A Community of Strangers: Five Thoughts on Clubhouse
I didn’t realize how much I missed conferences, cocktail parties and casual conversation. Clubhouse shows the value of weak ties.
I’ve written a little more about Clubhouse after starting a meditation club with thousands of followers.
As the buzzy app hits the App Store, it seems worth reflecting a bit on my experience with Clubhouse. I’ve been on the app for about a month now,
- It’s surprisingly effective at re-creating the experience of hanging out in person. When Jennifer 8. Lee invited me to join, I have to admit I was skeptical. “It’s good if you miss social,” she said. So I tried it out. And she was right. Just like with in-person conferences, Jenny took me around to different rooms, introduced me to folks, pulled me in to welcome other folks. I learned to jump in and out of rooms and comfortably enter conversation. Clubhouse gave me that very distinct feeling of being at a conference or cocktail party. As Jenny Stefanotti has written, “I like to say when you get off Zoom and get on Clubhouse, it’s like moving from the office to the bar.” Given that video apps like Zoom and text apps like Slack are part of our daily work now, it makes sense that an audio-based app helps re-set the context toward a more casual hang.
- It’s unclear how content and community moderation will work at scale. As far as I’ve seen, the only strong moderation features are the ability of a room moderator or club administrator to boot people from a room or club. This is clearly not sufficient. As the app is still slowly evolving, I hope that the app designers will hire someone to oversee security, privacy and community from a sociological perspective, reversing a trend that focuses more on business and engineering growth at the expense of community. Right now, at roughly the scale of 10,000 users (the maximum allowed on TestFlight, the beta testing platform for iOS), the community is great, but I don’t yet see the structures that are needed to help it scale much more. On the plus side, the structure of inviting only friends and a real name policy has kept it relatively chill, but that’s not a scaleable solution.
- The best feature is the weekly meetings and themed rooms. I’ve found genuine value from the regular weekly meetings. They touch on marketing, the arts, startup culture, information studies, history, science, COVID-19 and just general conversation. Tonight, for instance, I landed on an impromptu chat where people shared gratitude for nature. One of my favorites is the Dent Forum, which features authors and thinkers on contemporary issues around society twice a week. I didn’t realize how much I missed having casual events that challenge me intellectually or open my perspective to another world. Clubhouse’s calendar structure gives me plenty to think and talk about, like I used to do when such things were possible in the physical world.
- We’re all struggling with 2020. It’s nice to have a community of… strangers? There are three p’s on Clubhouse that almost everyone is talking about: politics, pandemic and platform (i.e., Clubhouse). The first two have been top of mind for so many people on the app, for obvious reasons. While I’ve had plenty of conversations with close friends, family and colleagues about these difficult times, there’s value to talking with strangers and with acquaintances. Clubhouse is a good reminder that weak ties have an important role in human connection. Last night, founder Paul Davison noted that he’s aiming to scaling up intimacy, and I added that the app is also scaling up acquaintanceship. As we continue to self isolate during the pandemic, apps like Clubhouse help create a space for the thing we’re missing.
- Will it be interesting after COVID-19? Who knows, but one thing I’m more convinced of lately is that life as we knew it before 2020 is gone. We should expect to see new ways that apps respond to this. And btw, what does after COVID-19 look like?