.Clubhouse Draws Users by Focusing on the Art of Conversation

To understand the unexpected social media phenomenon that the drop-in, audio-only app Clubhouse has become, all you have to do is look at its growth—up from two million users to 10 million in just a few months time. This despite the fact that it’s still in beta, and can only be joined by invitation, on iPhone. 

Recalling the early-aughts days of Gmail, at least some of Clubhouse’s allure stems from this perceived exclusivity. No invitation? Join a waitlist, just like at an exclusive restaurant or nightclub. The purpose is to allow smaller groups of users to test it out and iron out kinks, sure, but it’s also a classic psychological paradigm: If not everyone can have it, more will desire it. 

So while Clubhouse is being described by media outlets like Vogue, Vox and Wired as “buzzy” and “out of control,” in reality, it’s the coverage itself that is buzzy. The actual time I’ve spent on the app, in a mirror of human interaction, ranges from absorbing and interesting to tiring and mundane. Running the gamut from university seminar to idle gossip, Clubhouse can appeal to both our highest natures and lowest indulgences—and everything in-between. 

In the Zoom age, the way Clubhouse removes visual focus—you can only see other participants’ tiny headshots—the stress of setting up the right lighting and background, applying the right makeup or wearing the right shirt, is removed. Unlike podcasts and call-in radio, it allows for immediate democratic participation via hand-raising. Panels are run with speakers and listeners, with moderators calling people to the “stage” and the ability to expel trolls or anyone violating guidelines. Users have the option to listen, learn and be entertained while cooking dinner or doing the laundry, and perhaps chime in. It’s a stark contrast to social media that requires eyes on screen and constant, addictive, infinite scrolling. Clubhouse’s audio-only aspect allows for fluidity and spontaneity, as opposed to the stiltedness of Zoom work meetings or happy hours, and those little boxes that leave us never quite knowing where to look, not to mention seeing our own image reflected back at us. 

But what is actually deeply innovative about Clubhouse is the portal it opens to talk in real-time with people all over the world (well, not China, where the app is banned), on any topic, at the click of an icon. Following a year of so much isolation, what feels more urgent and necessary than to listen and be heard? 

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From coworking spaces to NFT art, talk is rampant everywhere on Clubhouse, bringing back memories of a pre-Covid, louder world. There are “clubs” about everything: science fiction, travel, therapy, comedy, creativity, politics, languages, religion, veganism, and a vast amount of tech. Investing, venture capital, startups, AI—there’s a club for that. A few recent conversations: “All things Jane Austen,” “Blogging & Podcast Collabs: Let’s Feature Each Other,” “Today in Democracy,” “Elon Kanye, Emojis, and NFTs.” 

Social products ask of us the ultimate investment—time—and people are making it on Clubhouse. Perhaps, following a year in isolation, the sound of voices and gathering for spontaneous conversation in groups seems novel and extreme. After all, a year of Covid quarantines has left many of us starved for group discussion and the ability to eavesdrop on interesting conversations, whether that’s random chatter the next table over in a restaurant or attending panels at professional conferences.

Clubhouse Rules

So is an all-talk social platform exactly what we need now? Long after the buzz dies down and it’s one other app next to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok, will the platform increase empathy, connection and thought exchange as a democratic forum for conversations that matter? Or will it just be more noise, and one more thing for influencers to monetize? 

When I snagged one of those coveted invites, I binged on Clubhouse and spoke with a handful of startup entrepreneurs and other early adopters to find out.

I was excited about “Townhall Italia,” the first stop on “Clubhouse World Tour,” an effort to host town halls to orient international users, and for co-founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth to answer their questions via a translator. “Townhall Italia” was an auditory mini-voyage to Italy from my living room, and an ideal introduction to the platform as Clubhouse’s energetic (sometimes to the point of sounding very, very excited) co-founder Davison, who studied engineering at Stanford and worked at Google, explained his creation to Italian influencers. Clubhouse’s other co-founder, Seth, also a Stanford engineering graduate previously of Google, was present, but on mute. Seth is the quieter of the two, in contrast to Davison’s extroversion and excitable manner that’s palpable even on an audio-only platform. The two met in the tech world and immediately bonded, working on social product ideas together. Clubhouse is the one that took off. 

“Clubhouse is a new type of social network based on voice where people all over the world come to talk and learn from each other in real time,” Davison says in the Italian town hall. “Voice is at the base of civilization. We want anyone to be able to sit down for a meaningful conversation with anyone else. We want to build something that’s different from existing networks.” That means one that’s “not based on likes and follows and social media managers, but authentic human connection.” However, it’s still a follower-based system, replete with its own influencers already. As Davison says in the town hall, pathways to monetization are already being paved.

