A friend showed me Clubhouse on her iPhone eleven days ago on March 3, 2021. It was the first time I had heard about the app. Five minutes with the app was enough to convince me it was positioned to become the next big media platform.

That same evening I borrowed the same friend's tertiary iPhone so I could use the app myself. (I run Android.) Over the next few days I invited two real world friends to collaborate on establishing a Clubhouse show. My friends were skeptical but open-minded. I convinced both of them Clubhouse was worth a bet.

This post has three parts.

  1. In Context I tell stories which inform my evaluation of Clubhouse.
  2. In Current State I explain what Clubhouse is and how it works.
  3. In Betting on a Future I explain what I plan to do with my prediction.

Context

Conversation-style Podcasts

One of the most popular podcasts is the world is The Joe Rogan Experience. The 53-year-old former mixed martial artist's episodes regularly exceed three hours. The podcast's logo features a scary-looking man with a crazed grin and an eye on his forehead.

Many podcasts are interviews. Joe Rogan's interviews is exceptionally popular because they sound like real conversations. If your podcast is limited to one hour per episode then you can never get more than one hour deep into a topic. Podcasts interviewing authors are often just the author pitching his or her book. They don't have time for anything more. Listening to the same author on different podcasts is redundant…unless one of those podcasts is The Joe Rogan Experience.

Another exceptionally popular podcast is Trash Taste. Trash Taste is three anime YouTubers sitting around a table talking about whatever they feel like. Trash Taste frequently (but not always) invites guests onto the channel. Trash Taste is popular because it feels like hanging out with Joey, Connor and Garnt.

There is listener demand for informal unscripted conversation.

Guest Speaking for Middle Schools

Over the last few months I was a guest speaker at middle schools where I gave presentations on science, entrepreneurship and design. We used Zoom. We started with a presentation where I explained who I was. The bulk of the time was spent in Q&A. Students raised their hands. The teacher selected one student to speak at a time. The student asked a question and I answered it. Sometimes we had a short back-and-forth.

The introduction was noninteractive. It could have been a YouTube video. (In fact, by the end I did just record a YouTube video.) What made the day special is students could ask whatever they wanted to a real specialist and then get real answers in real time

It wasn't just the literal answer that mattered. The attitude and personality I conveyed were even more important. Children emulate more than they listen.

Gather Town

The first Gather Town event I attended was the March 7, 2021 Less Wrong Garden Party 2.0. It felt like actually being at a party with Raemon, Habryka and Daniel Kokotajlo. It was just like Wade Watts hideout in Ready Player One.

Several years ago I attended a real party. Someone made fun at me for sitting in an empty room in the dark on my computer instead of joining into the drinking and dancing. An hour later the room was still dark but I was lecturing on command line tools to a crowd of people. I had commandeered a college party into an expert panel.

A party full of techies is called an "industry conference". Gather Town events tend to stabilize into two people talking while several others listen in. The social dynamic mirrors the expert panels of an industry conference.

The two people talking tend to be the two who understand the subject matter the best. The experts get to talk about what interests them. The non-experts get to observe how experts talk to each other. Watching experts talk among themselves is REALLY valuable to non-experts. The most natural way to learn something is not reading or listening. The most natural way to learn is by EMULATING the people you look up to.

Current State

Clubhouse is organized into "rooms". Everyone in the world can listen in to a room but only the room's owner and friends can talk[1]. If you are listening in then you can raise your hand to request the opportunity to speak. Speaking is a privilege. The room's owners are under no obligation to let you speak.

This system lets people lurk for a while and then drop into a conversation like at a party. So does Gather Town. Unlike Gather Town, Clubhouse's system scales. You can put a thousand people into the same room and the social structure won't break down because software broadcasts the conversation to everyone while enforcing who can and cannot speak.

Clubhouse is a work in progress. It has a small userbase. It has an undeveloped ecosystem of creators. Its search functionality exists somewhere between bad and broken. It only runs on iPhone.

