Will the Clubhouse model work in China? – TechCrunch

On Friday midnight, I stumbled across a room in a clubhouse organized by a celebrity in the Chinese startup community, Feng Jahui. At midnight, the room still had about 500 listeners, many of whom were engineers, product managers and entrepreneurs from China.

Whether the discussion is centered around Club house, An app that lets people join pop-up voice chats in virtual rooms, will succeed in China. This is a question I have been asking myself in recent weeks. Given the current hype circulating in Silicon Valley about audio social networks, it’s amazing to see well-informed, techno-knowledgeable Chinese users flocking to the platform. The demand for invitations is high in China, which pays people $ 100 to buy from scalpers.

Many users convinced me that the app would not reach its full potential or even be banned before it could fit into the product-market in China. Indeed, a handful of Chinese-language rooms typically touch China, ranging from censored crypto trading to protests in China.

If it is of any consolation, clubhouse clones and derivatives are already made in China. A Chinese entrepreneur and blogger, who goes by the nickname Harak, told me that he is aware of at least “dozens of local teams” that are doing something similar. In addition, voice-based networking has been in China for years, albeit in various forms. If the clubhouse is blocked, will any of its options succeed?

Information control

A straight clubhouse clone probably won’t work in China.

Some factors reduce its chances in the country, which has about one billion Internet users. The major appeal of the clubhouse is the organic flow of real-time interactions. A founder of the Chinese audio app named the story, stating “how the Chinese government can conduct free deliberations and spread without control”. For example, video live streaming in China is under close regulatory surveillance, who can speak and what they can say.

The founder then cited A. Famous online protest Back in 2011. Thousands of small sellers cyber-attacked Alibaba’s online mall over the proposed fee hike. The device they coordinated with each other was YY, which began as a voice-based chatting software for gamers and later became known for video live streaming.

The founders said, “Authorities increase the power of real-time audio communication.”

There are indications that the clubhouse may already be the target of censorship. While the clubhouse operates entirely in China without the need for virtual private networks (VPNs) or other censorship-perimeter devices (at least for the time being), the iOS-exclusive app is not available on China’s App Store. App analytics firm Sensor Tower said the clubhouse was removed soon after its global release in late September.

Currently, to set up a clubhouse, Chinese users must install the app by switching to an app store located in another country, which limits product access to users who have the means to use non-local stores.

It is unclear whether Apple prioritized the clubhouse in anticipation of government action, given that the subsequent removal of any major foreign app in China could boost accusations of censorship. Alternatively, the clubhouse would have voluntarily pulled the app knowing that any kind of real-time broadcast would not be uncontrolled by Chinese regulators, which would inevitably compromise the user experience.

China’s entry may be on the to-do list of clubhouses, given that it is gaining elsewhere. According to Sensor Tower estimates, the app has seen 3.6 million people worldwide so far. Most of its lifetime originates in the United States, where the app has seen nearly 2 million first-time downloads, followed by both Japan and Germany with over 400,000 downloads.

Club house elites

The clubhouse room, hosted by Feng Dahui, an iconic figure in China’s startup world. (Screenshot by TechCrunch)

The inappropriateness of uncensored and open discussion on the Chinese Internet may explain why the market did not see its own clubhouse. But even though an app like Clubhouse is allowed to exist in China, it cannot reach the country as extensively as Doyin (Chinese version of Tickcock) and WeChat.

The app is “elite” like the voice version of Twitter, said Marco Lai, CEO and founder of NASDAQ-listed Chinese audio platform. So far, the invite-only model of the clubhouse has largely limited its American user base to tech, art and celebrity circles. Herock noticed that its Chinese demographics reflected the trend, with users focused in areas such as finance, startup and product management, as well as crypto merchants.

However, free time is a question among these users. The other night, I was walking in the middle of the night at a group of BiteDance employees. In fact, I have mostly stayed in the clubhouse in the evening after work, as when user activity is at a peak in China. “Who has so much time in China?” The founder of Rainmaker, a Chinese networking community that is for professionals, said, when I asked if he thought the clubhouse would attract the public in China.

