This buzzy, new app is thrashing Instagram, Zoom, WhatsApp and TikTok

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T.That’s great. I didn’t even know it existed a week ago. “This is how many people react to Clubhouse, the social media startup that is becoming a sensation. Except for this case, the new fan was Elon Musk, who just made his first appearance on the app, a voice and audio-controlled platform where people can have live discussions on any number of topics and interests, sometimes thousands Participation. Musk was a guest on Good Time, a talk show hosted by a group of venture capitalists and a Facebook Inc. technical manager, on January 31st. Days later, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive officer, made a surprise appearance on the same program.

Last month I wrote about how Clubhouse could become the next big social media powerhouse, citing the doubling of its weekly active user base to 2 million in just a few weeks in January as a sign of its booming popularity. This latest wave of influential new users – from tech titans like Musk and Zuckerberg to political figures and entertainment leaders – is fueling another wave of exponential growth for Clubhouse, not just in the US but around the world.

On Sunday, co-founder Paul Davison said the service hit 10 million active users per week, which means its user base has increased fivefold in one month. These numbers are all the more impressive as the app still needs an invitation from a current user and is only available on iPhones (an Android version is planned). Davison also noted that overseas markets were a major contributor to the company’s recent surge, with the app soaring to the top of the App Store charts in dozen of countries. It can have profound effects.

Global chat party

According to App Annie, a mobile app analytics research firm, Clubhouse ranked # 1 on Apple Inc.’s App Store in more than 30 countries this year, meaning it’s now a more popular download than Instagram, TikTok, or Zoom WhatsApp markets. It’s not just a geography either: the clubhouse is good across cultures, be it in South Korea and Japan or in Germany and Italy.

Top of the world

Clubhouse’s success is most noticeable in areas with more autocratic governments in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe. This can be an important development as it shows the enormous thirst for open audio-based social conversation in more authoritarian countries. Over the past few weeks I’ve spoken to several users from the Middle East. They were all very curious about how the rest of the world works, while also praising the liveliness of the clubhouse discussion rooms in their respective countries. One person in Saudi Arabia said there were hundreds of rooms – some with thousands of attendees – talking on political and social issues. These types of live gatherings would be difficult, if not impossible, to hold in person.

The intimacy and back and forth of the language-based medium in the clubhouse can fundamentally change the political discourse. The one-on-one conversations sponsored by the platform encourage relationship building in ways that text-based social networks like Twitter and Facebook cannot. And since there are no official records once the discussions are over, it will be more difficult for the authorities to contain or censor certain issues. This can lead to easier mobilization and coordination of new movements. In this way, it is even possible that the clubhouse will finally help deliver on the promise of the “Arab Spring” demonstrations of a decade ago.

This potential has not gone unnoticed. Earlier this month, users based in China found that they could not access the service without using workarounds like virtual private networks to bypass the country’s firewall. It suggests that China has decided to block access to the clubhouse. But as my colleague Tim Culpan wrote, the generally warm political discussion and exchange of views among thousands of Chinese around the world for several weeks set an example of the best the platform could be. While similar restrictions may appear elsewhere, I suspect that many countries that allow Facebook and Twitter will keep the doors open for Clubhouse due to its increasing popularity.

Clubhouse’s recent success has brought its own set of difficulties, including mounting pain in building its infrastructure to serve its rapidly growing user base. In the past week, the app has often been buggy almost every day and no longer reacts. Davison said the company slowed new feature development to focus on keeping the service up and running and hiring new staff. And it’s only a matter of time before Clubhouse faces serious trust and security issues as it deals with the rising tide of charlatans and bad actors who may increasingly try to inhabit the platform.

Talk about the city

I am optimistic that Clubhouse will become a preferred platform for healthier conversations compared to other social media platforms. The main problem with traditional gamers like Facebook and Twitter is that their advertising-related business models incentivize the worst types of content. Because they generate more revenue from higher pageviews and ad impressions, they are more likely to ignore the conspiracy theories, harassment, and misinformation that drive the greatest engagement on their platforms. In addition, binary tantrums on Twitter and Facebook are amplified by nuanced content-related discussions.

The clubhouse, on the other hand, aims at a different model. Right from the start, the co-founders stated that they would not be advertising to generate revenue as it could affect the quality of the conversation and lead to bad behavior. Instead, the startup is planning a transactional model where users can pay speakers directly through tips, subscriptions and event ticketing. It is the right step.

Many corners of the social media world are toxic, especially where people can fire broadsides anonymously from behind their screens. But people tend to interact more politely in live conversations. The clubhouse could prove to be the perfect antidote to the controversial climate. The startup’s game plan can also be good for business. With its impressive development this year, Clubhouse has become the biggest US social media success story just nine years after the era of Instagram, Twitter Inc. and Snap Inc. The only other new app that can keep up with its recent rise is the TikTok from ByteDance Ltd., which is also particularly known for its feel-good mood. The clubhouse could outperform its US-based counterparts for the next several years if it can truly perfect a better collegial environment on the Internet.

Also read: Clubhouse mixes podcasts, Spotify, house party, zoom. But not everyone can check in

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