I have already had two great experiences with the app.

  • To learn a foreign language you must absorb many hours of people talking. It is hard to find realistic conversations. Stage personas on radio and television talk differently from ordinary people in real life. When you do find a real life conversation in your target language, the speakers often switch into English. Ordinary conversations aren't recorded because recording a conversation makes it unusual. On Clubhouse I can listen in on authentic foreign language conversations whenever I want.
  • When I was convincing my first friend to try out Clubhouse I did it over Clubhouse. During the call, his brother and a mutual friend both dropped in to listen. Neither of them said much but they did contribute to the conversation. The mutual friend explicitly said that he learned a lot from listening to us talk.

The system works even though it has a small userbase. The developers of Clubhouse have solved the chicken-and-egg problem.

Betting on a Future

I believe Clubhouse has the potential[2] to become a major communication platform competing with Facebook, YouTube, twitch.tv, Twitter, reddit, discord, etc. YouTube had a significant first mover advantage. The Vlog Brothers are famous partially because they create great videos but mostly because they created lots of okay videos early in YouTube's history.

An online following is a valuable asset. The disadvantages of an online following is it can be hard to acquire and hard to maintain.

  • If Clubhouse has a first mover advantage like YouTube then there will never be an easier time to acquire a Clubhouse audience.
  • Maintaining an audience mostly comes down to consistently publishing new content. Clubhouse content is cheap to produce because there is no editing. One hour of conversation is one hour of content. Talking on Clubhouse costs little if you were already going to have the conversation anyway. If this is true for you then a Clubhouse audience may cost less in maintenance than audiences elsewhere.

The pitch I sold my friends is at best we'll build an online following and at worst we'll have spent a few extra hours having fun talking to each other online.

Scheduling

If you're interested in talking with me on Clubhouse on a topic related to something I've written then click here. [Edit: form closed.] If you're starting your own Clubhouse room and would like me as a guest, then private message me instead.


  1. There are other features and options. This post outlines how I interpret the core value proposition. ↩︎

  2. I'm not saying Clubhouse will become a major communication platform. Just that the odds are good enough (>10%) that it's worth placing a low risk high reward bet. ↩︎

42

34 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:40 AM
New Comment

Alright I'm convinced. Does anyone know if I can emulate this if I don't have an iPhone?

I'm convinced too, and also don't have any Apple devices.

This article may help you, albeit Clubhouse is currently invite-only

There was an invite chain proposed in Lesswrongers Slack, I don't know if it got running at the time but the comments are still there in #open

Invites are plentiful. PM me if you need one. [Update: My borrowed iPhone doesn't have a SIM card and invites are sent via SMS. If anyone else has an iPhone and extra invites they're willing to share, please leave a comment here.]

I can happily send out up to 4 invites. PM me if you need one. (Was directed here from Slack too.)

invite me please

Write me a PM with your phone number. :) ~With you, I've given out 3, so only one left.~ 
edit:// I'm out of invites now!

Clubhouse being valued at $1B by Andreessen Horowitz in the latest funding round implies that they also think it has a >10% chance of being a major success.

The biggest signal they’re looking at is the growth rate: it has over 10M users and is still growing at 10%/wk, which is in the absolute top tier of startup growth metrics.

I think Clubhouse will probably have 50-100M users in a few months, and have acted on this prediction by dedicating a full-time marketing person to building my company’s presence on it.

What's your company, if you don't mind sharing?

RelationshipHero.com - convenient dating, relationship and couples coaching over Zoom

Tried it. Realized that Pareto rules all. 80% of conversation is filler and pure waste. The remaining 20% is ok. Though no chat feature, and all the natural evolutionary clues of turn taking, facial cues etc is gone. Half the 20% conversation you enter in middle and spend an inordinate amount of time just catching up to what people are talking about. 

