It just had to be called Clubhouse. Picture a scrap-wood door at the entrance to a tree house, a clumsily scrawled warning posted to ward off undesirables. KEEP OUT, it says. NO GIRLS (or boys, or whatever) ALLOWED. This Clubhouse is an app, but as with its namesake, exclusivity is part of the allure. Access to the platform is by invitation only, which puts a certain amount of pressure on its existing user base to be thoughtful about whom they ask in—and, in theory, on invitees to avoid trollish behavior that might embarrass the person who vouched for them (although a few high-profile harassment incidents while the app was still in beta revealed the limits of this approach, and led to the creation of some basic community guidelines—no “threats, harassment, lewdness, hate speech, or other displays of bigotry”). It attracted a disproportionately high-powered crowd off the bat: V.C.’s, tech gurus, a handful of celebrities. Elon Musk showed up; so did Mark Zuckerberg. The resulting traffic spikes crashed the app but also boosted its profile.
One acquaintance of mine described Clubhouse as akin to the kitchen at a house party where a group of slightly drunk tech bros are having a sophomore-dorm-room-level debate to the amusement of a larger group of silent onlookers. It wasn’t meant to be a flattering comparison—but when most of us haven’t been to a house party (or bar or conference or sporting event) in nearly a year, doesn’t a casual, buzzy kitchen confab sound kind of … fun?