Facebook has a history of breaking into new technologies and chasing different mediums that have attracted users, especially if those audiences are young. Zuckerberg bought photo-sharing site Instagram, messaging app WhatsApp and virtual reality company Oculus when all were small startups.
Facebook is also known in Silicon Valley for being willing to clone its competitors. Instagram in 2016 copied one of the marquee features of rival Snapchat, Stories, which allow users to share ephemeral videos and photos. Last year, Instagram debuted Reels, a TikTok-like video product. When teleconferencing service Zoom became popular last year, Facebook quickly created Rooms, a group video chat service. And this year, Facebook has been working on a competing product to Substack, the popular newsletter service.
Facebook has dabbled in experimental app development through its New Product Experimentation team. The team has worked on podcast apps, travel apps and music apps, among others.
Clubhouse, which was founded last year by entrepreneurs Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, has gained traction among Silicon Valley’s elite as a private, invite-only iPhone app. The app is in “beta,” meaning it is still in a testing stage before a wide release.
After signing up for Clubhouse, users can create rooms dedicated to different topics. Instead of video or text, Clubhouse’s preferred medium is voice chat. Room sizes vary from the intimate to thousands of people listening or participating. At times, it works like a hybrid of a CB radio and 1980s-era party line.
Clubhouse has flourished in the pandemic as people have searched for ways to connect while remaining isolated from one another. The app sits atop the Apple App Store rankings in countries like Germany, Italy, Japan and Turkey. At a recent internal meeting, Davison and Seth said Clubhouse had 2 million weekly users.
Dozens of celebrities — from Drake and Tiffany Haddish to Jared Leto and a co-founder of Instagram — have appeared on the app, joining different discussions and using the service to promote their projects.
Investors have noticed. Clubhouse raised $US100 million ($129.5 million) in January at a $US1 billion valuation, according to PitchBook. It was valued last year at $US100 million. Its investors include venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and more than 180 others, the company has said.
International interest in Clubhouse has proliferated. On Monday, the app was blocked in China after people there joined those from Taiwan, Hong Kong and elsewhere to share thoughts on topics ranging from the political to the mundane.
Tech titans have started occasionally appearing on Clubhouse. Last month, Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, agreed to be interviewed on Clubhouse by a pair of users who host a nightly talk show on the app called Good Time. That brought a rush of interest, and Clubhouse struggled to keep its service afloat.
On Sunday, the hosts of Good Time interviewed a Facebook executive when a surprise guest showed up: Zuckerberg. He spoke briefly about the future of augmented and virtual reality and Facebook’s plans, before leaving to return to his family.
The New York Times