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