What is the biggest threat to Clubhouse: Twitter, Facebook, or Clubhouse itself?

Another excellent piece by Ben Thompson on Stratechery, this one describing where exactly Clubhouse fits in the social media landscape, and why it may succeed. The whole piece is very smart and insightful and I highly recommend reading it. This part on Facebook got my attention:

Still, the discussion of all of these different networks really does highlight how Facebook is unique: while Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok are all first and foremost about the medium, and only then the network, Facebook is about the network first. That is how the service has evolved from text to images to video and, I wouldn’t be surprised, to audio. This also explains why Facebook managed the shift to mobile so well; for these other networks, meanwhile, it was mobile that was the foundation for their transformative breakthroughs.

That is why I would actually give Facebook’s upcoming Clubhouse competitor a better chance than Twitter’s already-launched offering. Facebook takes innovations developed in different apps for interest-based networks and adds them to its relationship-based network; at the same time, this also means that Facebook is never going to be a real competitor for Clubhouse, which seems more likely to recreate Twitter’s interest-based network than Twitter is likely to recreate the vibrancy of Clubhouse.

Another reason as to why Facebook’s upcoming Clubhouse competitor will probably have more success than Twitter’s: Twitter. When was the last time Twitter introduced something really useful, well done, and really interesting? Years at least.1 We will see how they will try not to ruin their Revue acquisition, but I don’t see Twitter compete against anyone when it comes to new products, hence why Facebook probably has a better chance.2

Also, if Clubhouse aims at recreating Twitter’s interest-based network, why on Earth would they use a user’s phone contact list first to build a user’s network?

As for Clubhouse, I think they need to work fast on what is expected of an app in 2021: Privacy, security, transparency, avoiding weird connections to China, moderation, and some easy way for users to delete their account and data, which is currently not the case. On this lack of option for deleting one’s account, Joe Macleod tweeted:

The more I think of this, the more shocking I find it. It is something that is driving me to talk about / designing ends. Off-boarding should be part of the design.

Exactly. I had to send an email and ask for my data to be deleted. An email!

Describing Clubhouse, Thompson adds:

[Clubhouse actions fit] the stereotype of a new social network scrambling to capture the market first, and worrying about potential downsides later.

Clubhouse would have been fine with this strategy in 2013. In 2021, I’m not sure they’re doing enough to succeed, and acting like they do, I don’t think they deserve to succeed.

Maybe facing competition from serious names like Twitter, Facebook, and whichever company that will steal the idea will help them do better. At this point, the bar for doing better sadly isn’t very high.

  1. I want to say Polls, but maybe there is something more recent than that.↩︎

  2. I hope Alex Kantrowitz is right though.↩︎

If you decide to join Clubhouse, do not make the same mistake as I did: avoid sharing your contact list

Will Oremus, one Medium’s OneZero, about how the hot new app Clubhouse is pushing users to get their phone’s contact list and how the unclear use of that data can be problematic:

Once you’ve agreed to upload your phone’s address book, Clubhouse uses it to recommend people to follow who are already on the app, which is common practice for social apps these days. But it soon becomes apparent that Clubhouse also takes it a few steps further, in ways that are both creative and a little creepy.

This article is a must-read, especially if you’re wondering whether or not you should join Clubhouse. Using phone numbers to build a social graph is not only weird for an app such as Clubhouse — focused on personal interests like Twitter, not relationships like Facebook — but coupled with the mandatory” use of real names, it can truly become problematic for many people.

Oremus adds:

Clubhouse may or may not be the worst offender in terms of how it handles contacts that users upload. It’s conceivable that the company has thoughtful data-handling practices that mitigate the risks, although its nonresponse to my inquiry isn’t the most encouraging sign.

A social media company has to do better in 2021 and we, experienced users, should not be OK with all this. I’ve made the mistake of giving Clubhouse access to my contact list, and now it’s too late. If you decide to join Clubhouse, I think you should wait before allowing anything. It doesn’t seem like a big deal when you join the app, but then you think of all the implications and realise that Oremus is right: it is a little creepy.

Clubhouse’s FAQ/support page is incomplete, sometimes can’t even be accessed, and there is still not a simple, secure way to delete your account or data. How is this not a priority for them? Clubhouse should not get a pass on this, this is not the year 2011.

The sudden hype to join the hot new social network is strong: you want to experience it yourself, you want that sweet username saved, you want to show your network that you’re already on it, that you’re one of the cool kids. This hype should not blind you to the risks now too well-known regarding privacy and what happens to your data. I am now seriously considering emailing Clubhouse to ask for my account and data to be fully deleted, not out of spite or the decidedly poor interest I have for the app, but as a matter of principle.

UPDATE: 12 hours later I’ve now asked for my Clubhouse account and data to be deleted.

The best explainer of what Apple is doing with the new iOS privacy-related feature

Sometimes, the best way to explain something is to use a good old analogy. John Gruber nailed it on his comments regarding Bloomberg editors’ poor choice of words when describing the upcoming iOS privacy feature — a new feature called App Tracking Transparency — wrongly calling it anti-tracking”:

Let’s say a cottage industry arose where commercial companies were, unbeknownst to most people, plugging their fleets of electric vehicles into the outdoor power outlets on people’s homes overnight. No one told us not to plug our electric delivery vans into these homes’ freely available power outlets.” And then, after this practice comes to light, the electric company adds a feature where every time a new vehicle is plugged into your outdoor power outlet, you, the homeowner, need to authorize that vehicle as being allowed to charge using the electricity you pay for. If you don’t authorize it, they don’t get the juice.

