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The advent of Clubhouse

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THE idea is deceptively simple, an audio-only platform where people can gather and talk. No recording, no direct messaging, and no streams of photos, videos or text. Just a Clubhouse where like-minded people can come together and speak.

Launched in April last year, Clubhouse currently has 10 million weekly active users, is valued at US$1 billion (RM4.13 billion), and has received investment from over 180 organisations and venture capitalists. Some of this information came straight from its co-founder and chief executive officer, Paul Davidson.

Clubhouse started to gain popularity in the digital world when tech billionaires like Elon Musk and celebrities like Chris Rock began to use and talk about the platform. But its surge in the number of users could perhaps also be credited to its exclusivity.

To understand what Clubhouse is and how it works, it helps to imagine it as a physical place, a castle surrounded by curtain walls. It looks foreboding from afar. You walk up to the gates and are told that you need the Clubhouse app to enter. Currently, the app is in beta and is only available on the App Store. So you whip out your iPhone and download the app.

You are then told to register. It wants your phone number as verification. Using real names and profile photos is also encouraged but you know that you can fib those, they would not know. And with that, the gates are open and you are in. Or so you thought.

It does not take long until you are standing in front of the Clubhouse itself. You are told that you need an invitation to enter. Perhaps your friend has one to spare.

Feigning helpfulness, Clubhouse offers to help, but it needs access to your contacts list. With your permission, it goes through your phonebook, notifying everyone in your contacts list who have registered and taking notes of those who have not.

A while later, one of your contacts lets you in. Clubhouse asks if you would like to follow everyone from your contacts list who has registered and hands you two precious invitations as you walk pass the doors. It will give you more later.

Once inside, you find that you can add more people to your follow list, even people who are not in your contacts. You try and search for celebrities and personalities that you like and add them.

As your list grows, a calendar appears, a schedule of upcoming rooms that people you are following are either a part of or are planning to join.

Beneath it, a list of rooms that are currently active that Clubhouse thinks that you may be interested in. Topics discussed in rooms are as varied as the internet itself.

You pick a room with an interesting title and quietly walk in. It is easy because no one can hear you if you are not a speaker.

Your eyes are drawn to the stage where a group of people are talking. You can hear them chatting. One of them has a green star. You have a party popper denoting that you are a new member.

In the front row are people whom the speakers know. You pick a seat behind them. It feels like being an audience in a talk show, forum and radio show, all wrapped in one.

Any member of Clubhouse can initiate a room. A room can be open to everyone, limited to the people whom they follow, or closed and is only for selected people. The person who started the room becomes a moderator and gets a green star.

As a moderator, they can invite listeners to become a speaker, appoint others as moderators or kick people out.

A regular room can apply to be upgraded to a club after three weeks of regular activity, with approval coming from Clubhouse, of course.

Without an obvious way to interact with the speakers in the room, you began to tap on the profile photos of others in the room. Some profiles are short and simple, most read like a CV. They have clickable links to Twitter and Instagram.

You fill up your profile. While adding your clickable links, it says that it wants access to your social media page, not just a link. It also wants your email address to show a list of clubs you have joined.

The feeling of dread that you have been giving pieces of your private information to an app dawns on you. So far, it has your name, number, picture and contacts list. You take away its contacts list privileges and make a point to stop providing any more information.

Back in the room, you continue to listen as the moderator invites listeners to come on stage and speak. There is a button to leave the room quietly. You accidentally tapped the hand icon on the opposite side. In Clubhouse, it means you have put your hand up and you wish to speak.

The moderator notices you and makes you a speaker. You introduce yourself and began to speak. At this point, you begin to understand why people flock to Clubhouse.

Unlike other digital platforms, it is easy to participate, moderate and be active in Clubhouse. While it is designed for discourse, some users have taken it further by organising open mic events and live music performances on the platform. Recently, Clubhouse also introduced a way to monetise on the platform. The company says that all the money goes to the content creator, but a small card processing fee will be borne by the payer.



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