Remember Clubhouse, that buzzy, audio-centric social app that everyone was clamoring to join when they needed an invite to do so, but then lost interest in as soon as the invite-only restriction was lifted?
Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration on the drop-off interest, but there has been a pretty clear decline in mentions of the app in recent times.
But for those who are still keen on the app, Clubhouse has this week added a new functionality which leans into a different use case for the platform, in facilitating spontaneous social hang-outs and meet-ups among friends.
There are over 700k rooms opened every day on Clubhouse. Yes, that includes the big moments you see in the news — but it’s also lots of lovely, small rooms between friends.
So we built a new feature to make those casual chats even easier! Say hello to Wave ???? pic.twitter.com/3A24CBbAxW
— Clubhouse (@Clubhouse) September 23, 2021
As you can see in this video overview, Clubhouse has added a new ‘Wave’ option, which enables you to signal to your connections when you’re active in the app, and open for a chat. If they’re interested, you can then start a smaller, private room – a broom closet, if that’s not stretching the metaphor too much – where just you and your friends can hang out, away from the more topic-focused discussions in the main rooms.
As explained by Clubhouse:
“Here on Clubhouse, more than 700,000 rooms are created every single day. Many of these are the communal moments that you know and love, but it’s often the smaller private moments amongst friends that put smiles on faces: birthdays, long-overdue catch-ups, watching a movie long-distance, making plans for the weekend, or just hanging out on a Thursday night.”
The Wave option caters to these use cases, which, much like live-streaming before it, sees audio social now expanding into more private chats and hang-outs, providing another way to stay in touch with friends, at any time – which could be perfect for our still lockdown-limited interactions.
A similar template, in this case, is Houseparty, which gained significant traction a few years back as a live-stream hangout tool for younger users.
While the main focus of live-streaming, in general, was broadcasting yourself, Houseparty took a different approach, which quickly caught on, with the app racing to 20 million users shortly after launch, while it had more than 1.2 million daily actives after just 8 months on the market.
That caught the attention of Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, which purchased Houseparty in 2019, with a view to making it the complementary platform for Fortnite players who also wanted to hang out virtually – to see their teammates, as opposed to just hearing them.
That particular use case never caught on, and Epic recently announced that it will be shutting Houseparty down permanently in October. But for a time, Houseparty had tuned into a key trend for streaming that others had missed, in connecting smaller groups, as opposed to public broadcasting, and facilitating casual meet-ups with friends who were up for hanging out at any given time.
Given that use case, it makes sense for Clubhouse to explore the same, and you can see how the option could be of benefit, adding more potential usage options to the app. And maybe, that will help it carve out a more specific niche, because while Clubhouse was the app of the moment a few months back, it clearly won’t be able to sustain its engagement momentum, and with competitors looking to muscle it out of the market, it’ll need to find a key niche – or maybe a few niches – to solidify its place in the broader social sphere.
Spontaneous hangouts could be a part of that, while Clubhouse is still gaining traction in markets outside the US, particularly India, where audio tools tend to facilitate more functionality due to varying barriers in written communication, as well as data restrictions that limit video usage.
So while it’s not the shiny new thing, and Twitter Spaces looks set to become the main audio social platform of choice, Clubhouse does still have various opportunities to explore – and it also recently hired former Instagram entertainment partnerships manager Chelsea Macdonald to help it drive more connections with established and emerging stars and creators.
In addition to this, Clubhouse is also working on new audio ‘Clips’ tool, which would provide another way to share clips from Clubhouse chats, which could be another way to build buzz and get more listeners to download the app.
Can Clubhouse still become a mainstay in the social media space, and a real challenger to the established players?
Maybe not in the sense that it may have seemed to some a few months back, but I see Clubhouse’s potential as more akin to Reddit, with dedicated, passionate, engaged communities connecting in the rooms, providing an alternate, more exclusive space for chats than the bigger social apps.
If Clubhouse can establish partnerships with relevant groups, and build on its potential as a more specialized, more focused community space, that seems like a more viable path, which won’t see the app reach billions of users, but will see it lay more solid foundations for ongoing usage.