“Our goal is to create a more human network where you can close the app feeling better than when you opened it because you have met new people, made friends, and learned. Any room you see in your home feed you are encouraged to join, people want you to join. If you’d like to speak just raise your hand, otherwise you can sit back and listen. The goal is to keep it very casual.” 

The Italians responded with enthusiasm. During a time when sociable culture in Italy had to largely shut down, what would have traditionally been large gatherings, such as the Sanremo Music Festival—which in 2021 was held without a live audience for the first time because of Covid-19—happened on Clubhouse. Speaking of music, the room took on a festive atmosphere as popular Italian musical duo Daudia popped in to perform a brief song they wrote about … Clubhouse.

Open Source

The founders’ omnipresence—open discussion about the app, their hopes for it, and plans for what lies ahead (Android version, opening it up more, monetization, and solutions for content moderation to curb racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic commentary)—is rare among the social media platform-founder landscape of reserved enigmatic figures like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey. Seth and Davison have started hosting town halls and provide onboarding presentations for new users the world over. I lived in Italy as a kid, and hearing the language in a way that sounded as if I was there again was heartwarming. Such is the Clubhouse effect: Listening in on a live town hall with a social media app’s founders, accessible and on the platform constantly, while simultaneously getting a refresher in your second language, doesn’t happen on static, visual infinite-scroll sites.

The most memorable rooms during my month-long Clubhouse deep-dive, though, were the Plant-Based Food and Wellness Community’s “Ask a Pediatrician,” featuring plant-based pediatrician and emergency wilderness responder Dr. Atoosa Karoush (which reinforced my choice to raise my kids vegan with evidence-based information from the recognized expert) and “Lucid Dreaming as a Complement to Meditation,” hosted by digital health strategist and lucid dreaming enthusiast Tony Estrella and Minh Do, an engineering professor at the University of Illinois. While there is undoubtedly a place for the ubiquitous “what should Clubhouse be” or “how to promote your content,” the endless possibilities of what we can learn by listening and participating in Clubhouse communities designed to educate are fascinating in themselves.

Despite the constantly available topics as varied as conversation itself (when it is found out that Facebook is making a Clubhouse copy, a room immediately springs up to talk about what it means) much of the discussion so far seem to be about Clubhouse itself: how to use it, moderate, and build a following on the app, monetize content (when there is a means to do so), and so forth. A group called “Clubhouse Undercover” offers users tips under categories such as “Understand Social Dynamics” and “Utilize the Psychology of How the App is Used,” hosting a panel on “The Keys to Growth on Clubhouse.” 

Talk and Mirrors

Bay Area hospitality expert Emillio Mesa is listening. Pre-Covid, the host, event planner, and freelance writer’s tagline for his highly rated dinner parties was “The Art of Conversation.” Mesa has organized events and dinners for Google, Facebook, and the Chan-Zuckerberg initiative, among others. (His name literally translates from the Spanish for “table,” he points out, suggesting his hosting destiny.) Mesa also had a pre-Covid career niche curating small-group dinners out of his San Francisco home. Attendees booked the intimate events Airbnb style via EatWith, through various Silicon Valley-based companies Mesa did events production for, or personal connections. Mesa’s dinners were akin to a live version of Clubhouse. Politics, immigration, gender, and social justice were frequent topics. The pandemic upended Mesa’s literal tables, but Clubhouse provided a tool for the host to pivot. 

“It’s very similar to what I used to do, but in a virtual space,” he says. He sees Clubhouse’s success as an interesting byproduct of the pandemic, calling it “the next wave in social media,” because it “takes it back to warm communication with people. There’s only so much you can do via a post with images. This is not about how you look or write. It’s about how you sound and what you say. It’s soothing.”

(Side-note on the topic of soothing: As one might expect, there are a slew of clubs devoted to helping you fall asleep at night. Perhaps after the pandemic, the simple sound of voices also has an increased ability to soothe.) 

“This strips everything completely,” Mesa says. “It’s who you are and what you have to say. People listen and it’s a lot more direct because it’s just about the person, not an image. What’s in your heart and mind? What are you doing and what do you say about it?” 

