Moldovan career diplomat, a founding member of the European Digital Diplomacy Board.
Audio-only social media app. My morning started unusually. I was listening to what seemed to be a phone conversation between Russian bloggers (Ilya Varlamov), civil activists, lawyers (Ilya Novikov), and participants all the way from Moscow and Saint Petersburg down to Rostov. They were sharing their thoughts on coronavirus restrictions and vaccination, politics in Russia and worldwide, or weather, as if they are gathered in a room, to which I was also invited, better said, to which I got by mistake. I kept my voice down and held my breath. It was a very bizarre feeling compared only with being a casual witness of a confidential conversation. Later on, I joined a discussion in Mandarin Chinese, but left it shortly, looking for a more understandable “closer to Europe” language. I also surfed in a conversation between psychologists, who debated on the feeling of fear, which is as they say, “normal”. Then I found a room where people could share their biography in 30 seconds, and then interact workwise, based on common interests. All this, what looked impossible yesterday, is being a normality today, due to the Clubhouse, the audio-only social media application.
A new kind of Zoom, but better? I must confess that I felt a sort of dizziness due to the major possibilities, which appeared in front of me. I became a lucky member of a 6 million users’ application, a small, and yet elitist community of iPhone holders (Android version is on the way). Small compared to Facebooks’ 1,7 billion and Telegram’s 500 million users. The clubhouse can be easily described as the digital “Babylonian Tower”, not only because of the variety of the languages but also due to the variety of topics and the number of people including Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. The feeling of intimacy that Clubhouse has does not appear in Zoom, where you might appear unprepared on the camera, or get an avatar of a cat, or something that should not have been seen in public.
Digital migration. It appears that mass migration does not refer to demographics anymore. It is not just a physical process, since the borders are semi-closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Big “transfers of the population” now happen in the digital dimension. Recently, the new WhatsApp privacy update causes the shift of its users to rival messaging apps. Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram described it as “the largest digital migration in human history”. It seems that this was just the first element of the game-changer, and now the social media revolution comes into effect, writing a new chapter in online communication.
Clubhouse statistics. In January 2021, Clubhouse had around 2 million users worldwide and in less than a month it already had 6 million. Just in one evening, it gained 1 million users from Russia only. I got my invitation, to join the Club from one of my friends who resides in Moscow, which demonstrates the virality of the trend. Most probably, the interest among Russians in Clubhouse was sparked when Elon Musk invited Vladimir Putin to connect to it via Twitter post in the Russian language. The Clubhouse was also very popular in China, or better to say it was before it has been blocked on the 8th of February 2021.
New opportunities for the business. The Chinese even found a way to transform Clubhouse into a business, as the British “The Guardian” reported that e-commerce sites in China were offering hopeful users of Clubhouse a chance to buy (wealthy) invites. On platforms like Xianyu and Taobao, invite codes were being sold for between 150-400 yuan ($23-$61). One could even purchase an invitation to the Clubhouse for 89$ on eBay.
Themes and topics. It looks like the Clubhouse is a very fortunate mix of Twitter, Zoom, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, LinkedIn, Telegram, and Tinder, you name it. You can discover everyone from anywhere and anything about everything. You can let your imagination drive you to the various topics, starting with the latest news and finishing with astrophysics. The clubhouse also offers categories that can be chosen, such as Tech, Wellness, Life, Hustle, Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Places, Faith, Languages, Identity, Knowledge, Hanging Out, World Affairs, etc. Every category is divided into other subtopics.
Elite Club or Disinformation Oasis? Clubhouse enables you to interact with the most prominent people of our era. Since it is an invite-only application, you can join the app due to elite connections and by networking. By the end of the day, if there is a room where Johnny Depp or Tom Hanks would speak, you may stay in the queue of the upmost 4.999 people (a room in Clubhouse can host up to 5.000 people), and freely ask your question, if the moderator allows you. Because of the Clubhouse, you can become a journalist, a businessman, a showman, or whoever you want, or just pretend to be. Several cases of misinformative subjects’ rooms or misleading messages were encountered, especially on the COVID-19 vaccines. There are no content regulations on Clubhouse, which brings up the same old problem – mass disinformation. Hopefully, the creators of the app will establish some policy rules, whereas this seems to be impossible or ineffective, as the discussions are in the audio-live format, and based on free speech.
Social media – the future or the present. The platform “We are social” concretized that more than 4.5 billion people now use the internet, while social media users have passed the 3.8 billion mark in 2020. Nearly 60 percent of the world’s population is already online, and the latest trends suggest that more than half of the world’s total population will use social media by the middle of this year. Just imagine if all these people plug-in to the Clubhouse or something similar, like Facebook and Twitter already compete on creating similar products.
Security hazards. One of the concerns I had while accessing the app was allowing Clubhouse to connect to my contacts agenda. However, this is the only option you have in order to send an invitation to join. As it’s normal, to get something, you have to give something.
Clubhouse and politics/diplomacy. The Clubhouse can and will affect politics and diplomacy, but in my opinion, it will not make politics. Some political leaders and diplomats will appear in streams, but it will not be a major channel of political communication. It will be a supplementary path of messaging for the political actors, not the main ones. Clubhouse might also become the biggest online library or database of podcasts if the managing company proceeds on stocking the thousands of online debates, which take place “on-air”.
In conclusion, the concept of Clubhouse, based on its brand-new algorithms, is undoubtedly a revolutionary one. It is already not a silent, or “creeping revolution”, as it was with Facebook, Instagram or Zoom, rather it is a looming non-silent revolution. A revolution that will affect every one of us, be it organization or individual.