Is Clubhouse entering its final stage?
Over the last few weeks, the departures of several top executives from the company have raised eyebrows about its future, while the latest download numbers also point to trouble for the once buzzy audio social app.
The recent exec departures are also an important indicator in its current direction - as reported by Protocol:
“In late April, Stephanie Simon left as the company’s head of Brand Evangelism and Development. Simon joined Clubhouse just a couple of months after launch in 2020. Then this week, three more leaders announced their resignations, including Nina Gregory, Aarthi Ramamurthy and Anu Atluru; the trio led News, International and Community, respectively.”
The gradual migration of content leaders points to a change in strategy for Clubhouse, with Bloomberg also reporting late last week that Clubhouse is making significant staffing moves as ‘part of a broader restructuring and rethinking of the audio app’s strategy’.
That strategic shift, as noted by Platformer’s Casey Newton, is likely more aligned with less structured, and more casual usage of the app for catching up with friends and like-minded people, or ‘chilling’ online in these shared audio spaces.
Which makes sense, but it also aligns with this prediction from Blab founder Shaan Puri as to Clubhouse’s likely trajectory.
You dramatically erase the whiteboard. No more peacetime ceo. It's wartime.— Shaan Puri (@ShaanVP) March 16, 2021
Forget shows. Those were annoying anyways. Too many "experts" and "success coaches" anyways. What is this...Discord for Douchebags?
No no, you take the blue marker and write "CHILLING" on the board.
Puri, whose long tweet thread on what he foresaw happening to Clubhouse, also predicts the future downward spiral for the app, with chilling likely to end up being ‘a dead end too’.
It worked in the tech bubble, because the hype cycle drove in so many tech people that you hit critical mass. You can't replicate that magic in every community— Shaan Puri (@ShaanVP) March 16, 2021
The end of the story isn't so much fun. growth slows. users churn. You end up getting acquired for $90M by facebook.
Puri would know, he’s worked on several buzzy apps, which, much like Clubhouse, saw strong performance early on, only to fade out time and time again. Because live content, in itself, is hard, and ensuring compelling, consistent experiences is near impossible in a user-generated live format, at any kind of scale.
That’s why Blab died out, along with Meerkat, and why live-stream elements on Facebook and Twitter never lived up to the massive hype, which had many enthusiasts calling the feature a ‘game changer’ and hurriedly updating their LinkedIn description to ‘live video strategist’ and the like.
Live audio, as Puri predicted, is following the same trend – and as noted, Clubhouse’s latest download stats don’t inspire a lot of confidence in this respect.
Protocol reports that between January 1st and May 31st his year, Clubhouse has seen 3.8 million installs globally, compared to 19 million installs during the same period last year - an 80% decline year-over-year.
Again, that likely comes as no surprise, given that at one stage everyone was scrambling for a Clubhouse invite, and now, you hardly hear any mention of the app. But Clubhouse had been seeing steady growth in India, and other regions outside the US, which pointed to future potential, despite the dimming of its spotlight.
Now, it seems like those trends are in decline too, which could end up leading into the last stage for the app.
Add to this the fact that other apps have stolen a lot of its thunder through their own, similar features (reinforcing the narrative that audio social is a feature, not a platform), and it’s looking like an increasingly challenging road ahead for the app.
Can Clubhouse find a unique niche, and still play a role in the broader connective landscape, despite these trends?
I mean, Snapchat did it. Snapchat was in a similar position after Instagram repurposed its Stories functionality, and sought to negate one of its key points of differentiation. Snap lost a lot of traction as a result, but it’s been able to maintain its place by doubling down on other aspects, like intimate connection between friends, along with its ongoing AR innovation.
The difference in this respect is that Clubhouse doesn’t have anything else – it’s audio rooms, where you can tune in, and participate in the broader chat. But that’s it. If listeners aren’t tuning in, and broadcasters start getting better response elsewhere, you can see where the trend is headed – and with the focus on video content being a much more significant behavioral shift overall, you can imagine that many Clubhouse originated broadcasters will eventually shift to podcasting and vlogging elsewhere, which both offer better monetization potential and broader audience reach instead.
Live chilling, as noted by Puri, is probably not the answer. But it seems that Clubhouse is increasingly seeing fewer choices as it works to recapture its early magic.