For months, people have been clamoring to get access to Clubhouse, a buzzy invite-only social media app where members join virtual rooms to have live, unscripted discussions. Topics range from the 'future of San Francisco,' with the city's district attorney participating, and Kanye West to startup pitch events and various off color conversations. Unlike other social networks, the platform is audio-based — not text — making it feel like an interactive podcast (or a conference call).
On any given night, according to a blog post this week from founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, there are thousands of different rooms that people can join for live conversations. 'Hosts' act as moderators of conversations and those in the room can raise their hands, virtually, to have their mic turned on to lend their voice. Participants include a who's-who list of venture capitalists, tech leaders and celebrities.
Davison and Seth, who are both well connected in the tech industry from previous roles at top companies, said their goal with Clubhouse 'was to build a social experience that felt more human — where instead of posting, you could gather with other people and talk.'
In the less than a year since it launched, Clubhouse has become a recognizable name in Silicon Valley, attracted 2 million users around the world, and is now reportedly worth $1 billion after an infusion of capital. The company now plans to 'scale ... as fast as we can and open it up to everyone soon,' according to the blog post this week.
But all the attention has also created potential headaches for the company. Twitter, a platform with a much larger audience, recently started experimenting with a new feature called 'Spaces,' which it describes as a live audio experience where multiple people can communicate and discuss or debate a topic. Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour previously said the company needs to 'support other formats' and the move is not Twitter saying 'here's an interesting startup doing something interesting, let's try to replicate it.'
Clubhouse has also faced questions about whether it is equipped to handle moderating harmful speech and abuse on its platform, especially as it scales. Some members and critics have publicly shared examples of antisemitism, misinformation and harassment on the platform.
The audio-only format brings fresh challenges when it comes to content moderation, something that its much larger social media peers continue to struggle with when it comes to text, videos and images. CNN Business has previously reported on the issues facing podcast moderation, given that voice is not cataloged by the internet the same way as text; the live element of Clubhouse makes this all the more challenging.
'There are all these kinds of nuances of language that exist in text, but in real-time audio are even more fleeting and difficult to wrap one's hands around,' said Sarah Roberts, an assistant professor at UCLA and content moderation expert. 'By the time any moderation might be applied, the damage could essentially already have been done.'
In a blog post last October, Clubhouse said in recent months it had added safety features, including blocking, muting, in-room reporting and a way for moderators to close a room. In November, it said it introduced 'temporary and encrypted audio recording, solely for Trust & Safety purposes.' The company said 'if no incident is reported in a room, we delete the temporary audio recording when the room ends.' Clubhouse's terms of service prohibit the recording of conversation without express written permission of all speakers involved.
With the new funding, the company said it plans to scale its Trust & Safety team, listing two new job postings devoted to the topic.