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How Clubhouse missed its Twitter, erm X, Spaces opportunity

Cover image for How Clubhouse missed its Twitter, erm X, Spaces opportunity

Photo: NoWah Bartscher

Photo of Annie Langston
by Annie Langston

The gone and (almost) forgotten live audio app Clubhouse is trying for a revival. Clubhouse kicked off during the Covid-19 lockdowns, closing 2021 with a $4 billion valuation and inspiring major platforms, like Twitter, Spotify and Facebook, to start their own live audio-centric features. However, this success was short-lived. As the pandemic abated and consumers eased back into semi-normal routines, a core ingredient that made Clubhouse’s rise possible was decimated: time. Slowly but surely, other major platforms, including Facebook and Spotify, closed their live audio features. The question of the hour is, could this new Clubhouse revive the audio appeal? 

Introducing group voice messages

Clubhouse’s original platform had exclusive and novelty gravitas. Its invite-only, celebrity-driven live rooms generated intrigue, and replaced in-person networking that became non-existent during lockdown. Plus, its alerts allowed users to spontaneously jump into conversations, adding excitement into repetitive days. But, after Clubhouse opened its doors and became openly accessible, and people could no longer listen to conversations during work hours as they returned to the office, it quickly lost steam. 

Instead of trying to reinvigorate its original appeal, Clubhouse is now focusing on becoming a voice messenger app. Its new “Chats” are voice-only group chats that combine the user experience of Instagram stories and group texts, but they are not live. While this is designed to be better than a group chat, it opens up Clubhouse to major competitors, like Whatsapp, iMessage, and Instagram DMs – all of which already allow users to send messages in many formats, including voicenotes. The difference with Clubhouse is that its voicenotes are also transcribed in the chat, so users can read them like a normal text. This begs the question: why have the voicenote in the first place? Clubhouse’s answer: voicenotes are more personal than texts. This mission to ‘digitise the bar scene’ is attempting to turn an app feature into a complete product. But is that enough to carry the platform? Audio-only as a format, both live and recorded in the form of voicenotes, has proven itself to be a feature that users are happy to engage with – but to stand on its own is unbroken ground.

A lost opportunity to take back the live audio market 

While Clubhouse inspired many platforms to enter the live audio market, only two major players remain: Amazon Amp and X Spaces (formerly Twitter Spaces). The most similar to Clubhouse is X Spaces, which in many ways had an upper hand in the live audio market by way of its existing audience. In order for live audio to work, it needs something for users to gather around. Before its rebrand, Twitter’s foundation was about sharing thoughts and having conversations, and Twitter’s Spaces opened this dialogue beyond the 140 character limit. Moreover, Twitter had over 350 million users to test this feature compared to Clubhouse’s (at the time) 10-15 million. Now, as both advertisers and users disengage with X, Clubhouse could become its replacement, similar to how Instagram’s Threads is attempting to replace X’s Feed.

What is Clubhouse’s future?

So, if Clubhouse is not X Spaces’ substitute, what could it become? Clubhouse could capitalise on the continued engagement in DM’s as social media platforms become less social. Perhaps for creators, Clubhouse could be the place where they engage with a close group of fans, and fans, in turn, can interact with each other. However, in order for creators to share work, Clubhouse would have to expand these chats to include music links and photos. This could tap into Clubhouse’s original roots of exclusivity and popularity: a top talent could ask a select group of fans to join their chat to hear unheard songs or ask for opinions on upcoming projects. As ever-more platforms embrace the importance of fandom, Clubhouse has the opportunity to return to its exclusive roots and offer a hub of fan-to-fame interaction

While Clubhouse’s future is unknown, the end of its press release sums it up the best: 

"It’s a big bet, and we hope we’re right…”

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