About ten years ago, South by Southwest was called the launchpad of the Internet phenomenon: the annual technology and art festival was where Twitter broke out, and a large number of people in their 20s made mass messaging applications a major event.
In the spring of 2012, the highlight of the conference was Highlight. Paul Davison, 32 at the time, released the app six weeks ago, and the proposal was frightening but intriguing. It tracks the whereabouts of users and shows them the personal information of people nearby who have similar interests or shared contacts. Everyone wanted to give it a try during the week in Austin, Texas. The phone buzzes and buzzes with a highlighted notification. Venture capitalists wrote out checks for millions of dollars. But within a year, the app was considered too intrusive to become mainstream, and it was basically flat.
Nine years later, almost no one has heard of the name “Bright Spot”. However, many people have heard of the Clubhouse that Davison co-founded with others last year. The club is in many ways opposite to Highlight, and even includes the role played by South by Southwest. The clubhouse is a virtual conference hall with different rooms where people can talk about topics and invite guests to listen to them according to their preferences. It uses audio only.
“South by Southwest” is where Davidson made his mark in the tech industry. It will open on Tuesday, not in Texas, but on hundreds of thousands of screens. At the same time, Clubhouse is aggressive, becoming the never-ending virtual south in the southwest.
Unlike Highlight, Clubhouse continued the initial excitement. In the past year, the startup has raised funds at a valuation of US$1 billion (approximately Rs 72.6 billion), signed more than 10 million users, spread across dozens of countries, and cooperated with some well-known companies in Hollywood and Silicon Valley. The people held talks. It seems that venture capitalists are ready to appoint Davidson as the real king.
The application closely follows Davison’s style and interests. Over the past 15 years, the CEOs of clubs in Silicon Valley have explored the depth of how to use technology to connect people in new ways. According to the person working with Davison, he often embarks on the next project and believes that most people are kind and kind with ostensibly sincere beliefs.
Kamran Ansari, a venture capitalist, said: “That’s definitely in his genes.” “He doesn’t mind,’What if someone is following you? Or is the criminal contacting you? And see who you are?” He didn’t think so. Go back to being an optimist without worrying about these extreme situations. “
Sometimes, the results make people feel uncomfortable or show failure to consider safeguards against potential abuse. The clubhouse has been used to spread misinformation about COVID-19, racism and misogyny. The real-time and short-lived nature of the application makes it difficult to monitor such content.
The clubhouse spokeswoman refused to let Davidson be interviewed. She said that racism, hate speech, abuse and false information are prohibited on the app, and moderation has always been a top priority. There are signs that Davidson may be learning from past privacy controversies, and the club back this week from the perspective of requiring access to the user’s complete contact list to invite friends.
Davison’s road to the valley is smooth and not surprising. He attended a high-achieving school in San Diego, where he was a member of the “Emerging Leaders and Entrepreneurs” club. Then there are Stanford University undergraduates, Bain & Co. of Stanford University Business School (Bain & Co.)
After earning an MBA in 2007, Davison joined Metaweb, a start-up company trying to create a world information database. They want ordinary people to use complex concepts, and spend a lot of time in front of the whiteboard trying out one idea after another. Davison is enthusiastic, but “not with masculinity,” says Gavin Chan, who works closely with the startup Davison. “He has more momentum than force. Paul just keeps going.”
Metaweb is not where he continues to do this. Google acquired the business in 2010, and Davison served as a resident entrepreneur at Benchmark, one of Metaweb’s venture capital supporters. He came up with a new idea: use the location of the smartphone to connect people nearby.
Davison founded a company called Math Camp, which refers to a two-week crash course for Stanford Business School students before the actual course begins. The first product of Math Camp is Highlight. To promote it, the company paid young people to walk around downtown Austin during the 2012 conference, wearing a white turtleneck sweater with a Highlight logo on the front. The workers showed attendees at South by Southwest how the app reminds them that a woman who knows and is interested in opera is present nearby.
A few months later, Davison wrote a review article for CNN against “cyberphobia.” He wrote that technologies may seem absurd or frightening at first, but only because they are new technologies. He wrote: “Knowing the world around you will only make life better.” “In the next ten years, we will look back to the past and wonder how we would spend it without this.”
Some of his former teammates are not sure whether his thesis age is appropriate. “In my opinion, things like Highlight still work today,” said a former Math Camp employee, who asked not to be named to avoid professional repercussions. “Paul is very optimistic, almost wrong.”
After a white-hot week in Austin, interest in Highlight has cooled. It is not yet clear what purpose the application is used for. Is dating online? Connect with friends? Many people have never been satisfied with the meaning of privacy, and those who do get bored are how GPS-intensive applications drain their battery. As people are displaced, Math Camp will try to see what else will happen in the next few years.