Mesa is inspired by Felicia Horowitz’s weekly “Virtual Dinner Parties.” Horowitz, one of Clubhouse’s biggest influencers with 4.3 million followers, is married to tech investor Ben Horowitz, who, along with Marc Andreessen, formed Andreessen Horowitz, which raised new funding in a Series B round for Clubhouse through their General Partner Andrew Chen. 

In his essay on investing in Clubhouse, Chen writes, “Because you’re listening to people talk, Clubhouse is about a real-time exchange of ideas, not just consuming highly-edited, static content.” 

This is the precise quality Santa Cruz-based photographer and designer Jules Holdsworth, who has a following of over 11,000 on her Facebook Infertility Awareness group and a Clubhouse club of the same name, most appreciates about the product. “In the past they have wanted me to host podcasts and YouTube channels, but I’m not comfortable talking at people,” she says. “Clubhouse allows me to talk with people and interact with them on a level podcasts and YouTube don’t.” 

She has also found her community already on there. “I went into a club someone else was hosting about infertility. When I got onstage and introduced myself, the moderator said she had followed my Facebook page for years and was honored to have me. I nearly fell out of my chair! The ability to communicate in real-time, hearing people’s tone of voice, makes it a very rich experience. It’s a way to socialize with people from a distance during a very isolating time of a pandemic.” 

For Holdsworth, the drawback is trolling, especially as her club is about a sensitive topic. “On Clubhouse, you don’t have control of who is listening to you, so I do feel exposed in that regard,” she says. So far, it’s been self-policing, with users able to report violations, though Clubhouse’s blog reports they are at work on security improvements, ways of reporting inappropriate behavior, and moderators’ ability to end rooms. “Some trolls come in rooms and spout obscenities until a moderator kicks them out,” Holdsworth says. “I’ve heard it several times. A woman trolling a room claimed she was locked in the basement by her boyfriend and needed help. The mod offered help, then the troll yelled racial obscenities. The mod handled it with grace and reported the troll. It did throw the room off for a bit.” 

Virtual Soapbox

Not every early adopter sees Clubhouse as the world’s best chance at a more sincere form of social. Journalist Ian Kumamoto, who writes for Vice, The New York Times, and Business Insider, is concerned about how many conversations “get off the rails” and lead to “rambling,” with rooms favoring “people who already talk a lot, not necessarily the ones with the most important things to say,” he says. Whose perspectives will be drowned out in all the noise?

“It’s tapping into a zeitgeist,” says Jonathon Feit, co-founder and chief executive of Beyond Lucid Technologies, a Silicon Valley medical software startup currently working on Covid vaccination tracking systems. “But you end up with the same issue of noise. I can look at someone’s Twitter on their profile and send them a DM, except every other person in the room is doing the same thing.” He adds that, from a startup perspective, “Going from a zero to nine hundred million dollar valuation, you skipped a lot of steps along the way.” 

When he first logged in, he remembers thinking, “this thing seems like Silicon Valley hype.” But exploring the platform, he says, “I started seeing an enormous number of people on this thing—more than I expected. I bit the bullet and gave in to the wave. I focus on venture and health care, that’s what I look for.” 

Entering a room about health care in underserved markets, the topic of emergency services in rural health care came up, Feit’s area of expertise. The moderator knew who Feit was and made him a speaker. Feit ended up giving an impromptu talk about the role of ambulance services in rural spaces during Covid-19.

Feit likens Clubhouse to a “21st-century version of a guy on the soapbox in the town square, talking to whoever wants to listen about whatever was interesting. If 99% of the stuff on Clubhouse is garbage and 1% turns out to be great, is it worth it? That’s very apropos of so much of venture and so much of innovation in general. You throw stuff against the wall, and all it takes is the one person in the room that says, ‘Actually, I totally need to talk to you.’ And then next thing you know you’ve got a check, you’ve got a customer, you’ve got a partner, you’ve got something. So I have to give them credit for creating occasions. I think they’ve done it somewhat accidentally, and where the growth curve becomes a problem. It’s an interesting addition to the toolkit when you can’t meet people at conferences, you can’t go get on a plane.”

He recalls, in pre-Covid times, meeting someone on a plane to Phoenix who then became an important collaborator. 

“You don’t do that if you’re not sitting on planes or in the hotel lobby. So this provides occasions, and as such, it’s useful. The question is how useful it becomes. It’s creating noise but out of the noise you can find a way to create a path.”

Coffee Talk

Over in a very different room in another industry—specialty coffee—Jared Truby of Santa Cruz’s Cat & Cloud talks about missions and values, coffee and culture, and “connecting to farmer-producers and the ethics of buying coffee.” Truby received his invite from an entrepreneur who follows his podcast. 

