Although most founders believe that their app will see a ‘hockey stick’ growth trajectory, it very rarely happens. Even rarer whilst competing with some of the largest, most influential tech companies in the world; Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.
In other words: the Clubhouse story is the perfect example of how exponential growth turns UX molehills into mountains.
You see, Clubhouse—the audio-chat social network—has gone from a few hundred thousand users, to around 10 million within just a few months.
But, scaling that quickly introduces new complexities.
So let’s look at the experience of finding new content on Clubhouse.
4 key takeaways
1. Homepage curation
Content feeds are notoriously difficult to get right. Which posts should you see? How should you order them? How do you filter out the noise?
On Clubhouse, once you’ve scrolled past all the available rooms in your feed, you’re prompted to follow more people, to see more rooms.
In other words, they’re describing how they decide what content you see.
Except there’s a problem: I don’t follow half the people who already appear in my feed.
To be clear, the issue here is the ambiguity about how the feed is curated.
How does this work? Am I seeing these random rooms because I showed an interest in a particular topic whilst signing up? If so, how can I purge those interests?
If the Clubhouse homepage is going to be an oasis of interesting content, people need a basic understanding of where the water comes from.
And so, instead of the vague instruction to “follow more people”, they should take the time to actually explain which levers control the content that you see, and how to operate them.
2. The misnomer about 'aha moments'
In the early days of Twitter, the team noticed something in their data: when people follow at least 30 others, they’re far more likely to stick around.
This is often described as an ‘aha moment‘—the moment that the utility of a product really clicks for the user.
Or simply: if Twitter can get a new user to follow 30 people, then it reduces the chances that they’ll get bored and delete the app.
This story has become start-up folklore, and I’ve worked with many companies who take this message too literally, forgetting the nuance of what they really found:
It’s not enough to just follow 30 random people. You need to follow 30 people who you genuinely care about.
Clubhouse have clearly adopted a similar methodology, by pre-selecting 50 people for you to follow whilst signing up.
Have you noticed that some people have accumulated millions of followers really quickly? It’s because the same people are almost always recommended—I tried creating accounts with polar opposite interests, and the same people were pre-selected almost every time.
And at no point does it explain that following those 50 people will directly impact the content that is available to you, or that if your homepage gets uninteresting (as I mentioned earlier), you’ll need to unfollow these people individually.
But they should, and it could look like this:
Right now, Clubhouse is designed for explosive growth—they just want to maximise the number of connections made.
But at some point they will likely need to shift to sustainable and longer-term value growth. This will mean encouraging fewer, but more meaningful connections.
Look at Twitter below: they explain how their timeline works, and don’t pre-select people to follow—you have to opt-in to every single one.
3. A UX crutch for their search
Following the right people on Clubhouse is necessary to find interesting conversations, so it’s important to know that you’re following real people—e.g., the real Elon Musk.
Over time it’ll be necessary to verify identities, like the other social networks do, but it’s an unfeasible task for the small team that run Clubhouse currently.
Yet, they’ve built an app that is as simple as their rivals.
And whilst a verification system is probably the best solution, it’s also very expensive. Instead, Clubhouse could see some of the reward, with just a few subtle UX changes:
1: Over time you’d expect the real people to accumulate significantly more followers than the fake accounts. By exposing their follower count on the search page you could increase the confidence that people have about their authenticity.
2: Say there were 5 identical profiles, all with the same name, profile picture and a similar follower count, how would you know who’s real? Well, by showing their unique usernames (e.g., @elonmusk), people could filter out the most obvious imposters.
4. A broken follow hook
It’s no secret that social media companies want you to be addicted to their apps. They’re designed to be infinity pools of content—always available to give you another quick shot of dopamine.
And one of the key components of a hook is an investment, in this instance, the user investing time into following people, expecting more great content in the future.
But there’s an issue: the reward for that investment is neither guaranteed, nor instant. And I don’t just mean that the reward is variable, it can be entirely non-existent.
Ask yourself this: would you follow a Twitter account that’d never tweeted? Possibly, but you probably wouldn’t follow 100 of them.
See, on Twitter, at the moment where you’re deciding if you should follow someone, you can see their content. In other words: the value is obvious and immediate—their tweets are visible in your feed right away.
This gives you some confidence that they’ll tweet again in the future, and therefore your investment in following them will be rewarded.
But on Clubhouse you could follow hundreds of people who you never interact with at all. In fact, you don’t even know if they’ve ever joined a room.
Given these circumstances, which are inherent by design, Clubhouse should be using a thoughtful user experience to synthetically complete this hook as much as possible.
1: Reframe the reward — you cannot make it instant (unless they coincidentally join a conversation immediately), but you can remind the user that the value is in not missing future conversations they join.
2: Give them confidence that this person will be active — by showing scheduled events that they’re attending, and previous conversations that they’ve been a part of, you can make people more confident that they’ll join a Clubhouse room in the future. This will help the user anticipate a reward.
To be clear, I really like Clubhouse, and use it on an almost daily basis. And whilst the mystery behind how conversations appear in my feed may be exciting at first, I’m already finding myself tired of it.
I know exactly how to control the content I see in my Twitter feed, but I still have no idea how to stop seeing random Clubhouse rooms in other languages.
And if following people who you care about is the primary driver behind building a great selection of rooms, then:
1: Why follow 50 random people at the start?
2: It needs to be easier to find the right people.
3: It needs to be rewarding to both follow the right people, and purge the wrong ones.