Get set to join the chatter on ‘Clubhouse’

The audio-only social network has taken Kerala by storm with people joining in large numbers for discussions on subjects ranging from politics, literature, arts to sports

From tea shops and barber shops to cafes, every available space or platform is one for political and cultural discussions for the Malayali.

The latest such space is ‘Clubhouse,’ the audio-only social network, which seems to have taken Kerala by storm. Though it has been available in Apple’s iOS platform for about a year, its release in Android phones last week has led to an explosion in the number of users from the State.

Discussion rooms on a range of subjects including politics, literature, cinema, history, sports and COVID-19 have popped up in the application. Users can join in any discussion room of their choice, can either silently listen to the ongoing conversations or add their own two cents to the debate, with permission from the moderator. Users also have the choice to seamlessly switch between discussion rooms.

Political parties seem to have realised the immense possibilities of the platform. The Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) was one of the first to latch on to this, hosting a discussion on the ongoing issues in Lakshadweep on Friday night, with more than 3,000 people joining in as participants along with Left leaders. On Saturday, the Congress party’s IT wing is hosting a discussion on the same subject, with party leaders joining in.

“It is a platform which allows people to express themselves without fear. Many who have found it hard to communicate their ideas through writings in existing social media have found this ideal for them. I joined the platform with an intent to also learn the possibilities of this technology. In the past four days, I have been part of numerous discussion rooms and also initiated some, including some for light-hearted discussions,” says N.E.Chithrasenan, partner, Modern Book Centre in the capital.

The ongoing COVID-19-induced lockdown, which has cut off most interpersonal interactions, also seems to have led people to joining the application in large numbers.

“The lockdown has prevented all kinds of social interactions. For someone like me, who used to interact with several people on a daily basis, these discussions have been a relief. It has immense possibilities as a political tool since it has similar characteristics of a public meeting. There are also several ways in which businesses and creative people can use this platform effectively. On the technology side, there are privacy issues, because the application has access to the entire contact list of its users. It also keeps a record of all the conversations, although users cannot record it, except using external recorders,” says Sunil Thomas.T, Principal, College of Engineering, Attingal.

Kanal Samskarika Vedhi, a theatre group known for popular dramas like Bhagavante Maranam, is using Clubhouse to present an audio-only drama, reminiscent of the popular radio-drama of yesteryears. The drama titled Lakshadeepam, highlighting the issues in Lakshadweep, will be premiering on the platform at 6 p.m on Sunday.

“For the past one year, all theatre groups have been struggling due to the lack of avenues to perform. When we listened to discussions in the application, we realised that its nature and audio quality are well-suited for a drama performance. Four of us will be performing from our homes. Someone else will handle the background music,” says Hazim Amaravila, playwright and director.

Quite a few politicians, writers, film personalities and regular faces from television debates have been active on the platform over the past week, with many debates having around 1,000 active participants. Quite a few music-related sessions have turned into impromptu concerts. Users have the choice to start discussion rooms on any random topic of their choice, with quite a few using clickbait names to attract listeners.

Clubhouse was founded in March 2020 by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth of Alpha Exploration Company, after many of their previous ideas failed to take off.

Over the past one year, many celebrities have joined the platform, adding to its popularity. People can currently sign up using their phone number, with a requirement that an existing user has to invite them in. Each discussion room currently has a limit of 5,000 listeners, although this limit has been breached many times by people live-streaming the discussions on YouTube. Though it is currently free, there are talks of the company planning to monetise the platform by fixing fee for hosting larger gatherings, a possibility which will attract political parties and artistes alike.

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