thoughts on digital media etc

Whatever Happened to Baby Clubhouse

When it hit the market, Clubhouse erupted as the social media platform – it was exclusive, invite only, and disruptive in how it delivered content. It also came out at a time when people were stuck inside and were craving real time human interaction. I wrote about how it had potential to be a channel for real social change – a place for live interactive conversations about the things that matter.

The clubhouse blog celebrated 2021 events with a roundup highlighting significant wins including A year ago, in February 2021, the app reached a significant milestone, 10 million users – an especially impressive feat considering the app was only available on iPhones.

So one might wonder, what happened? Was it competition from the more popular and established network, Twitter? Or perhaps, simply that people went back outside. The way that information is consumed on Twitter is bite sized – just the headlines, breaking news, made for quick mobile consumption. I can count on one hand the number of times, I’ve logged into my twitter account on a desktop. And given a choice of being online scrolling from my computer vs. anywhere else, well I live in Southern California, take a wild guess!

Clubhouse had the potential to capitalize on a moment, to harness the energy of a willing audience and carve out a niche for itself in the social media space. It recently announced cross platform communications, where users could share chatrooms across platforms. But that’s like saying you could use Facebook to talk to MySpace, yes MySpace, and there’s simply no market for that.

Clubhouse Access and social Change

Back in the day, in the 2000s, clubbing meant loud Christina Aguilera or Justin Timberlake music, drinks, dancing with your girlfriends, and excitement at where the nights took you. In fact as I write this, I’m listening to Dirty – old school (or just old) Aguilera. The app Clubhouse however has borrowed from the old clubhouse idea – and not partying in your 20s.

The app is an invitation-only, audio-chat, social networking app. It’s a combination of the OG AOL Chatrooms, TedTalks, with the exclusivity factor of college-emails only Facebook. This Washington Post article will give you the Clubhouse 101 on who’s on it, what it brings to the market etc. – but suffice to say that Zuckerberg, Musk, and Oprah have all graced the “halls” of Clubhouse.

What stands out to me, more than the celebrity factor, is the potential to create real social change. To provide the platform for discourse. And to do it in a way, where it’s not contributing to social media noise. When you sign up for it, you’re asked to link to other social media accounts – but rather than anonymity that can contribute to a hostile environment (Facebook comments, I’m looking at you), you’re being asked to own your comments. 

I watched one of the most excellent hours on television this week – an episode of the show Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,  where there was a real conversation about race, bias, and opportunity, set in Silicon Valley. The type of conversations that don’t happen enough – that are uncomfortable and compel you to confront your own biases. And then today I saw this on Twitter.

I’ve been a passive user of clubhouse, waiting for something that would spark my interest besides its exclusivity. And this did. A conversation with two of the actors and the show’s writer?

Intrigued? NPR covered the app recently. And the New York Times reported that – to no one’s surprise – Facebook is working on a competing Product. Although, I’m afraid that might just be more noise!

AIRBnB TAKES A STAND for security

Shonda Rhimes’ show Scandal had seemingly incredible events occur in the fictional Fitzgerald Grant’s Presidency. Affairs, dead marriages, stolen elections, influential donors with elitist agendas that helped them and their friends get richer, hypocrisy, a president out of control….it’s almost like Trump saw how unbelievable it was and was like “hold my beer.” 

To be crystal clear, unlike in Scandal, the 2020 election wasn’t stolen.

And finally, in one week, President Elect Joe Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris will be inaugurated and become the next leaders of the United States. After the events of Jan 6, it’ll take all of us to make sure that it’s a safe event, and that President Joe Biden and Vice President Harris never have to question their security.

Airbnb is doing its part – it announced in a statement today that they’re not going to have airbnbs available during the inauguration. They said: 

“in response to various local, state and federal officials asking people not to travel to Washington, D.C., we are announcing that Airbnb will cancel reservations in the Washington, D.C. metro area during the Inauguration week.  Additionally, we will prevent any new reservations in the Washington, D.C. area from being booked during that time by blocking such reservations. “

More of this please – United, American, Delta, Southwest, Alaska – everyone else, can you please step up and ban them from your airlines. Pre-emptive thanks! You can also read the full Airbnb statement.

the day social Media said enough

First it was Twitter, then Facebook and Instagram, and Pinterest got on board. I’m talking about banning the President in light of the events on January 6 in the nation’s capital. Next, Apple and Google announced that the Parler app wouldn’t be available on their respective platforms.  Finally, and I mean finally, Amazon got on board with the idea of using their powers for good and suspended Parler’s website, in an effort to stop the drastic spread of communication among fringe groups.

In the coming days, there’ll be continued conversations about whether it’s legal for Twitter to ban Trump (it is) and whether or not it’s censorship (it’s not).  But in a media context, this is the most recent example of how social media isn’t going anywhere. It’s not only this thing that kids make money from in Tik Tok houses creating what they call content. It’s more than brands giving consumers the ability to click to buy products from Instagram changing the shopping experience. The difference is that social media platforms are private.

