The Airchat hype: but wait, what happened to Clubhouse?

A brief read on the rise, fall, and attempted comeback of the once viral voice-only social media app — Clubhouse.

What happened to the once viral voice-only social media app — Clubhouse?

Angel List founder Naval Ravikant and former Tinder executive Brian Norgard recently re-launched their voice-centric social media app, Airchat. I am perhaps amongst the laggards here who still have little to no idea what this new app is about.

However, hearing about Airchat did make me recall about another “voice-centric social media app” — remember Clubhouse?

The two apps might be completely different for all I know but getting bored and randomly curious on a sick day I decided to distract myself by putting my mind to finding out .

What happened to Clubhouse?

Quick Recap

Paul Davison and Rohan Seth launched Clubhouse in April 2020. The timing couldn’t have been better. The pandemic had just struck and people struck at home sought new forms of socialising that went beyond Twitter, and Instagram. They kept this social media platform voice-only.


They didn’t want people to worry about their appearances like how they would on Zoom or other social media apps like Instagram, and Facebook. They wanted people to connect and engage with others in real time.

There was more. The app was invite-only and for the first year, it was made available only on iOS.

Going Viral

Within the initial months of launch, the app spread like wildfire gaining immense popularity and attracting celebrities, influencers and tech moguls globally. You could soon find Elon Musk talking about colonising Mars and Oprah sharing interview tips in Clubhouse rooms.

A Clubhouse room where Musk talked about colonising Mars and the road ahead for vaccines

In Feb 2021, Musk broke the record for the maximum participants in a Clubhouse room with more than 5,000 people joining his room.

Mark Zuckerberg, Kevin Hart, Chris name it. Some of the most popular celebrities, influencers and tech moguls on the planet were starting to host rooms on Clubhouse, getting millions of people to download the app in the process.

Who knows? Had this lasted longer, we might have even had Putin hosting a room in Clubhouse.

Musk inviting Putin for a chat on Clubhouse

This celebrity factor combined with the exclusivity around the app due to its invite-only model of the app created an allure about the app that made it “cool” to be on Clubhouse.

In early 2021, Clubhouse closed a Series C funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz that valued the company at over $4 Billion.

By June 2021, Clubhouse had 17 million monthly active users. It became the fastest-growing social media app of its time.

And then almost as quickly as they had joined….people started to leave.

The Fall

In June 2021, Clubhouse's growth peaked at 17 million monthly active users

Just 6 months after reaching peak growth, Clubhouse lost 80% of its users.

From being the fastest-growing social media app in history, Clubhouse just as quickly became the fastest-failing social media app of its time.

Twitter Spaces, which was Twitter’s (now rebranded to “X”) entry into the voice-only social media space not only caught up with Clubhouse but went on to take over the audio-only space.

So, what happened?

According to a poll conducted by Business Insider, over 80% of people voted that they believed Clubhouse was a “pandemic fad” and that they have stopped using the app.

The reality of what was happening with the company’s monthly active users numbers aligns well with the poll results.

I was one of the users who left Clubhouse back then. So were many of my friends and I’m sure yours too. If you ask any of them why they left the app, you would probably here one of these responses:

  • “They grew too fast.”
  • “They couldn’t moderate their content well.”
  • “Twitter launched Spaces and Instagram launched Instagram Live so they got killed.
  • It was a feature, not a product.”

Perhaps all these reasons have a degree of truth to them. The real reasons though, may go a bit deeper.

#1 — Less isn’t always more

Paul Davison on the mindset of the company back in an interview with Emily Chang of Bloomberg

There’s something Clubhouse CEO and founder Paul Davison said in an interview to Emily Chang of Bloomberg that nicely sums up the mentality of the company and its founders back then.

“In the past, we’ve seen that when a new medium emerges it’s usually a company that is fully focussed on that medium that ends up becoming the category leader.

For text we had Twitter. For photos we had Instagram. For video we had YouTube. We think with social audio it’ll be similar where being able to focus solely on that medium is going to be a really big benefit”. —

– Paul Davison, Clubhouse CEO

So was that philosophy wrong?

With the benefit of hindsight, YES. The live audio feature did make the platform unique. However, as time went on, it became apparent that there’s so much you can’t do on the platform.

You can’t share photos/videos, can’t post text updates and can’t send private messages to other users.

Twitter has photos, videos, text posts, DMs, polls, and hashtags besides Twitter Spaces. Spotify has music, podcasts and playlists — all of which you can listen to on a loop. Instagram has photos, stories and reels apart from Live (audio + video). All of this leads to one simple question.

Why will the average Joe use Clubhouse?

#2 — It’s hard to listen to a tech mogul talk about space exploration for 1 hour for the average Joe

Was the content on Clubhouse truly engaging?

I still remember getting bored listening to a Clubhouse conversation and scrolling on Instagram or Twitter as I unintentionally zoned out of the conversation happening in the Clubhouse room.

It’s hard to listen to more than 1 hour of unedited, not moderated conversation on a super serious topic day in and day out.

