Remember Clubhouse, that buzzy, audio-centric social app that everyone was clamoring to join when they needed an invite to do so, but then lost interest in as soon as the invite-only restriction was lifted?
Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration on the drop-off interest, but there has been a pretty clear decline in mentions of the app in recent times.
But for those who are still keen on the app, Clubhouse has this week added a new functionality which leans into a different use case for the platform, in facilitating spontaneous social hang-outs and meet-ups among friends.
There are over 700k rooms opened every day on Clubhouse. Yes, that includes the big moments you see in the news — but it’s also lots of lovely, small rooms between friends.— Clubhouse (@Clubhouse) September 23, 2021
So we built a new feature to make those casual chats even easier! Say hello to Wave ???? pic.twitter.com/3A24CBbAxW
As you can see in this video overview, Clubhouse has added a new ‘Wave’ option, which enables you to signal to your connections when you’re active in the app, and open for a chat. If they’re interested, you can then start a smaller, private room – a broom closet, if that’s not stretching the metaphor too much – where just you and your friends can hang out, away from the more topic-focused discussions in the main rooms.
As explained by Clubhouse:
“Here on Clubhouse, more than 700,000 rooms are created every single day. Many of these are the communal moments that you know and love, but it’s often the smaller private moments amongst friends that put smiles on faces: birthdays, long-overdue catch-ups, watching a movie long-distance, making plans for the weekend, or just hanging out on a Thursday night.”
The Wave option caters to these use cases, which, much like live-streaming before it, sees audio social now expanding into more private chats and hang-outs, providing another way to stay in touch with friends, at any time - which could be perfect for our still lockdown-limited interactions.
A similar template, in this case, is Houseparty, which gained significant traction a few years back as a live-stream hangout tool for younger users.
While the main focus of live-streaming, in general, was broadcasting yourself, Houseparty took a different approach, which quickly caught on, with the app racing to 20 million users shortly after launch, while it had more than 1.2 million daily actives after just 8 months on the market.
That caught the attention of Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, which purchased Houseparty in 2019, with a view to making it the complementary platform for Fortnite players who also wanted to hang out virtually - to see their teammates, as opposed to just hearing them.
That particular use case never caught on, and Epic recently announced that it will be shutting Houseparty down permanently in October. But for a time, Houseparty had tuned into a key trend for streaming that others had missed, in connecting smaller groups, as opposed to public broadcasting, and facilitating casual meet-ups with friends who were up for hanging out at any given time.
Given that use case, it makes sense for Clubhouse to explore the same, and you can see how the option could be of benefit, adding more potential usage options to the app. And maybe, that will help it carve out a more specific niche, because while Clubhouse was the app of the moment a few months back, it clearly won’t be able to sustain its engagement momentum, and with competitors looking to muscle it out of the market, it’ll need to find a key niche – or maybe a few niches – to solidify its place in the broader social sphere.
Spontaneous hangouts could be a part of that, while Clubhouse is still gaining traction in markets outside the US, particularly India, where audio tools tend to facilitate more functionality due to varying barriers in written communication, as well as data restrictions that limit video usage.
So while it’s not the shiny new thing, and Twitter Spaces looks set to become the main audio social platform of choice, Clubhouse does still have various opportunities to explore - and it also recently hired former Instagram entertainment partnerships manager Chelsea Macdonald to help it drive more connections with established and emerging stars and creators.
In addition to this, Clubhouse is also working on new audio ‘Clips’ tool, which would provide another way to share clips from Clubhouse chats, which could be another way to build buzz and get more listeners to download the app.
Can Clubhouse still become a mainstay in the social media space, and a real challenger to the established players?
Maybe not in the sense that it may have seemed to some a few months back, but I see Clubhouse’s potential as more akin to Reddit, with dedicated, passionate, engaged communities connecting in the rooms, providing an alternate, more exclusive space for chats than the bigger social apps.
If Clubhouse can establish partnerships with relevant groups, and build on its potential as a more specialized, more focused community space, that seems like a more viable path, which won’t see the app reach billions of users, but will see it lay more solid foundations for ongoing usage.