These days, it seems the unlikeliest of candidates become big, while tried-and-tested formulas increasingly fail. Look at the past year, which saw most of the world forced into self-quarantine due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While many expected legacy apps like Skype to soar in popularity owing to all the users’ downtime, Zoom came from nowhere and stole their thunder. When it seemed the successful Call of Duty Mobile game would dominate smartphone gaming, Among Us surged in popularity. Even now, games with crazy mixes of appeal reign supreme: look at the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla-meets-Ark: Survival Evolved game trending now, Valheim. And when it comes to social media and chat platforms, it seems one app has it all covered: Clubhouse.
This currently Iphone-only app quite literally came from nowhere, and firmly established itself into a household name akin to Facetime. While initially valued at a “mere” $100 million last April, it has now grossed over $1 billion. So what exactly does Clubhouse do, and how did it become so critically successful in less than a few months? The answer lies in great marketing and the perfect pandemic opportunity.
Clubhouse launched on iOS last April, and quickly became popular for its mixture of appealing features
The app itself does very little you could consider truly original. When launching, it marketed itself as an invite-only chat platform, similar to Discord. However, it also had several useful features tacked on that attracted a wide demographic. Similar to Pinterest, you could find topics or media related to your preferences, and share them with contacts. At the same time, you had the option to voice call and message other users, and set up chat rooms. These rooms could feature any topic users wanted, from news to art to hobbies to fashion. Within the room, users maintained freedom to contact anyone they like.
Surprisingly, this led to several developments that only cemented Clubhouse’s popularity. Some spontaneous, smooth-talking users realized the app had potential as a dating platform. Add that to one of the app’s successful features, as it is now a popular unofficial dating service. And, more significantly, it attracted several celebrity endorsements that made the platform synonymous with high-profile chat leaders. These included Elon Musk, Drake, Vladimir Putin, Tiffany Haddish and many others. Like the iPhone itself, Clubhouse is practically a status symbol in its own right.
One interesting but peculiar self-limitation the developers stand by is the insistence of keeping the app ‘audio-only’. You can chat over text or voice call with other users, but the camera is never needed. This makes it even more popular with users wishing to maintain anonymity or facing social anxieties. It’s like Instagram, but with less emphasis on looks and more about connecting with groups with shared interests.
Signing up for Clubhouse is different from most other services
Like Discord, the invite-only policy means that if you don’t have any added chat rooms, the app is useless. While countless Discord servers openly offer links online to anyone, Clubhouse hasn’t reached that level of commonness just yet. As a result, the app is nothing like Facebook or Reddit, where anyone can set up and account and explore. Instead, all you can do by default is download the app from the App Store, create login credentials and then reserve your username. You’re then sent to a waiting list, until another user sends you an invite to free you from limbo.
It sounds tacky, but the developers insist that they will try to revamp things in the coming future. An Android version of the app is in the works, and the rising star is sure to grow more accessible. Until then, we advise prospective users to make sure they have friends willing to add them to their chatrooms before rushing in.