“When I jumped on,” he says, “most rooms were filled with shark-tank-like vibes and famous people talking to famous people while normal people listened. I found it interesting that you could look at profiles and learn about all people in a room while listening, but the content was annoying a lot of the time. How to level up, pitch me your idea, here’s how to make a million dollars from CEOs … blah blah blah. All of those approaches were so ‘look at me’ disguised as how to help. The cool thing is that everyone was polite; the annoying thing is it was looking like marketing in disguise of philanthropy. So I started a room with the hopes of doing a Q&A and attracting some other specialty coffee people.” 

Truby got engagement from around the world. “Friends who have been in specialty for 20 years along with people who are known by name can get together, talk and share. This is where there can be so much positivity. The connections, the learning and the progression to better are on the table, if the moderators set a good tone.” 

Truby’s favorite Clubhouse moment so far was when Nick Cho, known on TikTok as “your Korean dad” and an old coffee friend of Truby’s, asked about his approach, mission and values in business. “It allowed for an honest share and peek behind the curtain. The response from the listeners and participants was huge. Oftentimes, values are buzzwords used to market a business and I was allowed to share how ours can help people who work with us as well as our guests and partners. I ended up having to leave but came back two hours later and the discussion had kept going, it kept evolving.”

Ultimately, Clubhouse’s drawbacks and benefits may be one and the same. If Clubhouse mirrors society, it’ll most likely be a matter of what room you happen to be in. “A truly helpful room can be a place of connection that outlasts the creator,” says Truby. “That’s a great ideal. It’s a platform with as much potential as you are able to create yourself. You just have to know what you’re trying to get out of it.” 


  1. On one level, this is a pleasant and hopeful development – at least to the extent developments in postmodernity can be at all pleasant and hopeful. Visual stimuli have become a type of prison. They are designed to trap people – their attention and their minds. The increasing sophistication of visual systems of capturing human attention are reducing the free mental space in almost all human minds – there is no space for quiet contemplation, dignity, satisfaction. There is only a constant, compulsive visual bombardment that people crave in an anxious and hypnotic behavior.

    But there’s no way a company doing something like this can be completely outside the realm of surveillance capitalism’s objectives. The spoken and aural experiences of human beings are not the only, nor perhaps the most important terrain of surveillance capitalism’s objectives. But it is a relatively unexplored realm. Surveillance capitalism’s innovators, like prospectors during the gold rush, are staking out their claims to lived human experience and the human mind as the raw material from which behavioral prediction and influence products can be manufactured and sold. The spoken/aural is one relatively new area in a landscape that is increasingly cluttered with prospectors’ claim flags.

    Because almost everything in our bizarre postmodern world has a dual purpose – and the second, hidden purpose is almost always the same, we can deduce pretty easily the real objectives of this new system. It is almost certainly primarily for the purpose of recording and analyzing human voices for identity, meaning, and emotion – perhaps other qualities that I can’t know because I don’t work there and so I don’t go to the “genius” meetings where the best minds plan out the future physical and mental prison of humanity.

    It is interesting that as this company’s valuation has increased, Microsoft announced that it is buying Nuance – which is in the business so far of transcribing human language into text. For artificial intelligence to discern patterns of human meaning, relationships, emotion, etc., it needs all sorts of data – the ability to transcribe spoken words into text for analysis of actual language meaning. But there is also quite possibly some aspect of word choice, word order, tone, etc. that when combined with a particular type of group based on some other characteristics (race, ethnicity, movie viewing habits, driving habits, how often a person calls his mother, and innumerable other inputs) – that a powerful AI algorithm can discern probabilities from this – that a person is likely to do X now, soon or later, or that he is doubly likely to do X now, soon or later if he is shown particular images or words, or sounds/music in a particular context.

    Much of this reality runs counter to the experience and understanding of most people. That is why the progression of these systems to a sort of tipping point where you can’t undo them is quite likely inevitable. Human beings – at least since the birth of civilization – tend to understand the present and the future with reference to the past. There is no past referent that can help a person understand this fundamental development in capitalism and markets. It’s like trying to understand the industrial revolution if you are a factory worker or not a factory worker in 1870. It’s just not possible to understand the significance of what is going on and where it is going. It is a fundamental shift that will change everyone’s lives in a way that cannot be changed – when it gets far enough along, you just can’t go back and then everyone will do what they’ve always done – make the best of it and say “Oh, it’s really not bad at all. I like it!”

