Downloads of the buzzy chat app dipped in the spring as pandemic lockdowns were lifted and new competition emerged, according to the data and analytics firm Sensor Tower. Major tech companies started similar audio platforms: Twitter rolled out Spaces, Facebook made an audio chat feature and Spotify introduced one called Greenroom. And some communities, like those focused on gaming and NFTs, gravitated to more established chat platforms like Discord, which offers audio features. The heated competition among so-called social audio companies raises questions about whether Clubhouse can remain the dominant platform for live conversation while the firm and its imitators figure out how they will keep up with the moderation challenges that audio discussions present.
The social audio boom is reminiscent of Snapchat’s battle in 2016 against Facebook. Facebook copied Snapchat’s Stories feature, which allowed users to post photos that disappeared after 24 hours, and pasted the feature into its Instagram app. Snapchat’s growth faltered after Instagram introduced stories, and other social media services quickly added their own stories features.
Clubhouse faces similar challenges as it tries to edge out the competition. It might follow Snapchat’s path, eventually fending off the tech giants and cementing its position among the top social media apps. Or it might get squashed by them. “More people getting into social audio is good for social audio,” Maya Watson, Clubhouse’s head of global marketing, said in an interview. “We’re not bothered by it, and, if anything, it makes us feel confident in where we’re going.” At the start of the year, Clubhouse was booming. In February, the app was downloaded 9.6 mn times, Sensor Tower said. A spokeswoman for Clubhouse disputed the accuracy of Sensor Tower’s metrics, which estimate user behavior, but said the company would not provide internal figures.
The app caught the attention of audio creators like Brian McCullough, who hosts a podcast for the news aggregator Techmeme, called “Techmeme Ride Home.” “I remember having conversations that were the best social media has been in 10 years,” McCullough said of his early days on Clubhouse.
Through the app, he connected with Chris Messina, who leads West Coast business development for Republic, a platform that allows companies to raise capital and unaccredited investors to invest in start-ups. Messina made a habit of recording snippets of McCullough’s show and playing them in Clubhouse so he could respond to them, and the pair decided to start making the podcast together. But in March, Clubhouse experienced a slump as downloads slipped to 2.7 million, and in April the app was downloaded just 917,000 times, Sensor Tower said.
At the same time, Twitter was aggressively expanding Spaces. It began testing the feature in October 2020 and granted access to a broader swath of users in the spring. At the time, the development of Spaces was the top consumer product priority at the company, said a person familiar with the company’s plans who was not permitted to speak publicly about them. That work appeared to pay off. By May, Spaces had more than one million users, that person said. The Washington Post previously reported the figure.
But other audio creators say Clubhouse is uniquely focused on social audio, so the product and community are better than those on platforms that split their attention among many features. They also argue that Clubhouse remains a venue to discuss emerging trends before they hit the mainstream.
Kate Conger is a journalist with NYT©2021
The New York Times