Our Clubhouse SupperClub (TODAY!): From Intellectual Masturbation to Participatory Podcasting, Clubhouse is Call-In Radio 2.0 (Cafe Society Quick Bite #4)

Announcing our Clubhouse Radio Hour

Cafe Society is Maxwell Social’s weekly magazine on the intersection of community and society — an anthropological look at the underpinnings of what makes the world tick, written by David Litwak (@dlitwak) and the Maxwell team.

Clubhouse is the cool kid on the block right now. It launched last year with 5,000 handpicked Twitter influencers and Hollywood celebrity beta users, and I’ve wondered for a while if what was an admittedly brilliant launch and use of the velvet rope effect had staying power or if they were simply mistaking exclusivity for product market fit like SoulCycle had before it.

When I was let in with the rest of the hoi polloi a few weeks ago I formed a pretty quick opinion:

But my opinion has moderated, and we’re jumping in head first to experiment as I think there is a decent chance Clubhouse has staying power.

Mark Emil Hermansen of Empirical (empirical.co) and I are going to be starting a clubhouse radio hour we're calling The SupperClub on Clubhouse -- a weekly dinner table conversation with the people constructing & deconstructing new systems in community, social, food, drinks, fitness & hospitality. We’d love to have you, and the event invite is here.

So . . . what changed? Does Clubhouse have staying power? Is there a there there or is Clubhouse all hype? I’ve come to believe that Clubhouse as an exclusive platform was indeed a marketing gimmick, but one that disguised a clever strategy to create a more participatory version of podcasting — a reinvention of call-in radio.

When I first heard about Clubhouse it was from a bunch of Silicon Valley thoughtbois (it’s like a fuckboi but they are promiscuous with the pithy hot takes) posting to Twitter about what happened on Clubhouse last night. It all seemed like one big humblebrag — congrats, you were invited, we weren’t.

Regardless of Clubhouse’s ultimate success, their launch will be written up as masterful — they understood which types of influencers they needed — it wasn’t Instagram influencers, it wasn’t Hollywood celebrities, it was the Blue Checkmark Brigade of Twitter influencers.

Twitter was the closest platform that already existed for people who were interested in actual discussion, which is what Clubhouse is supposedly geared towards. It’s not a surprise that Twitter quickly launched Twitter Spaces to imitate Clubhouse — you could argue that if Twitter didn’t have a part-time CEO maybe they would have thought of this themselves . . . and if you think about the industries obsessed with Twitter it is tech, news and politics, industries where opinion matters and people are constantly debating, and who have unsurprisingly embraced Clubhouse now.

If you’re going to launch a platform for audio first intellectual salons those are the types of people you want.

But the problem with intellectual salons is I’ve never attended one that I didn’t come away from rolling my eyes — there is always the guy who asks the question that’s really meant to show how smart he is. There is always the guy who plays devil’s advocate to everything. It can’t help but attract groups of people who would definitely have an “Enthralling My Fucking Audience” profile picture.

I’ve witnessed similar problems with Clubhouse.

And I thought that while the launch was masterful, well, the “I just had a conversation with Ben Horowitz!” reviews would quickly become unsustainable as it grew past those initial 5,000 members — as a student of every type of “club” out there, I didn’t see how there was any plan whatsoever to keep that special sauce as it scaled.

But I’ve had at least a moderate change of heart.

When it came to the intellectual masturbation problem, I started to view Clubhouse as no different than any other social media platform in that, yes, it’s an issue, even Clubhouse boosters have admitted that often conversations devolve to essentially be conversations about Clubhouse. But Twitter has its fake wisdom hot takes (see Stew Fortier’s 7 Ways To Be Insufferable On Twitter), Instagram has its thirst trap influencer awfulness . . . in a weird way if there is some annoying part of human nature a platform helps amplify it’s almost a sign that it’s resonating with a key human need.

But my bigger transformation was starting to view Clubhouse less through the lens of an actual Clubhouse.

It’s easy to get tripped up on the exclusivity part as “look at this cool new thing you can’t access,” was the gist of most news articles covering it. And the name doesn’t help, a Clubhouse is exclusive by definition, inviting the criticism of “what happens when it’s NOT exclusive anymore.”

But I’ve come to view that as the wrong way to look at the phenomena.

Clubhouse is Call-In Radio 2.0

Gradually, I’ve started viewing it more through the lens of podcasting instead of the lens of an exclusive curated community. Instead of asking myself “once this scales past 5,000 members and it isn’t Tiffany Hadish in every room you join will it last” I started asking myself “is this an improvement on the existing audio experience most of us engage in.”

And that existing experience is podcasting.

I’ve run a podcast in the travel industry for 2 years, and sometimes I’ll meet people who are dedicated listeners, who are high powered execs who I’d definitely want to form a relationship with, who I had no idea were listening.

Yes, I could find a way of getting them on a newsletter distribution of some sort if my marketing was better, but that’s exactly it, I need to assemble an entire marketing stack to know who the hell is listening to the content I’ve been producing.

Clubhouse solves that, and it solves it by making it more participatory.

Ironically, as it grows, and there are more people in a room (the limit is 5,000), the intellectual masturbation problem might actually solve itself as all but the most narcissistic will temper their unnecessary urges to chime in, and it becomes more like a podcast where you can raise your hand and ask a question, which reminds me of call-in radio shows where the host would take questions everyday.

Podcasts were always billed as the next generation of radio, and now we’ve come full-circle and added back in the participatory, real-time element.

I still have my doubts about just HOW big this can get — unlike Twitter, which can take a few seconds or minutes to compose a tweet and then the text is out there, doing the work for you, Clubhouse requires your constant presence on the platform.

Because of that there might be a negative selection bias — if you have a ton of time to spend on Clubhouse every night to gain followers, you might not be the type of interesting person we actually want to hear from . . .

But if you consider that Spotify bought ONE podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, for $100M, and podcasting in general has exploded, you can see how it could get pretty big.

I can see a future where Clubhouse influencers host regular well attended call-in radio hours, where what constitutes a “show” evolves a little more structure but the culture around audio changes and becomes more participatory, making it ok to put out something a bit more ad-hoc, last minute, unedited, real time, and growing the market substantially.

And unlike SoulCycle, Clubhouse doesn’t actually seem to have fallen for its own hype and mistaken exclusivity for a good product, they seem to understand that the people who logged in to check it out because it was the thing they couldn’t get into before wouldn’t necessarily stay unless there was real value, and seem to be working hard to deliver.

So we’re giving it a go, join us today!

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And check out some of our deeper dinner discussions like why Soho House has had trouble scaling its community (and why we think miniclubs are the future)Possibility-As-A-Product: Superbad, Clubhouse & the Inciting IncidentGatekeepers & The WingInclusive Exclusivity, Sofar Sounds & Self-Cancelling Greek LifeFord Bronco, Blockbuster & Nostalgia Porn For A Simpler World and Amsterdam’s Radical Anarchist White Bikes & Community Hobbyists.

Have a great rest of the week!

David (@dlitwak) & The Maxwell Team