EXPLAINER: What is Clubhouse, the buzzy new audio chat app?

The icon for the social media app Clubhouse is seen on a smartphone screen in Beijing, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Clubhouse, an invitation-only audio chat app launched less than a year ago, has caught the attention of tech industry bigshots like Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, not to mention the Chinese government, which has already blocked it in the country. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
The icon for the social media app Clubhouse is seen on a smartphone screen in Beijing, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Clubhouse, an invitation-only audio chat app launched less than a year ago, has caught the attention of tech industry bigshots like Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, not to mention the Chinese government, which has already blocked it in the country. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Clubhouse, an invitation-only audio chat app launched less than a year ago, has caught the attention of tech industry bigshots like Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — not to mention the Chinese government, which has already blocked it in the country. What is Clubhouse, you ask?

WHAT IS CLUBHOUSE?

The iPhone-only app, once you’re in, lets you start or listen into conversations on a whole host of topics, from tech to pro sports, parenting, Black literature and so on. There are no posts, photos or videos — only people’s profile pictures and their voices.

Conversations can be intimate, like a phone call, or might include thousands of people listening to a talk by boldface names, like a conference or stage interview. Think part podcast, part conference call, part social media. It's free to use and there are no ads, at least not at this point.

HOW DO I GET IN?

Currently, the only way to get an invitation is to score one from someone already on Clubhouse. It's still in “beta," version, like Gmail was in its early days, when it was a badge of nerd worthiness to get an account. If you don't know anyone who can invite you yet, you may not have to wait much longer. When Clubhouse first came out, new members only got two invitations. That number has now grown to five, signaling that the app feels ready to broaden its audience. You can also download the app and get on a waiting list to be let into Clubhouse.

This is part of the app's current appeal — like an exclusive club, only it's expanding by the minute. The aura has been magnified by the star power of early members such as rap star Drake, actor Jared Leto, actress Tiffany Haddish, and influential technology figures such as venture capitalist Marc Andreessen and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Although Clubhouse hasn't divulged how many people are using its service, its app has been downloaded 5.3 million times, according to analytics firm App Annie.

Once you have an invitation, you can import your Twitter profile — or start from scratch — and then follow people or “clubs" on a broad range of topics. The app encourages people to use their real names, though this does not appear to be enforced. You'll also need an iPhone — Clubhouse doesn't yet work on Android phones and is not on the web.