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What Is Clubhouse? The Popular Audio-Based Social Media App, Explained

The icon for the social media app Clubhouse is seen on a smartphone screen. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)
The icon for the social media app Clubhouse is seen on a smartphone screen. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

The audio-based social networking appClubhouseisn’t even one year old, but it has become one of the most downloaded apps in Apple’s App Store. 

The app’s swift rise in popularity could be thanks in part to a wave of celebrities and high-profile venture capitalists joining the platform.Last week, Elon Musk dropped in on “The Good Time Show,” a late-night show hosted on Clubhouse, and said he’d only heard of the app the week prior.

Clubhouse lets users live stream audio and set up interactive chat rooms that can function either as stand-ins for in-person live events or spaces for spontaneous conversations.To join Clubhouse in its beta stage, users need to receive an invitation from someone already on the app. 

NPR arts editorNina Gregorywas an early adopter of Clubhouse — which she calls the “third space” during the pandemic. The third space isn’t home or work, she says, but rather acts as the coffee shops, bars, parks and other places where we connect with other people.

“As the isolation of pandemic set in, this app came into my life right at a time where I really missed both the camaraderie of our newsroom and the casual encounters we get to have so often as journalists and just as people,” she says.

On Tuesday night, Gregory entered a room where viola playerChristen Lienasked listeners for feedback on how a mix sounded. As an audio professional, Gregory loved the discussion.

A lot of people in the music industry use the app, she says. People gather for events like the Cotton Club, a weekly event where users change their profile image to a photo of their favorite jazz musician and listen to music together, and the Lullabye Club, a nightly room where musicianAxel Mansoorand other artists play music to help folks fall asleep.

Physicians from Harvard Medical School will hold Q&A sessions about COVID-19 or vaccines on the app. Most of the conversations on Clubhouse are about Clubhouse, she says, though some rooms do have the potential for spreading misinformation — a notable problem that social media platforms face. 

Clubhouse needs to continue to pay careful attention to misinformation on the platform, she says.

“There are rooms where people can say things that are false, that are misinformed and they go unchallenged,” Gregory says. “But like being in a bar, if people say crazy offensive things, there are tools on the app to ‘mute and boot,’ as they say, to quiet someone or to throw them out or to escalate it.”

The Verge reported this week that Mark Cuban is planning to launch his ownpodcast appthat allows hosts to talk to fans live and monetize their conversations. The initial success of Clubhouse speaks to the potential for more audio-based apps from Silicon Valley in the future, Gregory says.

People are learning that “audio is the best medium to communicate intimate personal stories” and talk to one another, she says. And she hopes more competitors will lead to a better user experience on Clubhouse.

The $100 million question is whether the app will remain popular once people return to large public gatherings and workplaces, Gregory says.

“I think the quality of that information or the entertainment value will be the ultimate reason people come,” she says. “And if the content is not there — pandemic or not — they’re not going to come.”

Chris Bentley produced and edited this story for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

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