UPDATED! Confessions of a Shameless Clubhouse Room-Hopper (from a Former Friendster Whore)

Remember Friendster? Aaah, those were the days…

I seem to have a predictable pattern when it comes to new social media and social networks. In Friendster, way, waaay back in the day, I threw caution to the wind and simply began friending strangers with reckless abandon, eventually creating a large, squirming ball of three million interconnected Friendster friends, before getting bored of it all and tossing it aside (you can read my saga here). We called ourselves “Friendster whores”. Gamifying Friendster and undermining Jonathan Abram’s dream of creating a dating site based on three degrees of separation: ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED! (And yes, I am shameless.)

Yes, even Dame Edna was my Friendster friend!

When Flickr hit, I was among the first thousand users, when it was still a tiny little Vancouver startup run by Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield (who went on to found Slack), again recklessly befriending people based on their photos and pictures. And I followed much the same pattern with Tribe and MySpace and Orkut and Facebook and Google+ and Periscope and Ello… (Remember Ello? They were red hot for a full nanosecond. Blink, and you missed it! Obviously, Clubhouse wants to avoid that fate.)

Ello turned into a weird, obscure little cul-de-sac on the Internet for creatives

So, as per my usual inclination, I have been diving into the deep end of Clubhouse, jumping into and out of rooms with alarming alacrity. Rooms about empowerment or expressing gratitude or non-fungible tokens or mental health or attracting venture capital or manifesting your soulmate or crypto investing. Rooms on candle making. Rooms for serial entrepreneurs and serial daters. Rooms created by people who want to practice their interview skills. A room about lullabies to listen to as you fall asleep (a surprisingly popular room!). Rooms stuffed with super-achievers, the kind of high-energy people with firm handshakes and loud voices that make Tony Robbins look like a shrinking violet. Rooms that were tightly controlled by their moderators, and rooms that were absolute chaos. Rooms with thousands of people and rooms that were empty. So, so many rooms. It made my head explode.

Clubhouse Overload!

For example, yesterday evening I spent an hour listening as the author of a forthcoming book about Clubhouse took pitches from people who wanted their stories to be included in the book. Some were shy and somewhat scattered in their speaking, while others spoke in full, forceful, prescripted paragraphs, seemingly without once drawing a breath. Some were cringe-inducing in their naked ambition to find a way to monetize Clubhouse and/or promote their business. After a hour of pitch after pitch after pitch, I felt exhausted and I went to lie down on the sofa.

Basically, in tried and true Ryan Schultz fashion, I became an utterly shameless and brazen room-hopping Clubhouse slut. I have been told that the more time you spend on Clubhouse, the more you are rewarded with free invites to send to other people to add to the social network during their initial, invite-only phase (a tactic used by many predecessor social networks such as Google+, as well as non-social-media apps such as Gmail…and I vividly remember a very lively trade in those highly-coveted early invitations to Gmail, back in 2004!).

In my first week, I spent so many hours on the platform, sampling rooms at various times of day like a fat man at a pre-pandemic-era cruise line buffet, that I earned a total of EIGHT invitations to bring other people onboard! If you choose to support my work on this blog and the (currently on hiatus) Metaverse Newscast, at the bronze level or higher, I will send you an invite to join Clubhouse! Here is my Patreon page.

PLEASE NOTE: You must remain my Patreon supporter for AT LEAST one monthly billing cycle (the first day of each month) before you receive the Clubhouse invitation, in order to avoid people abusing this privilege by signing up, getting an invite, and then promptly unsubscribing from my Patreon a day later, before you get billed. Thank you!

Thank you to all my wonderful Patreon supporters! Your support helps me cover my WordPress hosting fees for this blog, and it means the world to me. (And I, in turn support Voices of VR podcaster Kent Bye and social VR platform NeosVR via Patreon.)

My Patreon page: support me and get an invite to Clubhouse!

Since I am very familiar with the life cycle of social networks, having participated in so many over the years, I recognize well the addictive, giddy honeymoon period which Clubhouse is now in, where everything is bright and shiny and new. Is it gonna stay that way? Hate to break it to you, but probably not.

