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.
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Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers
With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.
The coming metaverse shift will further complicate this, with the rise of virtual depictions blurring the lines of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already operating, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries on their application.
As explained by Meta:
“From synthesized versions of real people to wholly invented “virtual influencers” (VIs), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.”
At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that this is not an actual person, which makes such characters a great vehicle for brand and product promotions, as they can be utilized 24/7, and can be placed into any environment. But that also leads to concerns about body image perception, deepfakes, and other forms of misuse through false or unclear representation.
Deepfakes, in particular, may be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham, as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for varying purpose.
The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of just how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something that he or she actually didn’t, which could have significant real world impacts.
Which is why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries on such use – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such depictions.
“Imagine personalized video messages that address individual followers by name. Or celebrity brand ambassadors appearing as salespeople at local car dealerships. A famous athlete would make a great tutor for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.”
Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies are developed, with these platforms placing digital characters front and center, and establishing new norms for digital connection.
It would be better to know what’s real and what’s not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove dishonest depictions, and enforce transparency over VI use.
But then again, much of what you see on Instagram these days is not real, with filters and editing tools altering people’s appearance well beyond what’s normal, or realistic. That can also have damaging consequences, and while Meta’s looking to implement rules on VI use, there’s arguably a case for similar transparency in editing tools applied to posted videos and images as well.
That’s a more complex element, particularly as such tools also enable people to feel more comfortable in posting, which no doubt increases their in-app activity. Would Meta be willing to put more focus on this element if it could risk impacting user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health are pretty clear, with comparison being a key concern.
Should that also come under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?
It’s seemingly not included in the initial framework as yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the harmful effects that social media usage can have on young women.
But however you look at it, this is no doubt a rising element of concern, and it’s important for Meta to build guardrails and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their apps.
You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.
Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps
Meta has published a new set of safety tips for journalists to help them protect themselves in the evolving online connection space, which, for the most part, also apply to all users more broadly, providing a comprehensive overview of the various tools and processes that it has in place to help people avoid unwanted attention online.
The 32-page guide is available in 21 different languages, and provides detailed overviews of Meta’s systems and profile options for protection and security, with specific sections covering Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The guide begins with the basics, including password protections and enabling two-factor authentication.
It also outlines tips for Page managers in securing their business profiles, while there are also notes on what to do if you’ve been hacked, advice for protection on Messenger and guidance on bullying and harassment.
For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.
While for WhatsApp, there are explainers on how to delete messages, how to remove messages from group chats, and details on platform-specific data options.
There are also links to various additional resource guides and tools for more context, providing in-depth breakdowns of when and how to action the various options.
It’s a handy guide, and while there are some journalist-specific elements included, most of the tips do apply to any user, so it could well be a valuable resource for anyone looking to get a better handle on your various privacy tools and options.
Definitely worth knowing either way – you can download the full guide here.
Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with relatives of slain commander Qasem Soleimani ahead of the second anniverary of his death in a US drone strike in Iraq – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Tom Brenner
Twitter said Saturday it had permanently suspended an account linked to Iran’s supreme leader that posted a video calling for revenge for a top general’s assassination against former US president Donald Trump.
“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.
The account, @KhameneiSite, this week posted an animated video showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump, who ordered a drone strike in Baghdad two years ago that killed top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s main accounts in various languages remain active. Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.
The recent video, titled “Revenge is Definite”, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.
According to Twitter, the company’s top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.
The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.
As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani was the architect of its strategy in the Middle East.
He and his Iraqi lieutenant were killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.
Khamenei has repeatedly promised to avenge his death.
On January 3, the second anniversary of the strike, the supreme leader and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi once again threatened the US with revenge.
Trump’s supporters regularly denounce the banning of the Republican billionaire from Twitter, underscoring that accounts of several leaders considered authoritarian by the United States are allowed to post on the platform.
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