Tech

Clubhouse is finally available to all as it drops invite system

The social audio app spent 16 months in an invite-only beta, though it wasn't hard to find someone who could get you in.

Clubhouse Drop-in audio chat app logo on the App Store is seen displayed on a phone screen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on April 6, 2021.  (Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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After 16 months in an invite-only beta, Clubhouse is now available to everyone. The social audio app was able to exploit the scarcity principle to generate demand; you wanted an invite because you were getting into something exclusive.

But today, Clubhouse faces an onslaught of competition from major tech companies including Twitter, which already offers its near-identical Spaces feature to all users. If the small upstart wants to continue growing, it needs to be easy enough to join.

A big COVID winner — Clubhouse for its part says the invite-only period allowed it to grow at a measured pace, without the product breaking under demand (though outages still occurred). And the service certainly launched at the right time, right into a pandemic when everyone was forced to stay at home and stop seeing their friends in real life. On Clubhouse, users can move in and out of live audio chatrooms and have intimate discussions at any time, akin to chatting it up in a bar.

The service quickly rocketed past 10 million users and hosted conversations with major names including Drake and Elon Musk. Clubhouse has raised more than $100 million on the back of that growth and excitement.

Opening up to the public now might be too late, however. There’s skepticism that Clubhouse will be able to continue growing as lockdown restrictions are lifted around the world and people start heading outside again. Because conversations are live, you have to tune in, or else you’ll miss them. And conversations can easily continue for an hour or more — who has the time to stop and listen to that?

Even if you are going to listen to audio conversations, why not just do it on another platform where your networks reside, like Twitter? Live audio might just be a feature that lives in another app and that you use occasionally, but not an app you visit as a destination.

Can it keep users hooked? — Downloads of Clubhouse plummeted to 900,000 in April from a peak of 9 million in February and only resurged when an Android version was released. The company says that those users who are active, which number above 10 million, are quite active on the platform. Last week it released Backchannel, a DMs feature which it says has seen more than 90 million messages sent thus far.

Clubhouse’s singular focus on audio chats could help it succeed despite competition from larger players. It’s tried using weekly, company-hosted conversations to develop a strong community, and DMs is the first feature that might get people engaging in the app more as a true social network. But maybe social audio is just a fad and none of this will last.