support. That’s probably the best one I’ve attended so far, where I could be myself.”

You want to jump on?

Social activists who want to spread awareness on important issues enjoy the viral reach and attention the app offers. In fact, the current Clubhouse app icon (which you click to enter) features Drue Kataoka, a Tokyo-born West-Coast-raised visual artist and activist who raised over $100,000 through her #StopAsianHate campaign, which she started in a Clubhouse room.

Clubhouse tweeted, ‘With each major app update, we change our icon to spotlight one of the many incredible members of the community.’ This clever marketing move shows that the app prioritises representation, diversity and its audience, and its purpose is inspiring.

RJs, podcasters, motivational speakers and comedians have flocked to Clubhouse after not being able to speak to live audiences due to the pandemic. Being naturally talented orators, they enjoy hosting and interacting with an audience, only without professional editing, sound effects, transitions and ad breaks.

The pandemic has given people a lot of free time, and users have been logging on at all hours, even in the middle of the afternoon, because they are working from home and taking full advantage of it.

Saniaa Shah


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