The Clubhouse Party Is Over

Vaccination numbers are way up, and Clubhouse user numbers are way down. The audio-only app was a pandemic-era success story, and it’s time to say goodbye.

The pandemic would have been a very different experience had it not been for technology. Zoom allowed many of us to work from home; streamers like Netflix and Disney+ entertained us; and social networks allowed us to argue with one another about politics and the culture wars, or, in some rare instances, glean some important information. While most of America felt like the apps and platforms that we had access to were more than enough to get us through the past year, Silicon Valley had other ideas. Among the countless new technologies that spasmed through the world—like NFTs and new quarantine-friendly dating experiences—the darling of the pandemic was a little audio start-up called Clubhouse. When it launched in March of 2020, with just a few hundred users, it was soon all anyone in tech could talk about. Just two months after its debut, it was valued at $100 million. A few months later it was valued at $1 billion. As of this month, it’s now valued at $4 billion. It didn’t take long for the copycatting to begin, with Facebook, Twitter, Discord, Reddit, Slack, and even Spotify starting to create features that would compete directly with Clubhouse. At one point, the invite-only app was so hot that people were selling their invite codes for hundreds of dollars on eBay, as a New Yorker article noted, titled, “Clubhouse Feels Like a Party.”

Now, it seems, the party might be over—at least for now. According to two people close to the Silicon Valley start-up, numbers are slowing across the board. Sign-ups and installs have fallen dramatically, and engagement from people who have already joined the platform is down in some areas of the app too. Business Insider reported this week that installs of the app on iOS have fallen from a high of 9.6 million in February to less than a million installs so far this month. Indeed, looking at the iOS App Store, you can see that Clubhouse has fallen from being one of the top downloaded apps in the social media section, to now being the 23rd most popular (or least popular?) app in social networking, lingering below more lesser-known apps like Tiya-Team Up! and Pi Network. The headlines, which just a few months ago were raving about how Clubhouse was the next big thing, have all but dried up. As I, and many others, argued at the height of Clubhouse mania, the app is perfectly suited for the pandemic, but not for afterward. Clubhouse was a temporary salve to being stuck inside, when we were not allowed to venture out to conferences or music venues. Now that 137.2 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including about 91.2 million people who have been fully vaccinated, few people want to sit inside and stare at their phones. They want to be outside, talking to real, living, breathing humans. Especially the variety that they like.

Clubhouse sees things differently. Earlier this month, Alex Heath, a reporter for The Information, shared internal marketing data that noted that there is an average of 300,000 “successful rooms” created a day on the platform, where people spend around 60 minutes a day listening to each other ramble about everything from cryptocurrencies to sound baths. But other numbers in the internal marketing data don’t necessarily point to an app being lusted after like it was just two months ago. Clubhouse said that 6 million people are on the waiting list to sign up for the app. While that might seem like an astounding number of loiterers hoping to come inside, you have to actually download Clubhouse to be able to sign up for the waiting list. Given that the app is lingering in the bottom-feeder section of iOS, it means that while some are waiting to come inside, fewer people are actually signing up for the platform. When I reached out for comment from Clubhouse, the company responded with an automatic response noting that they are so popular they are getting an “overwhelming number of media requests” and they “are not able to respond to all inquiries.” Mine included. 

Clubhouse’s faithful like to point out that while installs on iOS have fallen, there are countless people waiting to sign up for the app on Android, where the company still has yet to release an app, and that Clubhouse is intentionally throttling the number of people allowed inside because it grew too quickly, and the company is still only about 75 employees. Andreessen Horowitz, the lead investor in Clubhouse, isn’t deterred, leading a new $4 billion round, just a few months after it led a $1 billion round. Being at the forefront of an Andreessen Horowitz investment doesn’t necessarily mean success. While the VC firm has had some huge wins in its time, investing in Box, Slack, and Instagram, it has also had some major losses from big bets that didn’t pan, losing hundreds of millions of dollars in investments like Jawbone, the wearables company, and the camera platform Lytro.

In Clubhouse’s defence, Twitter was also perceived as a fad, pointless, and an utter waste of time in its seminal early days, and it continued to grow like a weed until it almost led to the downfall of American democracy. While some, myself included, lament that Clubhouse is a fad, pointless, and an utter waste of time, and not destined to be the next Facebook or even Twitter, there are plenty of people who have signed up for the platform who believe it will be the next big thing in social. But what’s most interesting is that even the most vociferous users I’ve spoken to—those who say Clubhouse changed their lives during the pandemic, and who spend countless hours a week listening or talking on the platform—have said they are using the app less now that they are going back out into normal society. “I think the app is changing. People may spend an hour or two on there instead of six straight hours. It feels more like people will tune in for programming occasionally, as opposed to using it as an online community to cure the loneliness of quarantine,” one super-user of the platform told me, who still loves using Clubhouse, but also now sees its limitations. “The app still has the rare ability to put you in direct contact with people you look up to. However, it also now feels like home to more chaotic, polarizing conversations—that make it feel like ‘audio Twitter.’” The user added that the platform has become “a bit of a cesspool of racism and anti-Semitism and shady marketing groups.” For some people, that actually might sound like a fun party—but for most of us, it sounds like an app that deserves to be lingering in the bottom of the app store.

All Rights Reserved for Nick Bilton

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