There are already rumblings in the press about how Clubhouse will struggle to scale, such as this March 2nd, 2021 Bloomberg Businessweek article by Sarah McBride, titled Can Clubhouse Keep the Conversation Going?, which states:

Investment firm Andreessen Horowitz has supplied much of the capital that helped spark the sudden rise of Clubhouse, the audio-based social network that’s become one of the hottest things in Silicon Valley and has drawn in mega-celebrities including Oprah and Drake. In a twist on the standard venture capital model, it also provides a good deal of the talent responsible for the content…

New forms of smartphone-based media consumption that suddenly take off among early adopters don’t always translate well to the wider world. For every Twitter, which first gained prominence as the must-have app of the 2007 South by Southwest conference, there’s a Highlight, a location-based social networking service that was SXSW’s top app in 2012 but was promptly forgotten after everyone went home. That cautionary tale holds special relevance for Clubhouse given that its co-founder and CEO, Paul Davison, created Highlight.

Newsweek went so far as to claim that Clubhouse is dying (Now, I would rather argue that it is Newsweek that is dying, and that this is a click-bait title, but that is the topic for another blogpost…)

It will be fascinating to see Clubhouse grow and evolve over 2021! As I wrote previously about Friendster, a social network which landed up becoming something quite different from what its creators had originally anticipated:

You can’t predict what’s going to happen. People may take social VR spaces and virtual worlds into as-yet-undreamed-of and unanticipated areas. Nobody can predict what the metaverse is going to look like.

UPDATE 7:32 p.m.: If you are interested in learning who the most influential (i.e. most followed) people are on Clubhouse already, well, there’s actually a handy website for that, just for you people with your noses pressed against the window, waiting to get in!


And I also wanted to quote someone’s hilariously snarky opinion of what Clubhouse is currently like, taken directly from the r/ClubhouseApp community on Reddit:

The #Clubhouse crowd is

• 25% Venture Capitalists VC-ing
• 25% Founders foundering
• 25% Scammers scamming
• 25% Wannabes wannabe-ing

And somebody else shared this funny picture, which perfectly sums up the current difficulties some people are having in obtaining a highly-desired Clubhouse invitation, in a Reddit thread where some entrepreneurial souls were peddling Clubhouse invitations for up to $50 each:

I Have Joined Clubhouse (Be Afraid…BE. VERY. AFRAID.)

The Clubhouse logo

Well, it finally happened: I caved, and I joined Clubhouse. (God help us all.)

If you know nothing else about me, know this: I have been a lifelong tire-kicker of social networks of all kinds over the years, starting with Friendster and MySpace (I wrote about my many misadventures with Friendster here and here). I was an early adopter of Facebook and countless other social networks (remember Tribe? Hi5? Orkut?!?? Trust, Auntie Ryan was on them all, sweetheart). I was an early adopter of Flickr way, waaay back, when they were still a tiny Vancouver startup. And I was also a part of the whole wild, crazy Google+ rollercoaster saga, from beginning to bitter end.

So this is not my first time at the rodeo! Far from it. If my past experience with Friendster, Flickr, Facebook and its ilk repeats itself, I am in for a head-first, deep dive into Clubhouse! (I may not resurface for weeks, people. Google+ basically took over my life for months in 2011.)

Be afraid…BE. VERY. AFRAID.

I have lived and learned, made many mistakes (which I hope I will not repeat this time around), and basically, I have become rather bitter, cynical and jaded about it all. 😉

What had seemed like such good, clean, harmless fun back in those halcyon MySpace, Friendster, and Orkut days has turned into something more suspect, more sinister, more polarizing and divisive, and more weaponized (and yes, I do think I have some form of Facebook PTSD, which tends to colour my perspective).

Therefore, I am now much more reserved and cautious when it comes to new social networks and social media platforms. In fact, at the very end of January, when there was such a big fuss on Twitter about Elon Musk hosting a room in Clubhouse, I tweeted:

I am following all the chatter on Twitter about Elon Musk and Clubhouse, and half of me is feeling FOMO, and the other half is thinking: do I *really* want to join yet another social network that is going to get worse the more it opens up from its exclusive, invite-only phase?

However, when an acquaintance on Twitter posted about a new virtual worlds discussion group starting up in Clubhouse tomorrow night, I was in like a dirty shirt! (Thanks to Shawn Whiting for creating this new group, and thank you to the kind person who shared one of her precious Clubhouse invites with me. so I could take part!)

The tweet that sealed my fate: Now I *had* to get into Clubhouse!

So, yes, I am excited, but I am also cautious and wary (and no, please do not ask me for an invitation to join; I only have two and I am saving mine for a few, select people whom I already have in mind). Half of me feels like one of the cool kids, and the other half thinks I have drunk the Kool-Aid. So we’ll see how this all turns out. The sentiment I expressed in my tweet above still holds as true as when I wrote it.

