Facebook’s Clubhouse competitor starts rolling out in the US today

Facebook’s Clubhouse competitor, Live Audio Rooms, is making its way stateside. The company announced today that some US-based public figures, as well as certain groups, can start hosting rooms through the main Facebook iOS app. (People can join, however, from both iOS and Android.) Anyone can be invited up as a speaker with up to 50 people able to speak at once. There’s no cap on the number of listeners allowed in — a major shot at Clubhouse, which imposes room size limitations.

It’s also introducing other nifty features, like notifications when your friends or followers join a room, as well as live captions. There will be a “raise a hand” button to request to join the conversation, and reactions will be available to to interact throughout the chat. Twitter Spaces, Twitter’s live audio feature, includes captions, but Clubhouse still does not.

Within groups, admins can control who’s allowed to create a room: moderators, group members, or other admins. Public group chats will be accessible both in and outside the group, but private group chats will be restricted to members. Additionally, hosts can also select a nonprofit or fundraiser to support during their conversation with a button to directly donate showing up on the chat. Again, this feels like a feature directly built to address a key Clubhouse use case and make it frictionless. (Many Clubhouse creators have hosted fundraisers on the app but have to direct people to outside links in order to facilitate donations.)

Additionally, Facebook is making podcasts available on the platform, confirming earlier Verge reporting. People will be able to listen to podcasts through either a mini-player or a full-screen player with various playback controls, including the ability to listen while the screen is off. They’ll be able to find shows on specific podcast creators’ Pages, as well as in the News Feed, and they can react to, comment, bookmark, and share their favorites. The Facebook team says it plans to roll out automatic captioning later this summer, as well as a clips feature where listeners can create and share their favorite clips.

All these features come just days after Spotify debuted its own live audio app, Greenroom; three months since Stage Channels came to Discord; four months after Reddit Talk; roughly seven months after Twitter launched Spaces; and about 15 months after Clubhouse first launched. LinkedIn and Slack are, reportedly, working on their own versions of an audio product, even as downloads of and buzz around Clubhouse itself have waned considerably.

Unlike Clubhouse, which drew in early listeners by giving them auditory access to Silicon Valley hot shots, Facebook is hoping to cast a broader net of influencers with Live Audio Rooms. Among the named public figures who will have access to the feature on launch will be musicians (TOKiMONSTA, D Smoke, Kehlani); media figures (Joe Budden, DeRay Mckesson); and athletes (Russell Wilson, Omareloff). Joe Budden will also distribute his podcast through Facebook.

Audio rooms may or may not be a feature with real staying power, but Facebook seems intent on investing broadly in the space.

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