By Gurman and Grant’s logic, Bloomberg would describe this as an anti-electric-vehicle” feature. That’s nonsense. It’s just putting the owner in charge of access to a resource that, heretofore, they didn’t realize companies were taking from them without asking.

The advertising industry has been profiting from this lack of transparency for way too long. Not only what tracking can do and the amount of data gathered is creepy and problematic, but most of the time is is done without people even knowing about it, even tech-savvy users.

Another analogy by Gruber, this one from September 2020:

Real-world marketers could never get away with tracking us like online marketers do. Imagine if you were out shopping, went into a drug store, examined a few bottles of sunscreen, but left the store without purchasing anything. And then immediately a stranger approached you with an offer for sunscreen. […] We wouldn’t tolerate it. But that’s basically how online ad tracking works.

Companies — and not only advertising companies like Facebook and Google — have a responsibility too: Marketing departments are hungry for data about their potential customers, and are gladly using all the tools at their disposal, without much concerns about it being right or not. In these teams, things like GDPR, made to protect the end user, are only seen as obstacles or annoyances, not progress.

The little problems of the big 432 Park Avenue building

Stephanos Chen, on the New York Times, wrote a piece about the several problems of 432 Park, one of the wealthiest addresses in the world.” The 427-meter tower1 has been facing many technical difficulties, including water damage and numerous mechanical issues. Regardless of the somewhat satisfying billionaires-being-uncomfortable voyeurism, and the obvious implications on the city skyline,2 urbanism, design, and architecture, this part in particular got my attention:

One of the most common complaints in supertall buildings is noise, said Luke Leung, a director at the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. He has heard metal partitions between walls groan as buildings sway, and the ghostly whistle of rushing air in doorways and elevator shafts.

Residents at 432 Park complained of creaking, banging and clicking noises in their apartments, and a trash chute that sounds like a bomb” when garbage is tossed, according to notes from a 2019 owners’ meeting.

Anyone else having strong Poltergeist III vibes or is it just me?

  1. The New York Times — among other websites — really need a toggle to switch from imperial units to the metric system. Maybe it should be a browser native feature, maybe the editors should consistently make the effort to add the converted values in their writing, but it needs to be done. This is especially important when it comes to climate change coverage for instance, where the understanding of temperatures and rising-water heights needs to be 100% clear. The New York Times, along with the Washington Post, the Guardian, and other world” publications cannot — as world publications — assume the world understands imperial units, because the world does not.↩︎

  2. Also from Stefanos Chen, do not miss this NYT piece on the evolution of the city’s skyline, with beautiful shots of New York from the 1920s and 1930s.↩︎

“Twitter’s ban of the [US] president is proof of the company’s unprecedented and unaccountable power”

John Herrman, on the New York Times:

An informational label alone […] represents a particular set of assumptions about what the problem is in the first place. It assumes that users sharing disinformation are merely mistaken; that assertions of external authority and expertise are persuasive; that a Wikipedia article is enough to transport someone from a flat earth back to the round one they chose to leave behind; or that a warning about forbidden information won’t be enticing, but discouraging. (What kind of moon landing conspiracy theorist isn’t aware of the official — and, by the way, true — story about American astronauts landing on the moon?) […]

In short, the tech platforms responded to challenges of user moderation with performances of helplessness hiding assertions of power. These firms wrote the rules for their users. They chose when not to enforce them. The labels told us what was wrong and what wasn’t going to be done about it.

The piece by Herrman is by far the best take I’ve read on the whole Twitter/Trump — very lucrative — relationship.

The Stories of social media

Sarah Fischer, on Axios:

Tech platforms used to focus on ways to create wildly different products to attract audiences. Today, they all have similar features, and instead differentiate themselves with their philosophies, values and use cases.

I love Axios because their articles are always concise and very on-point, and this one in particular does the job extremely well: The table showing which feature is available on each social network instantly shows how much they now have in common.

In many cases, I think it makes a lot of sense for one company to steal/copy another’s. Adding the Stories feature on Instagram was obvious for instance (even if it may have ended on devaluation the initial value of Instagram), but in other cases, I think this is just ridiculous and lazy.

When software speaks its mind (sort of)

While I was slightly tweaking the CSS of this website — published via Blot — I stumbled upon a set of pages on the website written by its creator, David Merfield. Called Notes, these are not the typical pages you find on websites for services such as Blot, but rather on a personal blog. A few exemples:

There is a distinct SAAS-aesthetic. I don’t like it and I don’t want Blot to be associated with it. This aesthetic is infantile — it uses emojis and animated GIFs. It worships Steve Jobs and Walt Disney. It is obsessed with growth.

Why is the price $4 rather than $3.99 a month? I don’t like the look of prices that end in .99. It always struck me as a cheap trick. The number is messier too. Why use five glyphs if we can get away with two?

I firmly believe that when you design a webpage, you should start with a paragraph of text and work outwards.

My screen is small enough as it is, I do not want it further reduced by sticky headers and footers, by forms cajoling me into signing up for a newsletter. None of these improve the reading experience and only irritate me.

And my favourite bit:

I dislike when the page takes a long time to load.

The whole set of pages is great to read, and really makes me a prouder Blot user. Add to this the fantastic documentation available for users and developers, and of course the service itself, and you end up with a solution I cannot recommend enough if you own or want a blog or a personal website.

Special blend of tech-flavoured links, served by Nicolas Magand © 2013-2021