Pattern Matching

Clubhouse Is the Anti-Twitter

The hot new social app has found success by replicating real-world social structures rather than exploding them

Will Oremus
OneZero
Published in
10 min readFeb 6, 2021
Photo Illustration: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Clubhouse, the exclusive group-voice-chat app that launched last year to fanfare from the venture capital set, erupted into the headlines this week when Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dropped in for conversations with other tech luminaries. “Elon Musk’s Clubhouse banter with Robinhood CEO triggers stampede for Clubhouse app,” Reuters reported. “Clubhouse’s Moment Arrives,” Platformer’s Casey Newton declared. Both cameos strained the app’s capacity; Zuckerberg’s apparently broke it, at least briefly.

There was also backlash: The Information editor-in-chief Jessica Lessin pointed out that these events’ organizers blocked many journalists from attending; the New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz suggested they were excluding female journalists in particular.

Meanwhile, Twitter has been testing a rival feature called Spaces, in hopes that it will soon have a moment of its own. The stage is set for a showdown between two social media companies whose target audiences substantially overlap. But their founding ideas are fundamentally different, in ways that could shape how their respective products evolve.

The Pattern

Open vs. closed social networks

A decade ago, Twitter was hailed by some pundits as a democratizing force for its role in movements like the Arab Spring. That narrative has since been complicated, muddled, and contradicted many times over, and you’re more likely to hear today that Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms are destroying democracy rather than fomenting it. But there’s another, broader sense in which Twitter has always been at least somewhat democratic. The structure of Twitter’s platform is essentially flat and open, in the sense that pretty much anyone can join, tweet, reply to anyone else, and have at least a remote chance to reach a massive audience.

Twitter is also loosely democratic in the sense that the platform runs in large part on the wisdom of the crowd — or mob rule, to take the darker view. Twitter amplifies the tweets…

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