JoinClubhouse: Creator’s intent vs. the vanity of human usage [Pulse Editor’s Comment]
Clubhouse is a fantastic idea that's rapidly becoming a generation's answer to real-time conversations.
My response was along the lines of, "I like the idea of Clubhouse and I think a controlled conversation-based platform, but I'm not sure I need another echo chamber in my life right now." But for the sake of experimentation, I spent three secret weeks on the platform; examining and exploring its spirit.
Clubhouse is a fantastic idea that's rapidly becoming a generation's answer to real-time conversations. Anike, a Digital Strategist tells Pulse Nigeria that, “I like Clubhouse because it gives me the opportunity to listen to people I would ordinarily pay a sum to listen to. It’s also giving those people an opportunity to listen to random people.”
On Saturday, January 9, 2020, Excel Joab, a Media/PR practitioner took to his Twitter and and added another advantage of Clubhouse. He wrote that, “Entered this room on CH and it’s a married man saying that he’s cheating on his wife cause he’s not sexually compatible with her. Niggas saying these things boldy. Omo mehn.”
On Twitter and other platforms, you would think about what to write and how to couch it. Here, the lack of media training is apparent in almost everybody and humanity jumps out of everybody. The best part of the platform is that, despite having the atypical social media UI, complete with the follower count, it is built like a controlled forum.
Freedom of expression is also not a given on Clubhouse.
During the lockdown, virtual conversational and performance platforms grew in popularity and traction.
On the positive side, Clubhouse is built to promote smooth conversations, in line with the values of the creators of a chat room. There are moderators, speakers and there is the audience. Anybody who wants to contribute can raise their hands and they can be allowed to speak.
It's a step away from the noisy tendency of Twitter. But like Twitter, random members of the audience can always create sub-chat rooms to object to and discuss the problems with the original chat rooms.
By the time Russell Simmons became the first major victim of cancel culture on Clubhouse, the platform grew exponentially in reputation and acceptance. Amongst other things, therein lies the problem of a pattern repeating itself.
The growing toxicity: Repeated patterns
In 2018, Richard Grannon had an incredible conversation with Israeli author, Sam Vankin. Although Vankin had some extremist tendencies, a lot of his thoughts on the problem with social media are well-thought and backed by research.
First off, he sees social media as a ground for performance and that this performance is aided by the presence of an audience. For those with larger audiences, there is a human tendency for toxicity and bullying.
And for those with lower, smaller or inexistent audiences, there is a tendency for depression and well-hidden cases of insecurity. He also likened social media's provision of comments, likes and retweets to sex and other pleasurable things, to which people get addicted.
He argued that dopamine and serotonin are released whenever people get these likes, mentions and retweets and he had a point.
In 2020, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square had a conversation with Michael Babarro of New York Times Podcast, The Daily. During that episode, Dorsey discussed the mistakes of Twitter as it relates to the display of likes, retweets and mentions count.
He also said that Twitter never intended for its platform to be used in that manner. He intimated that founders can create platforms for a specific purpose, but users will always find unique ways to use those platforms and he was right. The use of hashtags was a creation of people, to aggregate conversations.
Nonetheless, it seems Clubhouse has learned nothing from its predecessors’ mistakes. It might not have repeated some of those mistakes, but it looks to be creating problems of its own.
In place of the toxicity of dopamine from likes, retweets and mentions is dopamine and a sense of importance from Clubhouse's system of elitism.
Growing toxicity: Strategy vs. Reasons for concern
In the case of Clubhouse, it shows that while its founders and creators intended to limit the noise and commotion that’s peculiar to Twitter, users are finding their unique ways to use the platform. And guess what, it’s not pretty.
While conversations are more controlled, the platform is creating an aristocratic system where power is reserved for a visible few. In the same sad vein, the power to create the Clubs can only be given.