What is Clubhouse? If you have been living under a rock, or (like me) in the frozen Canadian prairie hinterlands, Clubhouse is the latest hot social media platform (currently invite-only, and currently only available for the iPhone) which allows users to connect with each other via voice, create rooms where discussions can take place, and host events. (The Elon Musk event I mentioned above was an interview, where over 5.000 users packed into one room to hear him speak.)

C|Net reporter Erin Carson writes:

Clubhouse, which is still in beta and isn’t yet available to the public, was founded by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth. It’s an audio-based social platform. You can enter rooms (or create a room) and hear or participate in discussions on topics: how to pitch your startup idea, the future of marriage, whether Clubhouse is getting boring. Rooms generally have speakers, the way conference panels do, and moderators. The conversation is in real time, meaning you can hear folks throwing in their opinions about the subject at hand, and you can raise your hand to toss in yours as well. 

“Imagine if you were in class with everybody in the world,” said Natasha Scruggs, an attorney from Kansas City, Missouri, who’s been on the app for a couple of weeks. 

Clubhouse is the latest manifestation of our desire to connect to each other at a time when social distancing and remaining isolated at home is the new norm. But while videoconferencing services like Zoom have blown up for everyone, Clubhouse’s largest appeal is its exclusivity and its ability to draw in notable figures including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

Officially launched less than a year ago, in April 2020, Clubhouse has racked up some truly impressive user growth statistics (source):

  • May 2020: 1,500 users
  • December 2020: 600,000 users
  • January 2021: 2 million users
  • February 2021: 6 million users

In fact, Clubhouse is currently valued at one billion U.S. dollars  (up from $100 million in May 2020), making it a unicorn along with the likes of Uber and Facebook (yes, Mark Zuckerberg is a user, too, and yes, I’m sure that the breakout success of Clubhouse is giving him some sleepless nights).

So, like I said, we’ll see. I hope that I will be able to use Clubhouse to interact more easily with the many wonderful and talented people who work and play in social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, in much the same way as I do on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server.

2020.exe Has Stopped Working

Ryan pokes his nose outside of the self-imposed news blackout of his pandemic bunker…

Looks at today’s reporting on the Twitter/Facebook/Zuckerberg/Trump dumpster fire:

… and Ryan hurriedly retreats back into “social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse”, slamming the door shut behind him, until at least 2021.

My Answers to the Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) Questions!

It’s 2:00 a.m. and I have an absolutely wicked case of insomnia, so I decided to write up most of this blopost in the wee small hours of the morning, and answer the questions I received in my Ask Me Anything (AMA) blogpost.

You might find it interesting to see my recent daily blog statistics from WordPress. As you can see, there has been a slow but significant increase in my blog views and visitors within the past two weeks:

In the old days, last year, if I got over 500 views per day, I was quite happy. Now I am regularly getting over 500 views by noon, and well over 1,000 views per day! In the past week, I have even hit 1,200 views per day several times. The overwhelming majority of that traffic is my Second Life content, particularly my coverage of Second Life steals, deals, and freebies.

Despite this level of activity, you are still a rather quiet bunch: I only received three questions!


Andrew Heath asks me:

What features do you think Facebook needs to add to Facebook Horizons, to make it stand out to its rivals?

Well, Facebook has lots of money to throw around at things like advertising and programming talent. Facebook has also been buying up popular VR companies like Beat Saber, and will no doubt find ways to provide exclusive access to Facebook Horizon users, shutting out competing platforms who don’t have such deep pockets.

Facebook will ruthlessly use every tool and tactic at its disposal to ensure that Facebook Horizon stands out and gets attention. Expect massive news media coverage when the social VR platform does open its doors to the general public. Until then, they will be keeping a very tight lid on the alpha testing process, with very little information released.

Another point I want to make is that Facebook is not aiming at the traditional virtual world user community (the classic example being, of course, almost 17-year-old Second Life). Facebook is aiming Horizon at their social media users, the Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp crowd, an estimated audience of over six billion individual accounts, which gives the company massive leverage.

Social Media Statistics as of February 2020 (source)

Whether they succeed at enticing these people to take the plunge into virtual reality remains to be seen, but sales of Oculus Quest in particular have been strong, despite supply chain problems due to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic may give an advantage to Facebook, as millions of people around the world self-isolate at home and seek ways to interact and socialize in ways that feel more immersive than Discord, Zoom and Webex. The timing might be perfect.

However, your Facebook Horizon avatar will be clearly associated with your real-life profile, and you can bet that Facebook will advertise to you in a similar targeted fashion to what you now see in your Facebook social network feed. While this link to your real-life profile may well cut down on griefing, trolling, and harassment, it is also likely to be unappealing to many current metaverse platform users for exactly that same reason. I wrote more about it in an editorial here.