    Someone leaked a video – an internal presentation from Google a couple of years ago. It’s called The Selfish Ledger. It is an accurate assessment of our future, though like most elite projects of domination and control over the centuries, it is presented as having good or sensible objectives/outcomes. But the alien logic of it is a thing to behold. The objectives of domination and control and the importance of installing sensors into every space and perhaps every person to make sure that no aspect of lived human experience goes unrecorded, unanalyzed – it betrays an alien logic that most people will have trouble even understanding. You have to watch the video two or three times and pay attention. One of the most dangerous things about human beings is that they can’t well understand when giant changes are afoot around them unless they come with loud noises.

    If this company wasn’t part of the logic of the surveillance economy – if it wasn’t a new claim on a previously unclaimed corner of lived human experience – it wouldn’t be worth a heap of money and it wouldn’t be in the news. So, I’m willing to bet $10 that it is indeed what I’ve described above.

    And now, for your viewing pleasure – Google’s internal video The Selfish Ledger: https://www.bitchute.com/video/KmEJrFb3SZ0H/

    My favorite part of the video – one you have to pay careful attention to goes like this:

    1. An artificial intelligence algorithm deduces that there is some aspect of lived human experience of a particular person that is not being surveilled – it is not being captured, analyzed and used to predict and influence that person’s behavior and thoughts.

    2. The AI algorithm deduces that this one little private realm in that person’s otherwise nightmarishly surveilled and analyzed “private” life may aid the AI in “understanding” this person better to better predict and influence his behavior.

    3. The algorithm investigates the past human experiences of this particular person to try to choose from a variety of surveillance products that are likely to appeal to this person. The appeal to the person is the product’s secondary function – it is primarily a sensor for recording private human experience to aid the AI algorithm in “understanding” the person – its secondary purpose is whatever might appeal to the person to get him to put this dangerous thing in his house, car, pocket, etc. – it is the Trojan Horse economy filled with Trojan Horse products.

    4. The video goes on to say that advances in CNC milling and 3D printing have made it possible (or will soon make it possible) for the algorithm to design a product FOR THIS ONE PERSON – the AI can deduce what appearance and characteristics this one person is likely to find alluring, compelling, perhaps something that promises to help him recapture some of his lost or diminished dignity, etc. If the person likes the design (which is presented as if it is a real product sold to real people), the AI algorithm will direct machines to produce this “bespoke” product just for this one guy just to plug the data blackspot for this one person.

    The video also discusses things like intergenerational programming because these companies keep people’s data after they die – they have a right apparently to keep and use the entire life’s worth of data of a person after they die and use it to influence other people – probably most effectively that person’s relatives, but also other people – to generally come to better understand how to predict and influence everyone’s behavior.

    This data includes a person’s first written responses to questions in Kindergarten because Google Docs is in all of the schools starting with Kindergarten and Google’s agreements with the schools lets them keep that data. It includes every place a person has been, everything he’s heard, watched, read, everyone he’s been with or in close proximity to and all of those people’s private habits, whereabouts, etc., health information, exercise information, emotional data – when ladies have their periods and for how long, just every possible point of data you can ever imagine because for the algorithm to have the maximum power to accurately predict and/or influence human behavior, it needs EVERY LAST GRANULE OF HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS – it must record and analyze everything. If it is missing even the tiniest thing, that could possibly be why it can’t as accurately predict or influence a particular person’s behavior as well as some other algorithm.

    So, on some level this is all inevitable because it is too hard for most people to understand. Writers like Shoshana Zuboff have explained that one of the most powerful devices this tremendous transformation has used is to attempt to conceal its mechanisms beneath the threshold of human awareness. So for example, in the Google video above, the PERSON (like YOU) who sees this recurring ad for whatever product will have absolutely no understanding that the product was specifically designed to appeal to him by an alien logic that was spying on him and trying to understand his psychology from the innumerable little experiences of his entire life and that it DESIGNED this particular product not because it wanted to make money by him buying it, but to plug a hole – to illuminate a hidden private space in that poor idiot’s day of private human experiences. There was just some little place that the alien logic couldn’t see and that it believed might be hindering its ability to completely dominate this man and to the man, it just looks like “Bro, that would be cool to own!”

    It’s bad enough to be speeding down this road toward a type of hyper slavery that will make livestock seem to have a disturbing amount of freedom, privacy and autonomy in comparison. But it deeply horrifying to read articles celebrating this phenomena.


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