I’d go so far as to argue that this is a printing press moment – the spread and availability of information at a pace never seen before.

To those who think that this is an attack on the freedom of speech, let me remind you what media law classes teach as well as what’s on the Cornell Law school website :

The Supreme Court has cited three “reasons why threats of violence are outside the First Amendment”: “protecting individuals from the fear of violence, from the disruption that fear engenders, and from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur.”

Call me crazy but President’s Trumps words were a call to action that violated all 3 of those reasons. Take that further – the Freedom Forum Institute out of Washington DC puts it in simpler terms: 

 “Although different scholars view unprotected speech in different ways, there are basically nine categories:

Fighting words
Defamation (including libel and slander)
Child pornography
Incitement to imminent lawless action
True threats
Solicitations to commit crimes

Life in 2020 – the 3rd Place

I think we can all agree that so far 2020 has wrecked many, many things. Vacations, graduations, what college will look like in the fall, hell what preschool will look like in the fall – everything is uncertain.

One of those things thats changing is the community. Whether it’s defined as PTA meetings, or band parents meetings, or even the country club – or coffee shops, bars and hair salons. It’s the idea of the third place, where you go when you’re not at work or at home.

For the Ancient Greeks, this was the agora – a place of gathering, the economic heartland, but also the intellectual and political center, according to the website Greeklandscapes. That idea of a community gathering place was recycled in history- the French cafe shops during the French Revolution, the coffee houses during British Enlightenment period, the bars Alexander Hamilton and his friends took shots at, while planning the American Revolution – at least in the musical version…

I was thinking about this in the tv/media context – in How I Met Your Motherit’s the bar downstairs. Robin, one of the friends comes from Brooklyn – I’m not a New Yorker, I can’t confirm how realistic that is, but here in Los Angeles we wouldn’t cross the 405. In Friends, a group of 20-somethings who don’t have jobs that require their attention on Wednesday afternoons, they somehow manage to get the SAME sofa every time they visit, on a daily basis. And in Gilmore Girls, the third place was Lukes – aka where they went for sustenance and coffee, since left on her own, Lorelai could eat like a 15 year old teenage boy and not put on a pound. But then this is television not reality.

Curbed clearly describes the third place:

Third places can be churches, coffee shops, gyms, hair salons, post offices, main streets, bars, beer gardens, bookstores, parks, community centers, and gift shops—inexpensive places where people come together and life happens. In other words, they’re a community’s living room.

Which brings us to 2020  – where chances are your home has become your office; your gym; for those of you with younger kids – possibly a home school; if the offspring are home from college – both a library and a lecture hall; a movie theatre; your local restaurant and bar; and for some people also a hair salon.

Ironically, being a good member of society in July 2020, means staying indoors. It means limiting that very idea of in-person social interaction. It means you can’t be at the bar at your favorite bar for the both your bartenders’ safety and yours. It means that people are discouraged (rightly) from larger gatherings like campaign rallies and religious institutions.

Which brings me to my point – Who would Barney Stinson be if he couldn’t hit on women at the bar? What does the 3rd place look like, how does community get formed and maintained when you’re not seeing people on a regular basis? It’s a brave new, less connected, world.

Reclaiming the 4th Estate

Eight years ago, the US looked very different. Back in August 2012 we were three months short of reelecting President Barack Obama, the Tea Party was a thing, and we weren’t as polarized a country as we are now. The first season of HBO’s The Newsroom, was without a doubt, the best one of the shows 3 Season, 25 episode run. It’s been almost 8 years since the premiere episode “We Just Decided To” – but rewatching it made me long for honest discourse about what the media’s role has historically been and its potential. In the opening scene, Jeff Daniel’s character Will McAvoy has the audacity to candidly answer a question about American greatness, backed with statistics, and delivered with passion.

Full disclosure – I went to Journalism school, which is one of many reasons I love this show. You don’t go into media for the money – and the only one raking it in is the shows’s star. But so many of the work-related elements of this show are things that journalism students are taught to do. And honestly, that’s where there’s a disconnect with citizen journalism – not finding the full story, not vetting your story, and not having multiple sources that confirm your narrative. Ultimately though, the staff at the fictional ACN Newsroom are invested in practicing exceptional journalism, even when they don’t get it right.

Without a doubt, this show isn’t for everyone. If you’re predisposed to mistrust the media, then I’d say don’t even bother. This is an idealist show, written by and for idealists – who believe in the First Amendment as strongly as those who believe in the second. In the second episode, Emily Mortimer’s Mackenzie McHal’s idea to restructure the show is to change the show’s format, cater to an audience that’s smart, and to present all sides of an argument. She references the 4th Estate – the press as a check on government. That’s right – not “fake news”, not the enemy of government, but a check on authority. One that was important enough for the founders to place it as part of the first amendment.