For a content creator on Clubhouse, it’s harder still to come up with 1 hour's worth of engaging content daily that keeps people hooked and doesn’t give them the feeling that it’s scripted. It comes back to that same age-old question.

Why will the average Joe use Clubhouse?

#3 — A haven for hate speeches?

One of the most infamous Clubhouse rooms ever started was a room called “Is Kevin Hart funny??”

The topic of discussion was a particular line that Hart said in his Netflix comedy special called “Zero F***s Given” in which at one point he jokes about his 15-year-old daughter, saying he’s already seeing “hoe activity” from her.

Kevin Hart performing in his Netflix comedy special, “Zero F****s Given”

Funny? Or vulgar?

You decide. What ended up happening though was that a couple of folks on Clubhouse decided to have a debate on whether Kevin Hart, wittingly or unwittingly was promoting the degradation of Black women.

Kevin caught wind of the Clubhouse chat room and joined himself — and part of that conversation was captured by a third party and posted online. It looks like this thing went at least 15 minutes, if not more, and there are a lot of voices in the room … sometimes all talking at once or over one another at various points.

Hart tweets about his experience on Clubhouse discussing the controversial line in Netflix’s “Zero F***s Given”

You can listen to the conversation for yourself and decide what’s what, but it seems like Kevin liked talking it out with people … but just didn’t enjoy the analysis that followed — much of which was critical of him and his supporters.

Either way, the damage to Clubhouse’s reputation was done.

There were other social issues the app was criticised for not tackling well. Many complained of Clubhouse increasingly becoming a platform for spreading anti-Semitism.

Clubhouse started getting a notorious reputation of becoming a haven for anti-Semitism

In India, it started becoming common to hear or read about police arrests around Clubhouse rooms and hate comments about Muslims, women and minorities.

#4 — Fake profiles, scams and sex chat rooms

MC Hammer kicks out “Elon Musk”

For all the exclusivity that Clubhouse had going for it, there was no concept of “Verified user” for most of the app’s history. Anyone with an invite could create a profile and say whatever they wanted in any room.

For instance, MC Hammer hosted a Clubhouse room once with his fans and famously kicked out Elon Musk. wasn’t the real Musk.

What happened once the Android app launched and millions of more users joined Clubhouse leaves little to the imagination.

Scams and sex chat rooms

When I first joined Clubhouse, this is how my feed generally looked

How my Clubhouse feed looked in 2021

By the time I gave up on Clubhouse and uninstalled the app, this is how it changed

How my Clubhouse feed looked in 2022, by when most people had exited the app

Open access to the app for all, no proper moderation and easy ways to make fake profiles led to my feed and those of others around me becoming flooded with pretty much stupid topics and sex chat rooms.

It was no wonder then that by early 2023, the company had lost most more than 80% of its users and was now down to 2 million monthly active users.

I was long under the impression that Clubhouse must be shut by now after fading from public discourse just as quickly as it arrived.

I was wrong.

“It ain’t over till it’s over” — Rocky Balboa

Clubhouse 2.0

In 2023, the company made two big announcements

#1 — In April last year the management laid off more than half of its workforce acknowledging that the company needs to find a new vision for which they need a leaner team.

Paul Davison announcing that Clubhouse is letting go of more than half of its workforce

#2 — Paul Davison announced that they have launched the “New Clubhouse”. Here’s a snippet from his blog describing the repositioning.

A snippet from the release blog post from Clubhouse CEO, Paul Davison

Rebranding itself as a messaging app

The company promotes that the new Clubhouse isn’t for listening to or talking to strangers. It’s for you to connect with your friends and dear ones.

It’s betting big on one feature to do this — Group voice chats. Send asynchronous voice messages to your friends and family and they would appear in a format like Instagram stories.

The company acknowledges, that many times people will not be in situations where they can send voice messages to each other so it is betting on their AI-re-created text-to-voice functionality.

In a blog post, the company said that this feature still retains the feeling of being in a real-time chat with a friend.

“Imagine you text a friend, but on the other end, they hear your words as if you said them. Your custom voice makes talking and typing or reading and listening all feel seamless so you never lose that feeling of being in a live conversation,” the company said.

Here’s how it works

(i) Train your custom voice
(ii)) Type out your message. (iii) Your friend will receive a voice not in your voice

Clubhouse has been confident in its claim that its AI can recreate your voice to a level very close to your original voice. However, the company did say that their AI can’t recreate your laughter well

So maybe don’t type “hahaha”?

So, is Clubhouse making a comeback?

Well — at least not yet. The app was downloaded only 3 million times last year, and its monthly active numbers have dipped by 93% compared to its peak in June 2021.

What’s more interesting is what’s brewing outside the Clubhouse offices though.

In 2023, Apple released Personal Voice — a feature which creates a voice that sounds just like you. Earlier this year, X announced that it had added live video functionality to Spaces. You can simply enable video when using the Spaces feature if you want.

Now, where have we seen this story before?

The Airchat hype: but wait, what happened to Clubhouse? was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.






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