I deleted the app 5 days later. Ill read this blog and the written word over filler and pleasantries just to get a basic human conversation. Or you know, post-covid, go hang out in the bar and enjoy the company of people. 

You can also just set a time to call friends and family. You'll get 10X more out of it, and cut your wasted time by 50X. 

There is listener demand for informal unscripted conversation.

This reminds me of the popularity of streaming, a la Twitch. Instead of being a conversation between guests, Twitch streaming is a conversation between the streamer and whatever chat messages the streamer decides to interact with.

I've also noticed for myself that I've been slowly drifting toward watching youtube content where a person is essentially just talking. Unscripted, and only lightly edited. If I care about the content, then listening to it will take up my full attention. If I don't care about the content, then I'll listen to it as ambient background audio. I haven't had other people tell me that they do the same thing, but it felt very similar to the content of this post.

I created a Steelmanning club on Clubhouse.  Anyone want to cohost a room with me?

BTW,  we can also create an invite chain if people need an invite. That is, I'd invite the next person and they can invite the person after them. iOS only.

I'd love to do that sometime (timezones permitting). I'm @gianlucatruda on Clubhouse. 

I'm interested. We can continue this conversation via PM.

I'm in. What's the link?

Just search Steelmanning

In the early stages of Quora, it was a legitimately awesome place to get unfiltered answers from people you were interested in. Eventually, the bleeding edge people got bored of it and left it to the vultures, the same people who had SEOed bullshit pages cluttering up google search results. I've never used Clubhouse, but this seems like a risk. Is there some structural reason this won't come to pass?

Yeah, Quora was amazing back in the heyday. There's still some pretty good content on there, but it's been a long time since I've asked a question.

Great summary! For those reading the comments, there is a growing Rationalist-oriented community on Clubhouse. Join here: https://www.joinclubhouse.com/club/rationality-live

"Clubhouse is Snapchat for impromptu podcasts." - what I wish I would have said tonight when someone asked me about Clubhouse. 

Is there any limit on the number of invites a member can give out?

You normally receive two invites when you join, but then more as you use it.

If you listen from 31:54 (linked here) to 46:00, Lex articulates very nicely what's unique and interesting about Clubhouse and they discuss how it compares to Skinner-box social media. It's a nice summary of the underlying value and definitely echoes some of my experiences so far.

Based on your description and the first 10 comments to be posted, I would say this is never (<.1%) going to replace an existing platform, but might (10%) be the next vine/qbi/parler/myspace.

I have now spent about 3x15 min in the Clubhouse app after getting an invite from Azatris in this thread (thanks!) So far I haven't found anything interesting. I guess I need to go in with a good idea of what I'm looking for.

At the moment the start view is just rooms in languages I don't speak. There are long lists of people I never heard of, and some Silicon Valley people I have heard of but not interested in. "Upcoming for You" is marketing NFTs and "Boss Talk".

I'm not trying to talk down Clubhouse. It's clearly very appealing to a lot of people. What am I missing?

Clubhouse has finally added a feature to learn which language rooms you join.

When you joined Clubhouse did you fill out your interests? You can also search for clubs or people you want to follow. Like any network it takes time when you join to figure out which are the interesting clubs and who are the interesting speakers.

I'm still searching for the appeal in a similar fashion as you, as I don't want to miss out, but not understanding it very well either.

I've gotten to the point where I think something is technically wrong with my account. I literally cannot find a single interesting room.

Try joining communities/clubs on topics you’re interested in. Then any rooms started by their members should pop up in your lobby. Also, I’ve heard that following people you’re interested in helps improve the suggestions.

Do you know roughly what the breakdown is for the types of rooms on Clubhouse? e.g. what % of the rooms are casual conversations/shooting the breeze (think "Just Chatting" on Twitch.tv) vs. people talking about topics that you can learn from vs other?

I would like more rooms just for chatting with like-minded people. There's kind of topic focused. Like you need to make a group of clubhouse friends and it's hard to do.

[+][comment deleted]1mo 1