While that has its own powers, the controllers of clubs are excessively holding on to control in a growing platform. Like Kevin Systrom found out when Instagram was Burbn, you can't manage a growing entity with that level of control. Burbn was a mobile check-in app with a photo-sharing feature. It allowed users to share their nightly experiences via photos.
Systrom, then a recent former employee of Google would administer a lot of the platform remotely. On Clubhouse it’s not quite the same, but the bottom line is that creators of the platform still retain a lot of power over the platform. They then delegate some of that power to certain representatives who only hand that power to a few ‘aristocrats.’
While this could simply be the price for more controlled conversations and it’s a tactic that’s made Clubhouse more desirable, this ‘control’ mandate for growth has promoted elitis. By tapping into people with influence, handlers tasked with that growth have created ground for inequality and that energy has slowly seeped through the spirit of that platform.
The idea of only limiting the platform to iPhone users seems like a masterstroke. The platform also seems like it's in beta phase, and so is the idea that a person can only join on the premise of an invite.
These ideas create a desirable brand for the platform. They also promote the idea that the platform is built for ‘intellectual conversations..’ But the few early birds on the platform have grown to see themselves as worthy elites of a different class and therein lies the problem.
In his critique of Walter Lippman's theory on democracy, John Dewey notes that democracy is the most attainable system of government because it promotes involvement and inclusion.
The fact that people cannot merely register to join a platform is inherently problematic. It creates a system of desire that only a few can attain. It's also not very democratic and fills the powerful few with an overbloated sense of importance.
It sells the idea of a high brow Manhattan nightclub that requires a secret password. While that could simply be promo by perception, it creates a perception of a social class/social hierarchy - even amongst iPhone users. The result of that is autocratic aristocracy on a social platform.
Clubhouse might have looked to be an improvement on the failings of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, but it hasn’t. Several scientific theories have argued that the human mind sees an achievement in most uncommon/distant phenomena that requires an effort to attain.
Currently, the elitist/aristocratic structure of Clubhouse means that a lot of things are out of reach to most people. Psychologically, they will see those things as achievements and therein lies the problem.
Detriments to Clubhouse itself
Equally, you can't protect/control a social platform forever. It is detrimental to your growth - the larger and more accessible a platform is, the better for you to scale. There is a risk of mismanagement in open operation of a social platform, but there is greater risk in alienation and control.
If Clubhouse doesn't fix its alluring albeit problematic model, it will be severely threatened by die Twitter’s impending chat room feature called Spaces - especially if Twitter chooses to fix the ills of Clubhouse and makes the platform widely available.
What Clubhouse needs to ask itself is, 'Do we want to become Snapchat or do we want to be Tiktok?' Those business questions are not as pressing as the problems of elitism, aristocracy and classism that confronts the platform though.
Clubhouse has already made strides, but a model of alienation is also detrimental to its growth. This becomes even more pertinent when your major source of income will likely be advertising.
In an article dated July 7, 2020, Ari Lewis wrote that, "The problem with exclusivity is that it isn't scalable. Once everyone is using it, it loses its utility value. What tool is Clubhouse providing? As far as I see, none. But that can change.
"Clubhouse can become a white-label solution for content creators and influencers... Think of Clubhouse as OnlyFans for creators. OnlyFans is already doing it with adult performers. It's estimated the company will take home $150MM - $300MM in revenue this year."
Lewis also adds that, "Tools like Cameo, OnlyFans and Clubhouse (potentially), where influencers can interact with their fans. Not just follow an influencer’s life, but be a part of their life."
Apparently, 70% of teenage YouTube subscribers say they related to YouTube creators more than traditional celebrities and 40% of millennials believe their favorite creators understand them better than their friends.
Right now, the monetization model of the company remains unclear, but there are definitely different avenues to be explored.
One option is to make a section of Clubhouse premium/paid. The other is to insert audio/pictorial ads into other sections. They could make it possible that premium users won't hear the audio or see the pictorial ads.
Yet, the potential for that platform remains immense. If it adds a video feature, Clubhouse could also grow to become a great ground for e-events.
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