Chamberlain asks:

Has anybody had any commercial success with any of these ventures, other than Second Life?

Well, the only company that I know that’s generating a profit (and that’s because because I was extremely nosey, and I asked them) is ENGAGE, which seems to be doing quite well for itself in the educational social VR market. And, of course, Cryptovoxels is making enough money to enable its lead developer, Ben Nolan, to work on it full-time. The rest is a question mark. And that’s perfectly fine with me; metaverse-building companies are certainly under no obligation to tell me/us if they’re making money yet or not.

The key here seems to be: start small, grow organically and incrementally, and let things evolve and customers come to you. I do know that some social VR platforms and virtual worlds have seen an uptick in business because of the wholesale shift of things like conferences from the real world to the virtual world (in fact, one company I know is working lots of overtime dealing with all the extra business!).

From my vantage point, it seems pretty clear that the strategy of throwing years of software development work and millions of dollars of venture capital at platforms has not worked out well so far (e.g. High Fidelity, Sansar), mainly because the consumer market for virtual reality failed to ignite as predicted. However, the coronavirus pandemic is now a potential game-changer for a lot of metaverse-building companies. The longer the public health crisis lasts, and the more quarantines, lockdowns, and social distancing are imposed on restless populations, the more people will look at these platforms as a place to work, meet, rest, and play.

On the flip side, the mounting economic crisis will also cause some poorly-thought-out metaverse projects to fold due to lack of investment. I can see this happening for many of the start-ups in the blockchain-based virtual worlds, for example. Not the three front runners (Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space), but the also-rans, many blockchain projects which seem to consist of nothing much more than: a white paper full of crypto-bafflegab; a .io website domain spouting senseless use cases; mystifying, vague promotional videos; and a tired Telegram group flogging a struggling ICO. Expect to see a lot of shutdowns in this market segment. Those who were lucky enough to get in at the right time might (might) make a tidy profit; the rest are doomed.

As for Sansar, I honestly fail to see how pursuing the exact same strategy that failed when they were owned by Linden Lab—a focus on live events to the exclusion of just about anything and everything else—will make the slightest bit of difference now that they are owned by Wookey, barring some miracle. I could very well be wrong; perhaps another year or two of runway, and Sansar will indeed take off in flight (my apologies for that rather mangled metaphor). But many of the world designers and builders who helped shape the early days of Sansar, and built many of their most popular worlds, now feel alienated by this pivot and have simply given up, migrating to benefit other platforms such as Sinespace. Many former Sansar users are now kicking the tires on Helios, a brand new social VR platform based on the Unreal game engine. Sansar’s loss is their gain.

Ironically, one or more of the three forks of the open-source High Fidelity code may yet take off in popularity, although there’s obviously still lots of work to do. However, there is an energy and enthusiasm I see taking place in these forks that is encouraging, and frankly infectious. I do wish these projects well, and I will follow them closely.


And finally, John has a longer comment and a question for me:

Not sure I have a question. But would very much like to say that the occasional glimpses into your ‘real self/world’ moments as opposed to the ‘virtual world’ moments/posts, are incredibly powerful and reassuring, reminding me that all of us are human, and these glimpses are what keep me coming back to your blog. They comfort me and reassure me. You are real. You are trying your best. And you help me (us) when you show us what is beyond the successful veneer of the top notch librarian/researcher. Just wanted to say thanks. Your blog is part of my morning ritual, along with the newspapers, and it is even more of a requirement now, in these difficult times. Oh yes, I might have a question. Can you keep this blog of yours going till the ol’ Internet fades?

Thank you for your kind words, John! I’m glad I can be a small part of your day.

I would like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, all my readers. Some of you have chosen to express your appreciation via my Patreon page, and that money now covers my blog hosting costs on WordPress, for which I am extremely grateful. Whether or not you are a Patreon supporter, your support means the world to me.

And yes, I do plan to keep this blog going as long as I can, and I’ve even thought a bit about having it archived in some way after I pass on, to create a sort of time capsule of an interesting era in social VR and virtual worlds. I am currently in the process of creating a will and a healthcare power of attorney, still waiting to hear back from the lawyer that my financial planner recommended. (I also plan on leaving many of my Second Life avatars to other people via my will. My lawyer is going to have a field day drawing up my will!)

In the interim, especially in these precarious days of pandemic, I will be writing up a detailed document to share with my friends and family, with all my accounts and passwords, making my wishes clear in the event of my untimely death. I will not leave you hanging!

But I don’t plan on going anywhere! I am just starting to hit my stride here.