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What To Know About The New, Controversial Audio-Only App, Clubhouse


Clubhouse is the new invite-only app that Silicon Valley says is the future of social media. Millions have downloaded it recently, including celebrities, famous musicians and tech CEOs. What's all the hype about? NPR's Bobby Allyn looked into it.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Oprah Winfrey, Drake, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and even the White House chief of staff have all signed up. And so have Atlanta rappers, comedians, relationship gurus and endless people with a hot take. It's starting to feel like everyone is on Clubhouse.

YVETTE WOHN: People are so exhausted with Zoom. When you have a camera, there's a lot of effort that goes into self-presentation.

ALLYN: Clubhouse is audio-only. That's part of the appeal, says Yvette Wohn. She's a professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

WOHN: But when you only have audio, you eliminate everything except for your voice. And so it provides a lot more room for imagination.

ALLYN: The power of audio, something NPR learned 50 years ago. On Clubhouse, though, scroll through and you'll find people you know and strangers holding court on all kinds of conversations. Tech analyst Jeremiah Owyang was one of the first to sign up.

JEREMIAH OWYANG: Just at serendipity and that pleasure of not knowing what's next.

ALLYN: Sounds great, but so many of the unfiltered, unedited, hours-long chats can be mind-numbingly dull or feel like a rambling TED talk. Here are some recent discussion topics. Are you an influencer because you call yourself one? Are humans naturally good? And this one was especially riveting - focus on your mindset and manifest your future. Now, Kat Cole (ph) loves this. She's a former branding executive who now spends hours every day on Clubhouse.

KAT COLE: I host a weekly room called Office Hours (ph), workshopping just tough decisions in life and business and focus really on leadership, people decisions.

ALLYN: It's almost as if your LinkedIn could talk. Sound good to you? Well, it sounds good to the more than 2 million people who have downloaded the app recently. Driving the buzz is this techie country club vibe. You need an in to get on the app. And once there, there are privacy rules. You can't record or even transcribe conversations. They happen and - poof - they're gone - but not really. Surprising no one, people break rules. Here's Owyang.

OWYANG: You should always own your words and assume that the bigger public could be listening. It's possible that content could be recorded in that room.

ALLYN: Unlike other social media, it's easy for moderators to boot trolls or block others from joining. Controversy erupted recently when a venture capitalist blocked a journalist from coming into Elon Musk's room. The audio leaked anyway.


SRIRAM KRISHNAN: I hope you had a fun time for your first time on Clubhouse. Did you have fun?

ELON MUSK: Yeah, it's great. This is awesome. I didn't even know it existed a week ago. So it seems cool.

KRISHNAN: Awesome. So would you come back?

MUSK: Yeah.

ALLYN: Musk sounds reluctant, but today he tweeted he's planning a Clubhouse with Kanye West. In China, people say the government's already blocked the app. But in the U.S., tech companies are taking note and rushing to build Clubhouse clones. Owyang has been counting.

OWYANG: Right now, there's over 25 companies and more in my inbox. I estimate there'll be over 100 social audio companies by the end of the year.

ALLYN: Including Twitter and, reportedly coming soon, something from Facebook. The big question now, though, is, are these audio chatrooms a pandemic hobby, or will people want an app for spontaneous conversations when there are more things to do out in the world?

Bobby Allyn, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.