While his remarks may not apply to everyone, tech-focused, educated crowds in China – the clubhouse that appears to be demographic targeting or at least attracting – are also the ones most likely to The infamous “996” schedule workIt has been common in Chinese tech companies for a long time. As “Meaningful conversation“That the clubhouse encourages is desirable, but the app’s real-time, intuitive nature is also a lot to ask of 996 workers, who prefer a more efficient and manageable use of time.

Intermediaries may also need content encouragement to stay away from pure passion in engaging with other humans. One possible solution is to turn quality conversation into podcast episodes. “The clubhouse is for one-off, casual conversation. People who produce high-quality content want to record the conversation, so later it may be for repetitive consumption, ”said Zhou.

Chinese counterparts

In China, audio networking has been played in slightly different sizes. Some companies pay great attention to gamefication, filling their apps with playful, interactive features.

For example, Lizzie’s social podcast app is Not just about listening. It allows listeners to message hosts, tip them through virtual gifts, shadow themselves to a host who is reading a poem, compete in an online karaoke competition, and more.

Interaction between hosts and listeners takes place in a relatively orchestrated manner, as Lizhi’s operational staff works with content creators behind the scenes to ensure design campaigns and content quality and user engagement. Club house growth by comparison is more organic.

“Chinese products focus more on audience performance and performance, not so much translating natural social behavior into real life as in the product. The club house features are simple. It is more like a coffee shop, ”Lai said.

Lizzie’s other voice products Tiya iya The clubhouse is thought to be a close answer, but Tia’s users are young – most of whom are 15-22 years old – and it focuses on entertainment, allowing users to chat and watch games while playing audio Is found. It also feeds on the need for companionship.

Dishuja, Which launched in 2019, is another Chinese app that has been compared to Club House. Unlike the clubhouse, which relies on an existing network of people to search for rooms, Dizhua matches anonymous users based on their declared interests. Clubhouse conversations can begin and die accidentally. Dizhua encourages users to choose a topic and stay engaged.

“Clubhouse is a pure audio app with no time, no comment, et cetera,” said Armin Lee, an expert in residence with a venture capital firm in China. “It’s a sort of casual and drop-in style for scenarios where user needs are not as obvious as hangouts or multitasking … Its high community involvement, content quality, and user quality are overlooked in Chinese Voice products . “

The bottom line is: conversations on Chinese platforms are monitored by content auditors. User registration requires real name verification on Internet platforms in China, so there is no real anonymity online. The topics users can discuss are limited, often fun and spontaneous.

Why do Chinese people join club houses anyway? Some people, like me, joined FOMO. Entrepreneurs are always mourning for the next market opportunity, and product managers at Internet giants are expected to learn one or two things from the clubhouse that they can apply to their own products. Bitcoin traders and activists, on the other hand, see the clubhouse as a haven outside the purview of Chinese regulators.

technical support

One thing I found impressive about the clubhouse is how easily it works in China. Even when a foreign app is not banned in China, it often loads slowly due to the distance of its server from China.

The clubhouse does not really build technology supporting its vast chat groups that sometimes reach thousands of participants. Instead, it uses a real-time audio SDK from Agora, two sources told me. South China Morning Post too informed of That. When asked to verify the partnership, Agora CEO Tony Zhao said that he could not confirm or deny any engagement between his company and the clubhouse.

Rather, he emphasized Agora’s “virtual network”, which overlays on top of the public Internet, running at more than 200 co-located data centers worldwide. The company then uses algorithms to plan traffic and optimize routing.

In particular, Agora’s operations teams are primarily in China and the US, a setup that essentially raises questions about whether clubhouse data are within the scope of Chinese regulations, a possibility that the company flags in its IPO Buried Prospectus.

Haroke said that with real-time voice providers like Agora, opportunists are capable of creating clubhouse clones. Chinese entrepreneurs are unlikely to directly mimic the clubhouse due to local regulatory challenges and differing user behavior, but they will race to crank up their interpretations of voice networking before publicity starts around the clubhouse.