Clubhouse: listening in on an audio-only social media platform

I wrote this as a thinkpiece for a student’s assignment. I plan on building on these ideas for a longer rant. Until then feel free to consume and engage. Thanks Olivia Sim for the nudge!

Are there any possible reasons why Clubhouse is popular?

  • Increasing awareness about privacy breaches, the commodification of user data, and unethical data practices by companies makes  people wary of the more popular social media platforms.

Eg. Widespread media coverage of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/mar/17/the-cambridge-analytica-scandal-changed-the-world-but-it-didnt-change-facebook

  • Decreasing quality of engagement and discussions on social media. A perceived increasing use of it in the age of “identity fundamentalism:” people use their identities to find their community, and this creates polarized areas on social media.

Ref: Kreiss, D. (2018). The networked self in the age of identity fundamentalism. A Networked Self: Platforms, Stories, Connections. New York: Routledge, 12-28.

  • Increasing political agenda. Recent evidence that foreign governments use social media to influence and manipulate elections. An invite-only platform is therefore attractive. You have got to know an ingroup and be vetted by them to get in

Ref: Zhang, Y., Lukito, J., Su, M. H., Suk, J., Xia, Y., Kim, S. J., … & Wells, C. (2021). Assembling the Networks and Audiences of Disinformation: How Successful Russian IRA Twitter Accounts Built Their Followings, 2015–2017. Journal of Communication.

  • Because the number of invitations are limited, there is artificial demand created because of limited supply. This is known as the scarcity principle in economics.
  • No paid content, only organic growth. Platforms with sponsored contents are engineered to maximize clicks rather than quality of engagement. At present, as Clubhouse focuses on growing its community, its focus is still very much on curating meaningful conversations.

2.            Has COVID19 contributed to the popularity of clubhouse? If so, how do you think it did?

  • Increasing acceptance of alternative forms of interaction, such as over video and voip calls, even for formal work. Earlier this was only done in f2f settings
  • Increasing popularlity of podcasts and alternative forms of entertainment, such as livestreaming platforms.
  • Decreasing timezone sensitivity: the rigidity of a 9-to-5 worktime is gone for many white-collar professionals. Many conversations flow into odd hours, and people leave or join depending on when they wake up.

3.            Do you foresee it being more widely used?

  • Niche users, niche applications
  • Not very flexible to alternative uses
  • Not very flexibile for disabled users
  • Limited affordances, so limited capabilities to engage and for two-way communication
  • More professional than casual, so it might develop as an alternative to podcasts (one way content consumption)

Picture credit: BBC

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