Breaking through the digital boundaries of what people like has become Davison’s hallmark. In those days, this involved building consumer applications to encourage people to share more content by default. “He just keeps generating ideas,” said Ansari, a venture capitalist who was an investor in Math Camp. “Very creative and energetic.”
During this period, when Ansari visited Davison, entrepreneurs usually tried some new products. Ansari said: “He was one of the first people I saw wearing Google Glass.”
In 2015, Math Camp released an app called Roll, which requires users to share each photo in the camera roll with a group of friends. The start-up company recruits college students to promote it on campus. Carolyn Liu said she paid her about $1,000 (about Rs 72,500) to distribute the stickers and urged classmates at Stockton Pacific University in California to download the app. She said: “People are a little weird, but then someone really liked it.” Liu remembers Davison interviewing her, why she and her friends took pictures and what they took pictures. Liu said: “Rolling a little failed, but you can also tell that he is learning.”
The following year, the company relaunched Shorts, an automatic photo-sharing app, which attracted the attention of tech enthusiasts who were skeptical of the concept. “It’s very aggressive,” Ansari said. An article by Verge called it “crazy.” In response, Davidson said: “We like to think about things that can push people a little bit.”
At this point, Davidson realized that the math camp was losing momentum. He met with the CEOs of Dropbox and Uber. Ansari, who was in charge of company development at Pinterest at the time, said about the sale of the company. Ansari persuaded his boss to reach an agreement with Davidson, and Pinterest bought Math Camp. But Davidson quickly became frustrated at how life in a large company slowed down from his normal and fanatical pace.
Davidson left Pinterest about two years later and re-established contact with a dude Rohan Seth in 2019. At the time, Seth had been seeking help to raise funds for research work to treat his young daughter’s rare disease. They wrote in the company blog that the two companies decided to make the social media startup “the last try.” They introduced Talkshow, which eventually evolved into Clubhouse.
Clubhouse quickly caused a sensation among Valley insiders who were selected to try the service, including some of the top venture capitalists who invested in parent company Alpha Exploration in just a few months. Andreessen Horowitz first bought the company’s stock for 100 million US dollars (about 7.3 billion rupees), and then bought it again at 10 times the price. (Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, invested in Andreessen Horowitz.
“I researched a lot of social products,” said Ryan Hoover, the founder of the app catalog Product Hunt and an early investor in Clubhouse. “Very few people have captured this magic, this feeling, this is new, this is new, and this is exciting.”
Critics say that the qualities that make clubhouses feel casual and personal can also encourage deception. The app’s guidelines effectively ban recordings, which makes Clubhouse a seemingly safe place to spread lies or bullying without any consequences. But Hoover said he believes this ephemeral nature makes the app unique. He said: “It better reflects the way we communicate in the real world and encourages more authentic conversations.”
Like Highlight, Clubhouse does not give people a clear reason to use it, and it turns out that it is indeed an asset. In the absence of any regulations, Clubhouse can be a place to listen to Elon Musk talking about Bitcoin, get audio news briefings, listen to musicians singing lullabies or learn how to play stocks. In a circulation room, people just make the annoying sound of whales together.
Davison (Davison) showed more and more awareness that the rapid growth of users has brought some bad users, but it does not seem to change his view of human kindness. He said in a club speech last week: “The thing about the club is that we are building it for everyone in the world, and the reality is that there are bad actors in the world.” “Some people don’t have to be malicious. I like to test the limits of the system and try.”
When Davidson announced on Sunday that Clubhouse would no longer prompt users for access to the complete contact list, he insisted that the data request was innocent. “This is completely optional,” Davidson said during the club meeting. “I think this really brings you a better experience. And it’s not used for any other purpose. But if you don’t want to do this, you can.”
The clubhouse is one year old. Davidson stated that he hopes to expand the room capacity (usually up to 5,000 listeners) to an unlimited size so that it can accommodate musicals, press conferences, post-sports analysis, political rallies and general meetings of large companies. Although he was excited about it, Davidson was even more fascinated by things he couldn’t even imagine.
“The way people use Clubhouse is unbelievable to me,” Davidson told almost all the audience, his voice speeding up. “If you think about the evolution of video, then we start from your radio and television world. We have four channels. Everyone watches the same thing at seven o’clock on Thursday, and then to cable TV in the 90s. Here you suddenly have 400 channels, which leads to a 24-hour news channel, golf channel, fishing channel and home shopping network.
“Then we got YouTube, which was crazy,” Davidson continued. “Suddenly, you got the unboxing video and ASMR and the boxing ability of the top 10 videos and crazy things, which no one can think of. Because people are great, right?”
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