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.

Editorial: Facebook and Oculus Have Too Much Power Over Virtual Reality and the Metaverse

Facebook already has amply demonstrated how little they value the privacy and data rights of its users, in a succession of scandals uncovered by the New York Times and many other news media over the past couple of years (image from Forbes).

Facebook has the resources to capably crush competitors. Strip-mining the data of the estimated 2.7 billion people worldwide who use Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, or Messenger each month has been extremely lucrative for the company. (The five billion dollar fine the U.S. FTC recently levied against Facebook for their privacy lapses was a mere slap on the wrist, given the income the company generates each year from advertising. Mark Zuckerberg probably found the money from his couch cushions.)

I have already written about industry gossip that Facebook is plowing resources into creating a metaverse platform for all its Oculus VR hardware users. I willing to bet, dollars to doughnuts, that the Facebook metaverse is going to look a lot like Oculus Home, which is the where you are deposited when you first put on your headset. You can now visit other people’s homes, and recent updates include the ability for users to create their own spaces by uploading their own 3D models.

Some Examples of Oculus Home Interiors

Even better, Facebook gives you free furniture every week you sign into Oculus Home at least once, which you can use to decorate your space. It’s not hard to see how this can compete with social VR platforms like Sansar and virtual worlds like Second Life. And Facebook has deep pockets to fund advertising campaigns that companies like Linden Lab cannot ever hope to match.

And, of course, there is the complete line of Oculus VR hardware, including the popular new wireless Oculus Quest headset, which Mark Zuckerberg recently reported is selling as fast as Facebook can make them.

Which leads to the point of this editorial: in this evolving metaverse of social VR and virtual worlds, is too much power concentrated in the hands of a single, monolithic, profit-obsessed company? I would argue that Facebook is aiming for complete and utter domination of the VR universe, just as they already have in the social networking space, by creating a walled ecosystem with the Oculus Home and the Oculus Store that will have a negative impact on other companies trying to create and market VR apps and experiences. The field is already tilted too much in Facebook’s favour, and the situation could get worse.

Now, you can argue that Facebook has competition from other VR headsets such as the HTC Vive line of products and the Valve Index. And the Steam software distribution platform is an alternative to the Oculus Store. I understand that my purchased programs from the Oculus Store can still be played on an HTC Vive or Valve Index with the Revive software, which is somewhat reassuring to me (although I suppose there is nothing really stopping Facebook if they choose to block that avenue at some point in the future).

More concerning to me is that, at some point, I may be forced to get an account on the Facebook social network to use apps on my Oculus VR hardware. In fact, this has already happened with the events app Oculus Venues, which I recently discovered requires you to have an account on the Facebook social network to access.

Sorry, but after all the Facebook privacy scandals of the past couple of years, that’s a big, fat “Nope!” from me. I asked Facebook to delete its 13 years of user data on me, and I quit the social network in protest as my New Year’s resolution last December, and I am never coming back. And I am quite sure that many of Facebook’s original users feel exactly the same way, scaling back on their use of the platform or, like me, opting out completely. I regret I ever started using Facebook thirteen years ago, and that experience will inform my use (and avoidance) of other social networks in the future.

Yes, I do know that I have to have an Oculus account to be able to use my Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest VR headsets, and that Facebook is collecting data on that. I also know that the Facebook social network probably has a “shadow account” on me based on things such as images uploaded to the social network and tagged with my name by friends and family, etc., but I am going to assume that Facebook has indeed done what I have asked and removed my data from their social network. Frankly, there is no way for me to actually verify this, as consumers in Canada and the U.S. have zero rights over the data companies like Facebook collects about them, as was vividly brought to life by Dr. David Carroll, whose dogged search for answers to how his personal data was misused in the Cambridge Analytica scandal played a focal role in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack (which I highly recommend you watch).

We’ve already seen how social networks such as Facebook have contributed negatively to society by contributing to the polarization and radicalization of people’s political opinions, and giving a platform to groups such as white supremacists and anti-vaxers. The Great Hack details how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data without user knowledge or consent to swing the most recent U.S. election in Donald Trump’s favour, and look at the f***ing mess the world is in now just because of that one single, pivotal event.

We can’t trust that Facebook is going to act in any interests other than its own profit. Facebook has way too much power, and governments around the world need to act in the best interests of their citizens in demanding that the company be regulated, even broken up if necessary.

UPDATED: Google Is Finally Yanking the Plug on the Failed Google+ Social Network

google+

Google’s failed experiment to create a social network to compete with the 800-lb. gorilla Facebook is over. Today the company announced that they are shutting down Google+:

Google+, a social network that we can certainly say existed and not much more, is slated for a long-overdue trip down the memory hole.

A ten-month sunsetting period was announced in a Google blog post today about increased security efforts, dubbed Project Strobe, which found a bug in Google+ that could have leaked some personal information users posted to their profiles, though according to Strobe’s analysis no one else was aware of or took advantage of the vulnerability.

