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It has often been said that American journalists report too from often where the shells are fired and not enough where they land. Well, this pub is all about the unleashing of rising markets bottom up, that will redefine global society and economic order for the coming century on their own terms.
By now you have heard about, and hopefully have joined, Clubhouse. This astounding audio app is one part live podcast, one part talk radio, huge part ways of people to meet, connect and discuss in a host of global fora. For these parts of the world where voice and agency can be checked, it has been a particular revolution.
I just sat in on a room, in fact hosted by Rest of World, on how Clubhouse is viewed across the globe. Journalists Andrew Deck and Sultan Quadri wrote a riveting piece on it here which was a basis for the lively discussion.
Some of my takeaways:
Social Media will always attract fame-seekers. Like all social media there are certainly future “stars” looking to build their reputations and following in a new platform. In Japan it appears that a whole set of influential wannabes with a couple of thousand followers on Twitter are thrilled to already have 30,000 followers on Clubhouse. Similarly some people are playing the follow/be-followed game to build up these numbers and don’t even show up in rooms.
But the essence for already millions is the sense of deep connection and trust formed in local language and cultural connectivity. Jane Manchun Wong has become a significant ambassador in Hong Kong - claims to be the first Clubhouse member there, having started in April and later created the first 24-hour Cantonese speaking room. Others sprang up, often built by people in Hong Kong but also from around the globe - and powerful connectedness came from these rooms and people who might not have otherwise met finding each other in hallways. Similarly Mandarin speakers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, the US and more created rare spaces of cross border and cross cultural dialogue. Any issue can be discussed from the personal to the societal, but most often when sensitive conversation is open and respectful.
Bridging cultural connectivity also means bringing together people who do not normally or regularly interact. This could mean diaspora more regularly connecting at home, or people from cities speaking with folks from rural communities or different economic backgrounds participating in the same conversation. Some Ghanaians have taken it upon themselves to open various rooms, and have created shifts among themselves to ensure they are active 24/7. They bridge communities at home and across the US and Europe, people who rarely have a chance to connect. They have hosted respected athletes, musical artists, and even forward-thinking politicians who want to communicate openly. These rooms now have over 20,000 active participants in a matter of weeks. There are five separate rooms focused on indigenous languages in order to be inclusive and also help those wanting to strengthen language skills. They know that a big city like Accra can dominate - in terms of the main languages spoken there and in relative tech skill and comfort level. To these organizers, however, it is essential that every ethnic group from any part of the country is comfortable and find these rooms as genuine. People want to hear their language; hear about issues they care about. The result, Ghanaians are regularly staying engaged as much as four hours a day on weekends and two hours during the week.
Bridging cultural connectivity also means making safe environments to talk about personal and even once taboo subjects. One woman from Saudi noted that her country is a very private society where discourse occurs but in small private bubbles. There are few forums for public debate or even conversation. Conversations from mundane to political are now wide open on Clubhouse. Rooms about sex education, the social ramifications of women in the work place, commentary on significant figures like a woman recently released from prison are all fair game. Some rooms shut down quickly as members who become upset have threatened to screen shot participants and put it on their social media. But, as one participant noted, “The fact is the room was there. This is a hugely diverse platform.” Others noted that Saudis instinctively know where many lines are and also believe in light of government agenda to open more to innovation and tech and more open engagement generally this can be a good and even acceptable forum of engagement. Particularly interesting is respectful discourse among and between men and woman. They will talk about economics, feminism, me-too issues bluntly and often for the first time. “Club House is a melting pot of people,” one woman observed, “who never had an opportunity to speak with each other before.”
Hopes for future releases of Clubhouse were clearly articulated also:
Clubhouse is IOS only, and while this will change folks are concerned not soon enough. Some argued that as 96% of Indian smart phone users are on Android, this will instigate local entrepreneurs to leap ahead and create local competitors. Others noted that is what everyone expected to happen when Tik Tok came to India, and it hasn’t happened yet.
While the vast majority of conversations have remained civil and respectful all felt to continue building trust and safety Clubhouse must invest in greater moderation. Sometimes there is harassment and trolling and even moments of racism. They want tools to deal with this and noted that the Chinese competitors have taken this more seriously earlier. All noted that as Clubhouse is only a couple of dozen employees this will come.
All are curious about the future of monetization. What will it be and how will it effect the ethos of the experience? Will they focus on scaling globally and getting android users? Or instead try more immediately to go for revenue creation? All believe there is a needs to create ways for creators to make money on the platform as Substack has opened. But if “influencers” want to work with brands or advertising becomes a part of this how will it change the experience?
Many wondered that rivals - especially Twitter Spaces - could become global very quickly as their reach is already borderless. One participant noted: “The most valuable asset of Clubhouse is hype. That will carry it for a while. Others like Twitter may be just viewed as knockoffs ironically even though they came first. Clubhouse has “home advantage” already. And they can easily target Bollywood stars and Cricket players to build audiences and engagement rapidly and relevant at home the way other platforms cannot.”
Finally all expressed frustration with the ability to discover the best and quality conversations. People find rooms at random or hear about them in other social media, but there is a sense they are missing a ton.
But if one thing was clear to a person and region: people want safe spaces to listen, think and have their voice on their personal and cultural terms. They want to make unobvious connection with people they cannot easily find. They seek, overall, learning, wonder, connectedness and respect.