Issue 110

The end of Clubhouse

Delivered on 27 April 2021 by Justin Pyvis. About a 3 min read.

Clubhouse is probably still the latest hot app to come out of Silicon Valley. As I wrote back in March:

Clubhouse quickly attracted the who's who of celebrity life, including Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and even Oprah. It's still invite-only – what fad isn't? – but since day one I've had concerns about its potential longevity.

Well here I am again, bringing you another story about why Clubhouse – which only last week secured Series C funding at a valuation of $US4 billion – could well become vapourware. The inspiration of today's issue was an article by Ed Zitron, with which I generally agree. Ed notes that Clubhouse "assumes that listening to people talk is fun, and that talking to people entirely on a mobile app is also fun". He continues:

Twitch succeeded because it created an actual social network that did something truly new, and enabled people to enjoy watching people play games, which is a thing that people do in person and really enjoy doing. What Clubhouse thinks they're doing is recreating the experience of watching a live panel, or a fireside chat, or, indeed, listening to a podcast, when the actual general experience of Clubhouse is more akin to being at a weird party with too many conversations. And frankly, people enjoy watching someone play a game - there are lots of different games and lots of different people to play them. There are only so many voices, only so many subjects, and people only have so much patience to listen to them.

Do read the whole thing. Perhaps Ed and I are wrong – perhaps it's my inherent dislike of the very thing Clubhouse is trying to scale, the dreaded conference, that has skewed my view. After all, plenty of people seem to enjoy conferences (or was it always more about the free travel and accommodation?).

But I just don't see the appeal to what is essentially a permanent, rolling, extremely broad conference with infinite rooms to which I have to listen in real time at normal speed (turning a podcast up to 1.25x speed is a game changer – try it sometime). But outside of the big, heavy hitting Clubhouse events featuring celebrities and other influential persons, who has time to listen to random people dribble on, unfiltered, for hours on end? And if your only real selling point is the occasional appearance by a big name (their time is incredibly scarce/expensive), what does Clubhouse have to offer over any other platform/medium once the venture capital dollars are exhausted and those VIPs stop showing up?

So I suppose I still don't see the appeal of Clubhouse. To be honest, I'm not really sure it has an appeal, once the celebrity novelty wears off. It's just a directory of live podcasts but with no editing, no way to economise on my time and seemingly few monetisation options in the future. It may not be worthless but I suspect the best case for investors is to be bought out by a desperate Microsoft (which recently failed to buy an audio business with an actual product and social network, Discord) and rolled into LinkedIn (also owned by Microsoft).

The Cellebrite hack

The below has been cross-posted from last Friday's Brekky Wrap. If you haven't already signed up for the best daily morning wrap of the latest market, economic, political and tech news from Australia and beyond, you should!

Whoops, wonder what Apple has to say?
Whoops, wonder what Apple has to say? Moxie Marlinspike/Signal

The CEO of encrypted chat app Signal, Moxie Marlinspike, claimed that Cellebrite – "an Israeli digital Intelligence company that provides tools for collection, analysis, and management of digital data" – gives "very little care" to its own software security. In a blog post, Marlinspike exposed several vulnerabilities and some code that might be copyrighted by Apple in Cellebrite's equipment, which he acquired when in "a truly unbelievable coincidence... I saw a small package fall off a truck ahead of me". 🤣

Stepping back: Signal and Cellebrite have an ongoing feud, after Cellebrite falsely claimed in December 2020 that it had "cracked" Signal's chat encryption. The timing of Marlinspike's attack is surely deliberate, given that Cellebrite recently announced that it would soon go public using a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) at a valuation of around $US2.4 billion.

Legal ramifications: Cellebrite is used by law enforcement, especially in the US, to collect evidence from suspects' electronic devices (apparently with complete trust – no internal security audits seem to have been conducted). If Cellebrite can be compromised as easily as Marlinspike suggests, it could open such evidence up to legal challenges and seriously compromise Cellebrite's credibility.

Issue 110: The end of Clubhouse was compiled by Justin Pyvis and delivered on 27 April 2021.