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This app is leading the way for social audio

This app doesn’t ask users to post anything. The social aspect is all live, only audio and people are tuning in by the millions

Clubhouse is an app that allows users to listen in and potentially participate in audio-only group discussions.
Yulia Panova - Adobe Stock

When I was a kid, we had a party telephone line at my house. We shared it with random people, so at any given time, you could pick up the phone and eavesdrop on other people. I didn’t do it very often, but it was tempting.

The popularity of podcasts that focus on people simply chatting with one another is testament to that draw of listening in on other people’s conversations. Such is the backbone of Clubhouse, an app launched last year that allows users to listen in and potentially participate in audio-only group discussions. Think of it like listening to your favorite podcast, but live.

Anyone can be a moderator and start a room that is either private (only allowing those invited to join) or public. Users can search for public rooms by time, person or topic. Some of the available rooms I saw ran the gamut from parenting panels and meditation groups to tech startups and stand-up comedy. Every imaginable interest is represented.

Only the moderator and the first person to join their room will automatically be allowed to speak (everyone else acts as a listener). The moderator can invite listeners to “take the stage” and while listeners can tap a hand icon if they’d like to join in the conversation, the moderator decides whether to allow that person to speak. Rooms can be a very small group of people or reach into the thousands. Those larger rooms make it easy to pop in and out to find what interests you. If you decide to move on, there’s a handy “leave quietly” button that gives no notification that you’ve left the room.

The app shows what rooms are live at any given time and what rooms are coming up. You can set reminders for any you’d like to join and add it to your calendar.

Millions of people are already using this app even though it’s still in beta form and you need an invitation to join. The app got a lot of attention recently due to surprise guest appearances in different rooms from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk and Kevin Hart.

Right now, the general public can only download the app and reserve a user name for when and if they get an invitation. Clubhouse does say it will eventually be available to everyone, but no word on when.

This app is for those over age 18 and says you must use a real name and identity, although I don’t see any strict protocols to keep someone from lying. Clubhouse has the basic no harassment, no illegal activity, no hate speech policy, but the app itself doesn’t employ any moderators. So Clubhouse encourages others to report people who don’t follow the guidelines. There have already been some issues. Vice reported last week that misinformation about COVID-19 was spreading on the platform which then escalated into claims of harassment.

The live aspect of Clubhouse makes moderation different from other platforms where there’s a visual record of posts. The app does temporarily record the audio in a room while it is live. If someone reports a guidelines violation, Clubhouse keeps the audio to investigate and then deletes it after the investigation is complete. But if no one reports an incident, the audio disappears when the room ends.

One of the well-known personalities who dropped in on a Clubhouse room recently was Mark Zuckerberg. And The New York Times reported the Facebook CEO and founder has his own company working on something similar to Clubhouse called Fireside. Facebook has copied products made by competitors before. Facebook-owned Instagram started Reels last year to take on TikTok and made its own version of Stories to compete with Snapchat.

Twitter has also introduced a new voice function called Audio Spaces to some users. The company is calling it “a small experiment focused on the intimacy of the human voice.” Users enter a virtual room to connect vocally with followers or allow them to listen in on a conversation. Those who create the space will have control over who can and cannot speak in the space.

Sound familiar?

Twitter plans to launch Spaces to the public sometime this year. You can follow @TwitterSpaces for updates.

If podcasts became the new radio, then social audio may be the new podcast. Let’s try it out together. Hit me up on Clubhouse @amyiverson.