Clubhouse, the invite-only audio social app, hit a $1 billion valuation this week, news that follows a tide of growth in platforms that bypass the screen and mimic conversation – but will they survive the pandemic?

Why it matters

Multiple reasons: first, audio-based social is going to be harder to advertise against, meaning alternative revenue models will likely kick in. Second, most of the apps that capitalise on this trend grew up or blew up in the pandemic when people were craving social interaction and their eyes were strained from all the zooming. This is no done deal yet.

Key ideas

  • Clubhouse is the current poster boy of this new movement, as populated by a smiling band of VC influencers talking over each other, but the trend also includes the traditionally gamer-focused Discord which is branching out into the mainstream.
  • WIRED, in an essay on the topic, compares the rise of audio-based social to the mid-aughts rise of text-based social, a time when written media was moving online and gatekeepers were falling. The rise of podcasts and the ubiquity of connected speakers and Bluetooth are key to this shift.
  • Now the issue will be on curating these spaces so that they’re worth listening to and moderated to the point that people feel safe not only to spend time there, but to feel they can contribute. Already, there have been high-profile cases of harassment as the clubhouse starts to resemble the frat house.
  • Monetisation is not easy either, with certain influencers on Clubhouse asking tough questions about payment – the app will have to get serious in this regard to avoid a Vine-like exodus.

Bottom line

Investors seem to think the idea has legs, but as Axios points out that could well be to do with a global population starved of social events and networking.  In the new form’s favour is the immediacy and authenticity of audio, for good and for bad.

Sourced from WIRED, Morning Brew, Axios, MIT Tech Review, NYT