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Facebook announces Clubhouse competitor and other new audio products

Facebook on Monday announced a slate of new audio experience products including a Clubhouse competitor and a new short-form audio format called Soundbites. Apart from this, the social media giant is also bringing podcasts and Spotify music to the platform.

Live Audio Rooms

Rumours about Facebook building a competitor to the popular audio-only platform Clubhouse started as early as February. Akin to Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, Live Audio Rooms lets people gather in audio chat rooms to discuss various topics. This feature will initially be available to the 1.8 billion people who use Groups and to public figures who wish to host conversations with other public figures, experts and fans. Facebook has not clarified who qualifies as a public figure. Live Audio Room will eventually be available to all Facebook users through Messenger by summer 2021.

Facebook will allow users to support their favourite creators and public figures with its digital currency, Stars. The company is also working on enabling monetization through one-time purchases or subscription to access a Live Audio Room.

Facebook’s biggest advantage over Clubhouse is its large user base and existing app which it can leverage to popularize the new Live Audio Rooms feature. Clubhouse, on the other hand, still does not have an Android app. This is not the first time Facebook has reproduced a popular concept and succeeded. The company previously borrowed Stories from Snapchat and Reels from TikTok for Instagram.

Facebook’s biggest hurdle will be moderating live audio. In a Discord server conversation with tech journalist Casey Newton, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company will take lessons from what it does with monitoring text and video posts, but acknowledged that there is still a debate over the extent to which audio should be moderated. “If I walk by your picnic table in the park and hear you sharing misinformation with your friends, I’m not going to call the police. If the same conversation took place on Facebook audio rooms, should moderators shut it down? Hide it from recommendations? Or leave it alone?” Newton wondered.

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Another question is will audio social platforms remain popular after the pandemic. Live audio gained popularity as people started finding themselves more at home but it might be losing momentum. Last month, Clubhouse’s monthly downloads plunged by 72 percent.

Soundbites

Facebook describes Soundbites as a new short-form social audio format “for capturing anecdotes, jokes, moments of inspiration, poems, and many other things we haven’t yet imagined.” Like TikTok or Instagram Reels, but for audio. Excerpts from podcasts and conversations held in a Live Audio Room can also be shared as Soundbites.

To develop Soundbites, Facebook built a set of new audio creation tools that makes audio recordings “powerful enough for the pros, but intuitive and fun,” the release stated. Technologies Facebook has worked on include speech-to-text, voice morphing, and noise reduction. Some fun tools that will be available to users include background music and sound effects from Facebook’s Sound Collection and voice effects and filters.

Facebook is working with a small number of creators over the next few months to refine Soundbites and will launch the feature to all users by this summer. Initially, these creators will be supported by an Audio Creator Fund.

Facebook Podcasts

Taking a cue from the 170 million people who are connected to podcast pages on the platform and the 35 million people who are part of podcast fan groups, Facebook decided to bring podcasts on to its app, the release stated. It will take on Apple and Spotify in this segment by leveraging its large user base to help creators find new listeners and its powerful recommendation engine to help users discover podcasts based on their interest. Facebook will also provide the ability to record conversations from a Live Audio Room and convert them into podcasts for listeners to tune in later. Podcasts are expected to roll out over the next few months.

Spotify Integration

In his Discord server conversation with Newton, Mark Zuckerberg also talked about a partnership with Spotify that will bring the music giant’s audio player to Facebook and let users listen to and share music and podcasts right on their feeds. There was no mention of this feature in Facebook’s announcement, but a Spotify spokesperson confirmed the partnership with The Verge. “Our ambition has always been to make Spotify ubiquitous across platforms and devices — bringing music and podcasts to more people — and our new integration with Facebook is another step in these efforts,” the Spotify spokesperson said.

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