I’ve learned to dread clubhouse alerts. They blow up my phone dozens of times a day, at all hours of the day.
My childhood neighbor just joined the app. Will I welcome them “in”? What about the guy I went on three dates with six years ago? Some people talk about podcasting. Someone else is discussing crypto (there is always someone talking about crypto). The alerts are constant.
Sometimes I wake up to a stream of alerts about conversations I missed because I was asleep. The worst thing is when I try to swipe a notification and I accidentally press it instead, which shoots me straight into the room I was trying to avoid. I crawl at the thought that one day I may accidentally join one of the dreaded “welcome rooms”
It’s not that I do not like Clubhouse, the lively audio chat startup that has exploded in popularity in recent months. Even as a rare participant, I have enjoyed many of the conversations I have been a part of. But the app sends a lot of alerts. Even by thirsty growth hack-to-price-price Silicon Valley standards, clubhouse alerts are on a whole different level.
Here are a few occasions when you might see a clubhouse warning:
The moment someone you have ever saved in the contact list joins the app
When someone you follow in the app, a room starts
When someone you follow is talking in a room
When someone you follow is planning a future conversation
When a conversation is scheduled for a club you follow
If someone you know pings you to join a room
Sometimes alerts come for no apparent reason: Someone you do not know and do not follow speaks in a room about a topic you are not interested in and never followed. “It’s like the app bothers me every time someone I follow does something at Clubhouse,” says Jane Manchun Wong, an app developer and Clubhouse user.
A spokesman for the clubhouse pointed to the app’s “new user guide”, which states that “alerts are important in the clubhouse since everything is live and we encourage you to manage them to suit your preferences.” It notes that users who feel they are receiving too many alerts may change their settings to “very infrequently.”
It’s true that the app allows you to adjust the alert frequency, ranging from “never” to “very frequent.” But even seemingly modest alert settings can result in an endless stream of alerts.
I follow around a hundred users and ten clubs on the app, far less than any of my other social media accounts. Still, I get two or three times as many clubhouse alerts as I do with any other app. With in-app alerts set to “normal” – the app’s default setting – I received 50-60 alerts a day, according to my iOS Screen Time reports. When I called the frequency up to “very frequent”, my daily alerts went up to more than 70. Sometimes I got several alerts within seconds of each other, often about the same call. Within a week, I received 414 notifications from the clubhouse. It was more than I got from any other social app, and hundreds more than any app except Messages.
Even people who are quite active on the app report that they are overwhelmed by the number of alerts. So much so that complaining about the frequency of clubhouse alerts has become a kind of meme.
The problem is not only that the constant alerts feel spammy and disturbing, but that the nature of the clubhouse and its miss and it are gone conversations is that alerts can end up as a source of stress. “The number of alerts even when set to ‘Normal’ is quite high,” explains Wong, who regularly attends clubhouse chats. “Sure, it keeps me updated on what my friends and the people I follow up with, but it gets pretty distracting and keeps me in a constant FOMO state of mind.”
I reduced the stress level by setting the clubhouse alerts to “Very Rare”
– Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) February 25, 2021
The FOMO dynamics are not an accident. The nature of the clubhouse, which requires users to tune in live, exploits users’ fear of missing out. Forget checking your alerts and you could miss the next Elon Musk moment. It is a tactic that has been particularly successful over the past year as a global pandemic has increased our social life. At a time when so many are starving for social interaction, the clubhouse can be a welcome distraction.
Still, there are consequences when an app goes overboard on alerts, says Pamela Pavliscak, faculty member at the Pratt Institute and author of Emotionally intelligent design: Think about how we make products.
“There are a lot of studies on the psychology of messages, and how they stress us and make us feel overwhelmed,” says Pavliscak. “They make us feel FOMO. They have a physical effect on us that can increase our heart rate, breathing. So there are psychological effects, there are physical effects … there are many potential layers where alerts can disturb us and in negative ways. “
The fact that the clubhouse is so alert also contradicts the idea that our phones should not ping us all day and night. Features like Apple’s screen time controllers and Google’s wellness’ tools on Android were born out of growing concern that our devices took too much of our attention. Facebook and other social media apps were some of the main culprits, in part because of their reliance on excessive notification to keep us hooked on their platforms.
But Facebook offers at least fairly detailed (if any blunt) notification settings, so you can opt out of the ones you don’t want. Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok offer similar detailed notification settings. The clubhouse does not. You can change the frequency, even if the app does not provide an explanation for the difference between “frequent” or “normal” levels of alerts. You can also “stop” them all, but there is no clear way to say, opt out of alerts when your contacts join or mute alerts from specific users.
Granted, Clubhouse is a very different app than Facebook (although Facebook is trying to create its own version of the service). First, you do not have to spend a lot of time physically looking at the screen to use the app. There is also no way to “catch up” if you missed something. But there is hardly a good reason not to give users more control over the alerts they receive. Just adding more detailed settings can go a long way to making the app less spammy. It can also reduce our collective FOMO.