The sheer plethora of social media communication platforms that are launched every year continues to amaze me. When you thought you had nailed the perfect UX/UI design for an application that could perform and fulfil any desirable textual, visual and sensory communication possible, some customer review leaves you a 1-star rating critiquing the interface for its apparent design flaws, sending you back to square one to review what it was that was missing or inadequate about the app.
Meanwhile, a newly registered tech startup decides to put its product prototype forward as the newest addition to the social media landscape as an attempt to fill in this apparent ‘market gap’ for an application that meets the users’ every need and expectation. In the space of a mere few months between the first fiscal quarter to the next, someone has launched a new application, exhibiting the same functional features of your own, just that they’ve adopted a new branding and chosen a new design look. Can you take them to court for copyright and design patent infringements? Possibly, but that’s not the main focus of this blog post. If this isn’t (digital) natural selection at its finest, I don’t know what is.
As an avid, or perhaps ‘loyal’ is a better word, user of a specific few social media communication applications, the not-so-recent launch of Clubhouse in April 2020 was enough to consolidate my commitment to the few communication apps that I felt were genuinely necessary for my daily life. But for the many influencers and novelty seekers out there, the ever-evolving digital media landscape has led many to become obsessive about trying out and engaging with new social media communication applications.
Most social media communication applications start off looking as though they are their own righteous identities with minimal overlap and repetition between each other. This makes it easier for them to be identified and distinguished from each other. However, fast-forward various iterations of design and feature updates and you begin to notice aspects of the apps that are growing closer in resemblance to one another. Instagram, Snapchat and Tiktok used to stand far apart from each other in terms of their features and functionalities but when you can now send people disappearing visual messages via Instagram Private DMs and upload short clips on Instagram Reels, differences in design between these popular social media platforms are becoming almost indistinguishable for the average user.
When the term ‘social media exclusivity’ is now being thrown around by users of Clubhouse, it is becoming increasingly difficult to side with the designers behind these up-and-coming social media applications each claiming to be something novel and original.
Clubhouse prides itself in being an audio-only social media platform allowing its users to have real-time conversations with other users in audio chat rooms. Popular with influencers, celebrities, public speakers, book clubs, support groups, and more, the platform has become increasingly populated with chat rooms dedicated to public debates, lectures, performances and jamming sessions. And as if synchronous interactions weren’t enough, it’s invite-only policy – meaning that you can only become a member if an existing member sends you an invite – and accessible only to iPhone users, easily qualifies it as being one of the most exclusive social media applications today. So much for the founders claiming to ‘build a social experience that feels more human’ when not even bothering to tackle accessibility issues or promote digital inclusion.
To compare Clubhouse to another real-time social media communication application, namely Houseparty, would be inappropriate as the two seemingly attract different crowds and perform different functions. However, when it is considered that these applications are rooted in the design intent to create pockets of online sociality between its users, facilitating borderless communication and networking, the motivations behind the continuous development of new digital experiences via social media communication applications rings hollow.
Despite its popularity during the pandemic, reaching up to 17.2 million downloads over one month at its height, its popularity today has fallen to its pre-COVID levels. The demise of Houseparty and the rise of Clubhouse is representative of dramatic shifts in our relationships with digital technologies but what is particularly worth noticing is the demise in Houseparty as potentially indicative of a gradual retreat to our old digital behaviours. Whilst the digital media landscape continues to evolve in ways that we have yet to see and imagine, I wish only to be able to fall back onto legacy technologies to develop my form of digital resilience.
Aquino, Steven. 8 February 2021. “Clubhouse Is A Club So Exclusive, It Excludes Disabled People By Design” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenaquino/2021/02/08/clubhouse-is-a-club-so-exclusive-it-excludes-disabled-people-by-design/?sh=17b869116008 (Accessed 26 September 2021)
Brown, Abram. 9 September 2021. “What HouseParty’s End Means For The Other Apps We Loved During Lockdown.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/abrambrown/2021/09/09/epic-games-houseparty-video-chat-shut-down/?sh=664f5d322284 (Accessed 26 September 2021)
Chia, Jae. 10 February 2021. “Endorsed By Elon Musk: Why Everyone’s Hyping About The Exclusive, Invite-Only Clubhouse App.” https://vulcanpost.com/733760/why-everyones-hyping-about-invite-only-clubhouse-app/ (Accessed 26 September 2021)
Clubhouse. https://www.joinclubhouse.com/ (Accessed 26 September 2021)
Freeth, Becky and Mamona, Sheilla. 5 May 2021. “What is the Clubhouse app? The invite-only app that everyone is totally obsessed with, that could be made available to us mere mortals very soon!” Glamour Magazine. https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/what-is-the-clubhouse-app (Accessed 26 September 2021)
Houseparty. https://houseparty.com/ (Accessed 26 September 2021)
Pick, Marissa. 8 April 2021. “Clubhouse: popular kids’ hangout or a true asset for brands’ community building?” Search Engine Watch. https://www.searchenginewatch.com/2021/04/08/clubhouse-popular-kids-hangout-or-a-true-asset-for-brands-community-building/ (Accessed 26 September 2021)