New Straits Times
Will Clubhouse be the next big thing?
Cops fire rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Yangon
AS a columnist who writes about trends, I often get asked what the next big thing is going to be. Of course, if I knew the answer to that, I’d be a millionaire or perhaps a billionaire by now.
But when I do spot a trend, I try to write about it early on.
You might have heard of Clubhouse, an audio-based social networking platform that’s generating a lot of buzz.
Think of it as a cross between Zoom and social media but that doesn’t accurately describe it either.
It’s basically an app that allows you to listen in on a live conversation and possibly ask questions to the host or the guest.
As a social networking platform, it’s incredibly exclusive right now. You can download the app but you can’t join just like that.
You’ll need to get an invitation from an existing Clubhouse member.
The thing is, each member only gets to invite two other people. So, membership invitations are quite scarce for now.
To make matters worse, it’s only available for iPhone users.
Its founders have said they plan to make an Android version in the future: “From the earliest days, we’ve wanted to build Clubhouse for everyone. With this in mind, we’re thrilled to begin work on our Android app soon, and to add more accessibility and localisation features so people all over the world can experience Clubhouse in a way that feels native to them.”
Clubhouse hasn’t been around for very long. It’s not even a year old. It was launched in March last year by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Paul Davidson and Rohan Seth.
“Our goal was to build a social experience that felt more human — where instead of posting, you could gather with other people and talk. Our north star was to create something where you could close the app at the end of the session feeling better than you did when you opened it, because you had deepened friendships, met new people and learned,” wrote Davidson and Seth on the company’s blog.
By January this year, Clubhouse had two million users. Then in February, Elon Musk took to Clubhouse and the membership has since shot to about six million users.
Clubhouse is often spoken of in the same breath as podcasting.
But it’s really not a podcast in the traditional sense of the word in that it’s ephemeral. There’s no recording of the conversation. It’s actually against the rules to make recordings.
The conversations are held in a “room”, with each room having a maximum of 5,000 people.
When Elon Musk appeared, that room quickly filled up. To accommodate more people, someone actually (illegally) live-streamed the conversation onto YouTube.
If you’re lucky enough to have received an invitation, you’ll need to create a username, select a profile photo and write a short sentence to describe yourself.
You’ll then be presented with a list of rooms, as well as a list showing who’s in each room. To join a room, simply tap on it. You could also start your own room, if you wish.
When you join a live room, you’ll get to hear, in real-time, the conversation that’sgoing on.
You might even get a chance to participate in the conversation if you’re given permission to do so by the hosts. However, if you find the conversation boring, you can quietly leave the room any time you want.
As mentioned just now, you can start your own room where you’ll be the host.
When you add a topic, you’ll be asked to make the room Open, Social or Closed.
An Open room is visible to everyone. A Social room is available only to those whom you’re connected to via the app (that is, your social network). A Closed room is the most exclusive as you get to select who’s allowed in.
Many people refer to it as a kind of podcast but podcasts are usually pre-recorded, not live. Because it’s live there’s no editing or sound effects involved. Podcasts are usually made available on demand. This one doesn’t even offer any recordings of the conversation. In that sense, it’s really not like a podcast and more like a live-stream of a TED Talk.
Comparisons to Zoom are also inevitable but Zoom sessions usually involve video. Clubhouse is audio only.
Of course, it’s possible to have an audio-only Zoom session but the purpose and nature of Zoom meetings are also different.
They’re usually used for virtual business meetings and are closed to the public. Clubhouse rooms are usually open to anyone who wants in. Although there’s a closed option, it’s seldom used.
Next big tHiNg?
So, is it the online phenomenon that will rock the world? It’s still early days so it’s too hard to tell. It currently has six million members compared to Facebook’s 2.74 billion members, Instagram’s one billion member and Twitter’s 330 million members.
Of course, that number is going to boom once it’s no longer by-invitation only and it’s available to Android users as well. But how far will it grow?
The fact that it’s an audio-only social network differentiates it from the rest. And we’re in the era of audio, with audiobooks and podcasts growing in popularity. So, it’s riding the right wave, for sure.
By coincidence (and arguably to its advantage), Clubhouse was launched the same month that Covid-19 began to wreak havoc around the world: in March 2020.
People under lockdown yearn for conversations and interactions with others. Clubhouse offered that.
Ultimately, whether it’ll grow exponentially and take its place among social media giants like Facebook, Instragram and Twitter could depend on whether there are more Elon Musk-like events on Clubhouse.
Oprah Winfrey and Mark Zuckerberg have also made appearances on Clubhouse. Will more famous names do so and on a regular basis? Could it stay popular without big names? Will ordinary conversations by ordinary people talking about ordinary things gain any traction?
Whatever the case, other social media platforms are watching its growth with great interest.
Twitter is said to be testing out “Space” or audio chat rooms where up to 10 people can talk to an unlimited number of spectators. Facebook is also said to be working on a similar audio-only offering.
MYANMAR police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters here yesterday, after the country’s ambassador to the United Nations broke ranks to make an emotional plea for action against the military junta.
The country had been shaken by a wave of pro-democracy protests since a military coup toppled civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1.
Authorities have gradually ramped up the use of force to suppress dissent, using tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse some protests. Live rounds have been used in isolated cases.
In Myanmar’s biggest city here yesterday, police used rubber bullets to disperse a demonstration at Myaynigone junction, the site of an hours-long standoff the day before.
“What are the police doing? They are protecting a crazy dictator,” the protesters chanted as they were chased away.
Hundreds of ethnic Mon protesters had gathered there to commemorate Mon National Day, joined by other ethnic minority groups to protest against the coup.
They scattered into smaller residential streets and started building makeshift barricades out of barbed wire and tables to stop the police. Many wore hard hats and gas masks, wielding homemade shields for protection.
At least 15 people were arrested, a police official confirmed.
Local reporters broadcast the chaotic scenes live on Facebook, including the moments when the shots rang out.
“We will try to find another way to protest. Of course, we are afraid of their crackdown,” said protester Moe Moe, 23, who used a pseudonym. “We want to fight until we win.”
Three journalists were among those detained — an Associated Press photographer, a video journalist from Myanmar Now, and a photographer from the Myanmar Pressphoto Agency.
The crackdown came after Myanmar ’s ambassador to the United Nations broke ranks and made an emotional plea Friday to the international community.
“We need... the strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people, to return the state power to the people, and to restore the democracy,” Kyaw Moe Tun pleaded.
Briefly speaking in Myanmar, he pleaded with his “brothers and sisters” to keep fighting to end military rule.
“This revolution must win,” he said, flashing at the end the three-finger salute that has become a symbol of resistance against the junta.
His pro-democracy appeal broke from the current rulers of Myanmar — an extremely rare occurrence for a UN representative — and was met with applause in the chamber.
The junta has repeatedly justified its seizure of power by alleging widespread electoral fraud in the November elections, which Suu Kyi’s party had won in a landslide, and promised fresh polls in a year.