Several tech companies are lining up to kill off Clubhouse

1 Apr 2021582 Views

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Imitation may not be so flattering for the live audio social media app, as everyone from Slack to Facebook wants to upend it.

Stewart Butterfield wasn’t exactly shy about where he is drawing influence from for Slack’s next feature.

The chief executive of the work messaging platform, speaking on Clubhouse, said Slack would roll out its own Clubhouse-like live audio features where colleagues could join discussions with each other.

In the same week where Spotify acquired a start-up called Betty Labs, which is behind the Locker Room app, to fuel its own efforts, everyone seems keen to do Clubhouse better than Clubhouse.

The app has exploded in popularity in recent months. Its live audio-only chat rooms allow users to host conversations with guests that people can drop in and out of. Some celebrities have flocked to the app, but it has proven a frequent meeting point for VCs and tech executives to talk about the tech industry, the media, or politicians they don’t like.

Backed by Andreessen Horowitz and with a reported valuation of $1bn, the company behind the app is just over a year old and its rapid growth appears to represent a ‘pivot to audio’, with more companies seeing a big opportunity in audio-only social networking.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but Clubhouse is now staring down a serious threat from much bigger companies with larger user bases that they can draw into their own live audio broadcasts.

Rivals assemble

While Spotify and Slack are the latest to throw their hats in the ring, Twitter was quick off the mark with its roll-out of Spaces – a new live audio feature that it began testing in December. It remains to be seen how much traction these audio chat rooms will garner, but with the Android version emerging on Twitter in recent days, it may see more users soon.

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Encrypted messaging app Telegram has updated its own audio-sharing features to allow channels to host voice chats, and this week Discord, the messaging platform that’s the subject of Microsoft acquisition speculation, introduced its own live audio chat rooms. Stage Channels has been rolled out on both desktop and mobile for Discord users.

Elsewhere Microsoft-owned LinkedIn has its own Clubhouse-but-it’s-your-CV feature in the works. Imagine ‘thought leadership’ posts but in audio form.

Tech investor Mark Cuban is launching his own audio app called Fireside that’s in iOS beta testing.

And of course, Facebook is working on something too. The roll call keeps getting longer.

Similar to the way that ‘stories’ were popularised by Snapchat, before being adopted by Instagram and seemingly every other social network, live audio sessions appear primed to be the next default feature for social media.

It’s difficult to grasp just how much steam these audio apps will gather and maintain. One theory behind Clubhouse’s success to date has been the fact that most people are stuck at home and willing to try new social media services.

Other than VCs, will everyone be flocking to Clubhouse when real-life social spaces are open again? Time will tell.

Updated, 6.15pm, 6 April 2020: A previous version of this article stated that Telegram’s latest update enabled more group conversations. This was updated to clarify that most recent update allows channels (a one-way broadcast to an unlimited number of subscribers) to host voice chats. Groups have been able to host voice chats since the company’s update last December.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin

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