Meta Launches New Legal Proceedings Against Data Scraping, Helping to Establish Precedent Around Misuse
Meta has launched two new legal actions against data scraping sites, which have extracted user data from both Instagram and Facebook for unauthorized use, while it’s also seen a new victory in its battle against platform misuse, with a court ruling in its favor in another case related to clone sites.
First off, on its new actions – Meta has launched legal proceedings against two companies that offer data scraping services, which illegally use people’s uploaded info for unintended purpose.
As explained by Meta:
“The first action is against a company called Octopus, a US subsidiary of a Chinese national high-tech enterprise that claims to have over one million customers. Octopus offers scraping services and access to software that customers can use to scrape any website. For a fee, Octopus customers can launch scraping attacks from its cloud-based platform or hire Octopus to scrape websites directly. Octopus offers to scrape data from Amazon, eBay, Twitter, Yelp, Google, Target, Walmart, Indeed, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.”
Meta says that Octopus’ system is able to extract data about people’s Facebook Friends ‘such as email address, phone number, gender and date of birth, as well as Instagram followers and engagement information, such as name, user profile URL, location and number of likes and comments per post’.
That’s information that users never intended to be utilized in this way, and Meta’s looking to establish clearer legal standing on this type of misuse.
The second company that Meta has launched legal action against is managed by a single operator in Turkey, and has been using automated Instagram accounts to scrape data from the profiles of over 350,000 Instagram users.
“These profiles were viewable to logged-in Instagram users. The Defendant published the scraped data on his own websites or “clone sites.” A clone site is a website that copies and displays Instagram profiles, posts and other information without authorization.”
Both seem like fairly clear-cut violations of Meta’s terms of service, but the legal technicalities of online data scraping are not so definitive, with LinkedIn currently engaged in a years-long battle over a similar data-scraping case, in which users’ publicly available LinkedIn info is being used to power an external employee database and recruitment site.
In the most recent finding in this case, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled that scraping data that’s publicly accessible on the internet isn’t in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, despite users not explicitly providing consent for their information to be utilized by third-party providers in this way.
That case will no doubt also be used in the defense against Meta’s latest legal actions – but as Meta outlines, there is a variance here in that the information gathered by these tools is not publicly accessible, as such, which is part of the reason why Meta has gradually locked down Facebook and Instagram data more and more over the years, giving the company more definitive legal grounding in any such misuse.
That could lead to a new legal precedent for such, which may not necessarily help in LinkedIn’s case – but then again, LinkedIn has also been moving to lock down more of its user data to combat the same, which could eventually see any ruling apply to all such cases.
Either way, the misuse of user data in this way is clearly a violation of privacy, as it’s taking people’s personal info without consent. One way or another, it seems that the laws around such need to be updated – and maybe, these new cases from Meta can advance the argument in this respect.
Which is what Meta’s been trying to do with its various legal cases against platform misuse. And recently, it had a victory, with a court ruling that another operator that had been scraping Instagram user data to fuel clone sites was guilty of misuse.
As per Meta:
“In 2020, we filed an action against a defendant scraping people’s publicly-visible information from Instagram in order to create a network of clone sites. This was a violation of our Terms of Service and we filed a lawsuit in order to protect our users. The Court recently issued a final judgment in our favor and found Defendant liable for scraping data from Instagram users and republishing it on his clones sites. The Defendant was ordered by the Court to pay over $200,000 and is banned from using Facebook or Instagram.”
Each ruling in Meta’s favor helps to establish clearer precedent, and as it continues to launch new legal proceedings in order to reiterate the significance of data scraping and misuse, that, ideally, will further build Meta’s broader case load to solidify legal standing.
Which will see more of this type of activity outlawed and penalized, and will ultimately disincentive fraud in the space. It takes time, as each case needs to go through the legal process (as per this recent ruling), but Meta continues to establish stronger foundations for future cases with every step.
Which is another way to evolve the laws around such, embedding rulings by proxy, which will help to address such as clear legal violations in future.
There’s a way to go, on several fronts, but Meta’s legal procedures help to build the foundations of law around these evolving forms of data misuse.
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