What is Clubhouse and why is it catching fire? Could it be the next big thing in Malaysia too?

The social audio app Clubhouse is seen on a mobile phone in this illustration picture taken February 8, 2021. — Reuters pic
The social audio app Clubhouse is seen on a mobile phone in this illustration picture taken February 8, 2021. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 9 — Dubbed the next big thing in social media, the straight-out-of-the-Silicon Valley app called Clubhouse seems to have caught on in Malaysia as well over the past two weeks.

What’s intriguing is how this new networking platform is already benefiting many segments of society in this new Covid-19 era.

While some people are still struggling to get their heads around how to use the app (it can be overwhelming at the start), others are already hooked on it 24-7 during this movement control order (MCO) we all find ourselves in.

Founded by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth in March, 2020 this app was already valued at around US$100 million (RM405 million) despite just having 1,500 users at the time.

But today it has six million registered users to date, up from 600,000 in just December with over 180 organisations and venture capitalists investing in the app.

Clubhouse got a huge boost this month when South Africa-born American industrial engineer, Paypal co-founder and Tesla CEO Elon Musk hosted a discussion room with Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev.

The event maxed out the app conversation room limit and was live streamed to YouTube. It helped push Clubhouse to the top of the startup charts and sparked a scramble for invitations.

Last weekend many Malaysians were desperate to get invites to the “for now exclusive” app which is still in the rollout phase and only available to IOS users.

But what is it and how does it work?

It is basically an audio-based social media app which its makers describe as a new type of social product based on voice that allows people from every part of the world to talk, tell stories, develop ideas, deepen friendships and meet interesting new people.

Basically it’s networking but at a seamless fast pace with impeccable audio and no lags.

It's also just like a podcast-style conversation, except users can interact real time on it and have a two-way communication with the speakers and participants.

You can also know more about the participants' background within seconds by just clicking on their profile that appears in the discussion rooms and read their bios to help you decide if you want to connect with them

This app basically mimics real life interactions. You can jump in and out of different chats, on different subjects, in something akin to a “live”, free-flowing podcast. You can also choose to remain a silent observer.

In layman terms, this social app is like your Twitter, Zoom, Spotify and LinkedIn rolled into one.

The app can be running while you are using other apps on your phone. That’s what makes the app different. One of its main rules is no recording, you can’t video grab ongoing sessions and there are no save options for playbacks.

So who is on Clubhouse and what’s the buzz in Malaysia?

Other than celebrities, the app is seemingly focused on people it considers elite clientele: there are business start-ups, lawmakers or even just your random man on the street.

Over the weekend, lawmakers like Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Khairy Jamaluddin, Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari and Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil were heard engaging on the app.

In fact just last night, Amirudin was on the app answering questions about various issues like the Selangor water crisis. It was like a virtual press conference, where an ordinary person gets to ask a question and the mentri besar answers casually.

Could this be the new way for journalists to get stories as well? It’s early days but it certainly is worth keeping an eye out for developments. However, it is understood to do so journalists would need the permission of moderators even if the discussion is open to the public.

Industry players such as AirAsia’s Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Malaysian hip-hop artist and rapper Yogi B were popping into various discussions over the weekend and sharing their thoughts.

Last night there was also a discussion among Malaysians like Ahmad Izham Omar who is the Executive Director of Content & Creative of Disney and singer Dasha Logan talking about challenges in the entertainment industry in these Covid times.

It was quite a unique experience to see people from different backgrounds sharing their thoughts and experiences and offering advice to artistes on how they can move forward.

Apart from serious conversations, there were also light-hearted discussion groups such as Malaysians talking about the recent Chinese New Year celebration SOPs. There was even a totally bizarre and random discussion group titled, “What are you eating today Malaysia?”

What are the concerns though?

As with all social media platforms, some observers worry that it may be abused. As much as Clubhouse brings people together, it can also divide.

Some are concerned it may open the door to the spread of more hate speech and racism or fake news as some already claim discussion rooms are not moderated appropriately.

Concerns were raised about the app’s lack of safety protocols to monitor abuse such as hate speech. Many also hope this platform won’t turn out to be like Twitter which is quite toxic.

Should it be a paid app to ensure substance? Should moderators be accepted only after some sort of verification? Where do we draw the line between hate speech, misinformation and fake news?

This will most certainly continue to be the subject of some debate among Clubhouse’s makers, watchdogs, and regulators in the days to come.

And finally, how do you get an invite to Clubhouse?

You still cannot join Clubhouse without an invite. If you're an iPhone user, you can download the app and reserve a username till an existing user who can nominate two people decides to extend you an invitation.

But the app apparently plans to expand to the general public soon. It says it hasn't done that yet for two reasons; it wants to build a community slowly and prepare features that will help it handle larger numbers of people on the app.

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