Reader David K emailed me earlier this week with a question…
Did you promise an update / “what the hell happened to clubhouse”? Curious.
I did promise that! But then I got distracted with book stuff and completely forgot. Thanks for holding me accountable, David!
Where did all the buzz go?
Not just amongst users, but investors too. I spent last week at a conference filled with venture capitalists and nobody had a word to say about it. NFTs? Yep. Other crypto nonsense? Absolutely. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. TikTok… constantly.
But Clubhouse? Crickets.
Six months ago, if you’d asked me to bet which Marc Andreessen-backed hate speech-plagued platform would be most successful in the long term, my ranking would have been…
- Facebook (obviously)
I could spend thousands of words explaining why Clubhouse was flawed from the start, beginning with the lousy onboarding experience (the chances of finding something you want to listen to/participate in when you first download the app = less than zero). Not to mention the invite-only/app-only/Apple-only threefer that made inviting people to join rooms a crapshoot.
But there’s a more fundamental problem…
Listening to other people’s conversations, no matter how famous those people are, gets boring really fast.
I’ve only participated in a few Clubhouse events but every one of them would have been better as a podcast. Not only is a podcast asynchronous – avoiding the special hell of the mostly-empty Clubhouse room, populated only with randos who wandered in off the street – they’re also either scripted or edited after the fact.
Even my own modestly successful live call-in show- NSFWLIVE – never relied on callers to make it work. We always had guests lined up, and pre-planned segments.
Then there’s the fact that when big names – billionaires or celebrities – do show up on Clubhouse, they invariably turn out to be stupid, bigoted, boring or all of the above. (One of the aspects of Clubhouse that apparently appealed most to A16Z investors was that conversations weren’t recorded and couldn’t be shared — prompting them to go absolutely nutso when a journalist dared to blow the whistle on Ben Horowitz using the r-word during a Clubhouse event.)
Substack has taken a different approach. Like Clubhouse, the company stacked the deck by bribing in celebrities and provocateurs – most recently authors like Salman Rushdie and Chuck Palahniuk. And, like Clubhouse, they gladly accommodate high profile bigots and exiled transphobes in the name of free speech.
But unlike Clubhouse, Chris Best and co have created a space that’s designed to make those stars/trolls look good. The medium is the method: Unlike rambling voice chat, the email newsletter format encourages its most successful proponents to edit, and re-edit, before hitting send.
With those guardrails, Substack has pulled off the same trick as Twitter (with its character limit) and Instagram (by focusing on photos) did: Making Substack feel like the place where celebrities keep it real, while in fact protecting them from their own dumbness and dullness.
Don’t get me wrong. Clubhouse isn’t going anywhere. There are still people who swear by the app – and not all of them are investors in Clubhouse. With $110m in the bank, there’s still plenty of time for the platform to find its groove. Or maybe it’ll plod on until it figures out a use-case/audience that works (remember, Path was huge in Indonesia.)
But buzz, once you’ve lost it, is hard to get back. And Clubhouse has definitely lost it.
Meantime, Twitter has started promoting live ‘Spaces’ directly into its app – I’ve seen three pop up on my feed in the last week and clicked into two. They’re no more interesting that Clubhouse rooms but at least they lured me in.
Twitter’s app is the #1 News app in the Apple App Store. Way over a billion people have it on their phone. How is Clubhouse supposed to compete with that? Their app isn’t even in the top 50 for Social Networking (it was #16 as recently as May), now trailing three places behind Tumblr.
Thanks once again to all of you who either pre-ordered 1414º or bought the book during publication week. Thanks especially to the fast readers who have already posted reviews on Amazon.If you’re read 1414º and didn’t hate it (or I guess even if you hated it) I’d love for you to write a quick review. It makes a HUGE difference in the first few days of a new book’s life.
(You don’t need to have bought it on Amazon to write an Amazon review. You just need to have read it, and your review needs to be honest.)
This request brought to you by my publicist.