Watching Clubhouse Get Built in Real-Time

There’s something special about being an early adopter. There are obviously painful things like capacity limits and features that don’t work quite right. But the wonderful thing, if it’s done right, is that the community and the founders work together to build something magical.

That’s the feeling on Clubhouse now. I’ve been playing around with the platform for a week. I’ve been in these unfiltered rooms with Joe Rogan, Marc Andresson, and Guy Raz. The rooms are currently capped at 8,000 users because of platform constraints. Back when I started on the platform last week is was 5,000 users. Then 7,000 users. Then, on Friday night when I joined the Joe Rogan Room (which maxed out at 7,000 users on Joe’s first day), and Paul Davison, one of the founders of Clubhouse, said, “Oh, during this call it looks like we’ve raised the limit to 8,000 users.”

There’s been a lot happening on Clubhouse in the last week. Marc Andresson seems to be on constantly. His VC firm a16z is a backer. I even saw him in a Torah Study room with Rabbi David Wolpe, which I’m puzzled about because I don’t think Andresson is Jewish. I learned that he pronounces Jeff Bezos’s name wrong, saying Bee-zos instead Bay-zos. I was in another room when Lev Fridman started talking about wanting to moderate a conversation between Elon Musk and Vladimir Putin on Clubhouse. It’s not such a crazy idea because Fridman, an AI researcher at MIT who speaks fluent Russian and English, has already hosted a podcast with Musk.

But the best thing at Clubhouse is how the founders work with the community to build the platform. The founders host a Town Hall on Sundays at Noon Eastern and Wednesdays at 9 PM. As small company, they need to relentlessly prioritize and focus on a few key features. So they’re prioritizing things like Direct Messaging because people are currently using “backchannel” apps to coordinate. At last week’s Town Hall, someone asked about anonymous browsing, where you could enter rooms and your boss wouldn’t get notified. Paul was excited at this use case that he hadn’t thought about.  

I love that I can hear from the founders what they’re not planning on doing right now. Joe Rogan asked Paul when Clubhouse would add video and Virtual Reality. As it turns out, there’s no plan for that. Clubhouse is meant to be used in the background, as something that you can listen to while you’re doing the laundry. VR is the exact opposite of this—a totally immersive experience where you can’t do anything else. What about recording? It seems like a no-brainer for Clubhouse to become a podcast creation platform. However, adding a recording feature to the platform would change the nature of these ephemeral conversations. So Paul is putting that one on hold for now.

This has been a crazy week for me and my obsession with Clubhouse. It’s a platform that specializes in FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) because there are constant alerts that say, “There’s this awesome conversation going on right now. If you don’t join right now, you’ll miss it forever.” And while Paul talks a lot about using Clubhouse to make use of “found time” when doing something else, many people find that they no longer have any quiet time to think. For me, in the coming weeks and months, I’ll enjoy watching how the founders and the community define this new and engaging platform, but I know I’ll have to work on my FOMO.

Note: After I wrote this, Steven Levy wrote The Buzzy, Chatty, Out-of-Control Rise of Clubhouse in Wired. I also found out that Clubhouse uses member photos for its icon. The one at the top of the post is Axel Mansoor.