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‘Want to make sure creator in control, India response very exciting’: Clubhouse co-founders

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“We want to make sure the creator is in control. We want Clubhouse to be a safe space for them,” said Paul Davison, CEO and co-founder of Clubhouse, at a press conference on the app with select members of the Indian media.

“We are number one on the App Store in India. The country is definitely one of our top markets,” he added, though he did not reveal the user numbers.

Clubhouse was officially launched on iOS last September. Davison’s co-founder is India-born Rohan Seth. “The team has been very small so far. It has been remarkable to see all the Rooms in India and it’s been very nostalgic and that is what Android enabled. We’re really excited by the response,” Seth said.

The app was launched on Android on May 21, and according to numbers from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, it has crossed 2.6 million downloads on the platform.

Davison said that with Clubhouse they are building a new kind of social media platform which focuses on the oldest medium — voice. “We are trying to create a different type of network, which is not about likes and follows,” he added, though it should be noted that the app does encourage users to follow one another on the platform, especially when their friends or contacts join the app.

Community rules, handling of abuse

When asked about trust and safety issues of the app, Davison said the company does keep a temporary encrypted buffer recording of the audio of the room, which is solely used for purposes of investigation. However, this recording is deleted if someone does not report the room.

Clubhouse has been criticised over its handling of some rooms and groups which were said to be indulging in anti-semitism, racism, hate speech, etc. In April, it announced that it was shutting down these rooms and also suspended some users and removed some permanently.

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Davison said the company has adopted a three-tiered approach for trust and safety, which looks at people, policy and product.

With people, the focus is on ensuring a “team which has a deep expertise in social media platforms,” though the founders highlighted that “live audio is different.” It is not clear how many people are part of its policy team.

On the company’s policies, he said their community guidelines, reflected in each room, are living documents and “constantly evolving”.

From a product perspective, the company has said that they have enough in-app features to allow users to report abuse. “We also want to ensure that the network structure is designed to prevent abuse. This is why the creator of the room should be in control. We’ve also made sure that this is a real identity service. You require a phone number for authorisation, which is harder to fake. This is also a voice network which is harder to fake,” Davison said.

Clubhouse did not confirm if it was using AI-based algorithms to flag abuse or whether they have a team that is actively doing so. The company said “they are helped by a community of millions who flag incidents who help keep Clubhouse safe”.

Regarding the IT rules in India which impact social media intermediaries, the company said it is still trying to figure out how the rules apply to them and will work towards compliance.

More language support, end of invite system

Clubhouse’s founders said they plan to add support for more languages soon on the app, but there were no specifics on which Indian languages will be supported and how soon this will roll out. The app has been a hit in Kerala, and there are plenty of rooms taking place in Malayalam on the platform since the launch on Android. Given India is an Android-dominated market, it is not surprising to see the app doing better on the platform.

However, joining Clubhouse still requires an invite, though this system is on its way out. Davison also said the idea was never to build an invite-driven, iOS-only service, and the reason they introduced this was because it was a small team and they wanted to scale the app properly.

“We launched on iOS in September last year. When the product started working internationally, then we started working on Android. We needed to hire people who were experts on Android,” Seth said. He also said that since the Android launch, the company has had to ramp up infrastructure in order to accommodate the growing number of users.

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What next in terms of features

When asked whether the app would build features for users who could be left out, such as the hearing impaired, Seth said they were exploring this.

“We would absolutely want that. We have run experiments to add post captioning. We would need to transcribe on the audio receiving side, rather than the audio sending side. We are trying to figure out how to implement that as there are kinks in the system,” he pointed out.

He also said the company does not have a timeline yet on rolling out payments or tips in India. The feature has globally started rolling out to some users in the US, where audience members will be able to tip creators on the platform, giving them a monetisation prospect on the feature.

Clubhouse also said that they could eventually add a customised set of features for each market, though they did not elaborate further on this.

On the competition copying them, Davison said they were not surprised given that voice is a durable medium, but they were not focused on any one competitor. Twitter’s Spaces is already available in India, and Facebook and LinkedIn are also working on live audio-chat product features.

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