Higgins, who is based in London, joined this wave in October last year, calling it a “music renaissance,” and said the user base—at least to him—was much more Black at the time than it is today, diversifying from the mostly white tech base of its early days. Now the app is taking off in India, having spread to the UK and other parts of Europe as well as Africa, Australia, and South America.
“Each of those cities had some kind of cultural impact on the kinds of rooms we would see,” said creator Minh Do, who hosts clubs like Crazy Good Fun and the Movie Club, which often have more than 500 users in the room. One example he gave was the green moderator signifier, which Atlanta users began calling the “green bean”—and it stuck.
“In the very beginning, it was fairly tech-heavy, but I also came in after George Floyd, and my impression of what happened then is that there was a push for diversity from the user base at that time, and I think that has continued ever since,” he added. “I don’t think that Clubhouse has a strong amount of control over the demographic changes on the app, because it’s kind of in the hands of the users to invite who comes on.”
Clubhouse doesn’t collect demographic information from users when they create an account, so there’s no way to know quantitatively how diverse the platform is. A spokesperson for the company pointed to several top creators of color, some of whom are based in other countries, with audiences of more than 1,000 users.
Other social media platforms with an international base are similarly diverse, and users can turn Clubhouse into an echo chamber of sorts, but the app’s algorithm—while somewhat a mystery—heavily relies on user-selected “interests” to populate your hallway, making it more likely that you’ll find users outside of your bubble. With only a single profile image and a username to identify users, the app also sidesteps some of the racial bias built into artificial intelligence that has gotten apps like Twitter in trouble before. Still, while there are plenty of examples of what not to do, the question remains: Does the company know what to do next?
What Does Growth Look Like?
In recent months, Clubhouse has started to cater more to creators, rolling out a “Creator First” initiative to support selected creators by providing resources, services, and a stipend. The app also added a payment feature using Stripe that allows users to monetize their audience—with 100 percent of the money going directly to the user, unlike other platforms, which take a cut of the money.
Features like these are encouraging, especially for creatives of color, who are often cut out of the profits made online. Beyond the user base, however, part of the inclusivity equation as the app grows is biased by the people behind the technology. One of the app’s two male cofounders, Seth, is a person of color, while the other, Davison, is white.
“There’s definitely an air of strong male energy. The more popular rooms tend to be the rooms where it’s mostly white, male tech speakers,” said Beth, noting that other voices were present as well—if you went looking. “When two men start an app with roots in Silicon Valley, with this agenda of being inclusive, it’s a different air than when a woman starts an app to ensure that women feel safe in that community. With Clubhouse, perhaps the exclusivity was once a marketing tactic, but at a certain point it can become their Achilles’ heel.”