That may have something to do with Google+’s relative obscurity as an online social destination. Despite integration with the company’s other, hugely successful products like Gmail, Blogger, and YouTube, Google admits usage is negligible. In the company’s own words, “90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”

Given the potential for abuse, and the fact that almost no one is using Google+, Alphabet opted to take the path of least resistance and yank the doddering network off life support. Users (whoever they might be) have had plenty of time to download and migrate their data before the platform’s final days arrive in August of next year.

According to an article in The New York Times:

Google said it would shut down Google Plus, the company’s floundering answer to Facebook, after it discovered a security vulnerability that exposed the private data of up to 500,000 users of the service.

When the company’s technical staff discovered the bug in March, they decided against disclosing the issue to users because they hadn’t found anyone that had been affected, the company said in a blog post on Monday.

That decision could run afoul of relatively new rules in California and Europe governing when a company must disclose a security incident. In the blog post, Google said its “Privacy & Data Protection Office” decided the company was not required to report the security issue.

The incident could face additional scrutiny because of a memo to senior executives reportedly prepared by Google’s policy and legal teams that warned of embarrassment for Google — similar to what happened to Facebook earlier this year — if it went public with the vulnerability.

The memo, according to The Wall Street Journal, warned that disclosing the problem would invite regulatory scrutiny and that Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, would likely be called to testify in front of Congress.

I actually will be rather sorry to see Google+ go, but I can certainly understand the decision. Nothing can compare to the initial excitement when the social network launched, but the feeling of euphoria didn’t last very long. As I have written:

…I joined Google+ when it launched in the summer of 2011, and I immediately began having real conversations with people instead of avatars [on Second Life], participating in face-to-face in hangouts, and posting items that people enjoyed and thanked me for writing. That first year was a heady and exhilarating time, hard to describe to someone who wasn’t there.

But after that first year, things went rapidly downhill and usage dropped off precipitously. Hangouts, which were great fun and a novelty at first, did not catch on the way that Google obviously hoped they would. Eventually, Google+ became a virtual ghost town.

Now I’m going to have to sit down and figure out exactly how to back up all my Google+ posts (over 18,000 of them!). I don’t want to lose them. I guess I’d better figure out how to use Google Takeout to save my stuff…

delete_google_account_banner

One group that will be hard hit by this decision is the Opensim Virtual community, which has been a primary source of information on OpenSim developments for years now. Perhaps Talla Adam will move the group over to Facebook, where any number of Second Life related groups seem to be doing well.

UPDATE Oct. 9th: Lauren Weinstein has written a must-read editorial on Google (the company) in general and Google+ (the platform) in particular on his blog: The Death of Google.

And a petition to save Google+ has already gathered over 10,000 signatures over on Change.org, but I personally don’t think it’s going to make Google change their mind:

Petition

Mike Elgan, who was a passionate user of Google+, writes:

Remember Yahoo? Twenty years ago, Yahoo.com got more traffic than any site on the internet. But it failed to evolve.

In place of evolution or innovation, Yahoo simply started buying everything with the intention of integrating it. But it was unable to integrate anything in a compelling way.

Eventually, Yahoo simply became the company that closed things. It quickly became clear that nobody should invest any time, energy or money into supporting or using Yahoo because whatever product you invested in would likely be shut down, killed off, closed for business.

Now, Google is the new Yahoo.

Google is the company that kills its own products.

Google’s M.O. is to launch some new product or service with great fanfare, convince it’s loyal fans to go all-in, allow those fans to devote countless hours with the product, then kill the product and leave the devoted fans with nothing.

They did it with Reader, Inbox, Answers, Lively, Glass, Orkut, Buzz, Wave, Nexus Q, Dodgeball and many others.

The closure of Google+ is the biggest slap in the face ever, by far.

Google told us Google+ was the future of Google. So we jumped in and engaged. Personally, I’ve spent thousands of hours lovely crafting publication-quality opinion pieces. This is what I do for a living, and I gave my time and labor over to Google+ for free.

Now, Google is going to flush all my work down the toilet.

Yours, too.

Google has been working hard for years to push away its most loyal fans. Now, Google is going even further.

In fact, the killing of Google+ is a perfect storm of Google’s vision vacuum. It’s driven by their antipathy toward passionate users, and also their failure to understand the human element generally.

Google has failed utterly with every social network they’ve ever launched, and the reason is that, culturally, Google simply can’t understand human beings.

I recently got rid of my MacBook Pro and bought a high-end Pixelbook. And I was leaning toward buying a Pixel 3. But now I’m off the fence. I’ll be buying iPhones from now on.

And I can’t even imagine what will happen when Google decides to kill Google Photos.

Google simply can’t be trusted.

Google is the new Yahoo, the company that kills its own products.

Which Google product is next?