You’re Going To Ruin Clubhouse

You’re going to ruin Clubhouse.

If you haven’t used Clubhouse yet, feel free to skip this post. This is not a “Clubhouse is going to fail” prediction. I actually think it’s awesome for very small group conversations. I’ve fired up rooms on my morning walks and had some delightful, quick encounters with people I used to see at conferences. Weak threads, perhaps — but they all hold us up, don’t they? There are probably some incredible use cases for intra-corporate communications, all-hands meetings, and the like. And it’s a great place to go to hear a specific speaker you are interested in give a one-way talk. It’s fun — it’s a conference call, except you can clearly see who is talking without the ceaseless exhaustion of video. That alone, to me, is cool enough to keep Clubhouse around. I’ve enjoyed these aspects.

But you’re going to ruin it if you use the way I currently often see it being used. I am not going to be trying to get as many people as I can into a Marketing Mastermind room or whatever. I’m sorry, I’m just not. Clubhouse used in that way is little more than a cruel joke, and soon, people are going to get that joke.

Here’s the joke: “social audio.”

A few nights ago, I sat in on a popular room about podcasting, and the moderator recognized me and pulled me on stage (she “voluntold” me, as she put it, a term I loved.) I was flattered! For the rest of the hour, I and a couple of other panelists took questions from the many participants. It felt good. I probably answered eight questions before the room ended after its predetermined hour.

Delightful and serendipitous.

But here’s the thing: I have a name in podcasting. I got recognized and highlighted. There were a lot of people in that room, but we only got to eight questions, and not very deeply. The moderator picked them out of 100 people. If there were 200 people, we still would have gotten to eight questions. 2,000 people? Eight questions. It was a panel at a conference. It was fun at the time. Looking back at it, though, I’m not sure it was as social as we all thought.

There’s nothing social about these kinds of rooms. Just the opposite: many of these rooms are just painful reminders that you *don’t* have a voice. I have a voice on Twitter. I have a voice on Medium, or my Substack newsletter, or my podcast. Whether or not I have an audience — doesn’t matter. I can contribute my verse. You might think you can do that on Clubhouse — after all, anyone can open their own room. But when I post this here, or link to it on Twitter, or put this in my newsletter, you can respond. You can contribute *your* verse. But the overwhelming majority of Clubhouse participants won’t be able to contribute their verse. They won’t be able to, because they aren’t good at the one skill that Clubhouse actually rewards:

Pushing your way to the front of the room.

I’ve written a couple of newsletters about Clubhouse because it’s audio and audio is my beat. But personally I am not going to use it much. I have dipped into a bunch of rooms — BIG rooms, with lots of people — and I frequently see the same people above the fold as speakers. Sometimes, I pop into a room and immediately *hear* them talking. They’ve pushed their way to the front of the room.

The same people, picked by the same people.

On Facebook I can unfollow them. On Twitter I can block them. But on Clubhouse, if I am interested in a room’s topic, I am stuck in that room with them, listening to them talk. Regardless of how limited their actual expertise in the listed topic is, they are always above the fold, with no mechanism in Clubhouse to filter them out. You are stuck with them, and the only feedback Clubhouse gets is that you left a room — but not why you left the room. Unless you are an incredibly self-aware extrovert, you’ll never suspect that the reason that a room’s attendance is churning is you.

There are rooms on Clubhouse that invite you to pop in silently and follow everyone in the room to game their follower counts. For a new service, some people have amassed a sizable audience, and their rooms get pushed to the top. I see them. I see what they are doing. But there are no feedback mechanisms, no likes or shares or sad faces or poop emojis I can leave them. No metadata about the content of the room. There is only the law of two feet — stay or leave. At a conference panel, you can at least read the room and tell if you’ve gone too far, or “sold from the stage.” But you don’t get that feedback in Clubhouse. You just push to the front, fill the air with your voice, and sleep the sleep of champions.

Well, I’ve left a lot of rooms. And don’t for a minute think I am whining about this because I feel left out somehow. I am sure I have enough recognition in a few niche fields to juice my follower count, lead a bunch of rooms, and get my message out as well as most. I’m not a great networker, but I can talk some. But re-read this paragraph — is any of that *social*? And that is the joke of social audio. In it’s current form, it’s already been ruined by the marketers.

The last thing I will say about this is that it is very, very difficult to maintain a community. We don’t all row the boat in the same direction. I once belonged to a Facebook group that I loved very much. Maybe a little too much — I posted more than most. It was a lot like a Clubhouse room — a few people who had pushed to the front of the room, and a few people who rightfully felt marginalized by the pushers. The group ultimately was closed, in part because of that rift, and I miss it so. I credit Chris Brogan with this lovely turn of phrase: you can tell the difference between an audience and a community by which way the chairs face. You can sense it — sense when the chairs start to turn. For so many of the rooms that surface in Clubhouse, the chairs have already turned. It’s talk radio, except the demoralized callers can see just how many people are ahead of them in the queue. Their calls are not going to be taken.

If you’ve made it this far, maybe I’ve touched a nerve. I don’t know. Maybe you will tell me how many connections you have made on Clubhouse. If you see me online there, ping me — I’d be delighted to have a quiet conversation with you! I hope Clubhouse succeeds for that. But everyday I see wonderful ideas, funny memes, bold thoughts, and important observations on Twitter from introverts and extroverts, people with millions of followers, and people with hardly any. The mechanisms are there for ideas to surface from the quietest of us. But Clubhouse? Clubhouse is far from social audio.

Clubhouse is a loudocracy.

Flame away in the comments. Contribute your verse.

Photo credit: Mbricn (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Secret_Forest_Treehouse.jpg)

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