Drop-in Audio App
Traditionally speaking, social media platforms have operated on the premise of openness and inclusivity to cast the widest net and capture the largest network of users as possible. Twitter has long been recognized as an open and (mostly) democratic playing field, operating from a “wisdom of the crowd” viewpoint － meaning that anyone’s tweet could be amplified and heard by the masses based entirely on engagement from other users. What would happen if a platform adopted the exact opposite stance (exclusivity) and only gave the metaphorical microphone to a select few individuals? Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, founders of the rising audio app Clubhouse wanted to find out.
Clubhouse has exploded from a tiny 1,500 person beta-test in April 2020, to over 600,000 registered users in December of the SAME year. What’s even more unique is that all of these users were acquired through an innovative invite-only system, which is still in effect in February 2021. It’s no surprise why this strategy seems to be working so effectively. Humans have a fundamental desire to be part of something exclusive － to differential themselves and have private access to an “insider community”. There is also the undeniable fear of missing out, or being left excluded from any “group”. Many individuals scrambled to find an invite code for Clubhouse, with the singular intention of garnering it as a status symbol or in anxious fear that if they didn’t get an invite code, they would miss out. The exclusivity is by no means an accident, and it’s integrated deeply into Clubhouse culture.
Once inside of Clubhouse, you will be greeted with the option to join one of many rooms, which are group voice chat rooms convened by specific users, for specific topics, at specific times. Rooms are strikingly similar in resemblance to the arrangement that you would find with an expert panel at an industry conference. Rooms are operated by moderators who run the stage, control who gets to speak, and when a user is allowed to speak. If you are in the audience, you must ‘raise your hand’ and wait to be called on. Compared to the “Democratic” structure found within the existing social media giants, Clubhouse has a hierarchical structure closer to an Oligarchy.
Twitter and Facebook deconstructed the existing social structures found in offline communication and create an open online platform for anyone to connect and communicate. Clubhouse has a clear vision of restoring offline boundaries and social constructs, in a reimagined virtual environment. Adding in elements such as exclusivity and social hierarchy are just ways for Clubhouse creators to emulate a real live speaking event. This could create a more familiar social structure for users, and ultimately a less disruptive social media environment (for better or worse).
As a strategic retaliation, Twitter has developed Spaces － “a place to come together, built on the voices of the Twitter community”. There is a heavy emphasis on women and minority speakers, so it is clear that Twitter is still standing by the idea of an open platform where everyone has a chance to speak. Unlike Clubhouse, there are options available to allow everyone to have speaking privileges, only people you follow, or only people you invite to speak. Twitter is still experimenting with limited access to Spaces, but are expected to allow open access later in 2021.
In the widespread chaos of the ‘Great Social Media Experiment’, we are able to see the real-time evolution of how social structures are being disrupted. With the rise of audio apps such as Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, we are witnessing a user demand for some of the natural barriers that exist in offline communication to exist in a new virtual experiment. Whether Spaces or Clubhouse dominates in the end will be entertaining to watch, but it is clear that societal hierarchies, group exclusivity, and structured audio communication are emerging social media trends in 2021 and beyond.