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Facebook is rolling out its Clubhouse clone starting today

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The audio-only discussion/public forum platform Clubhouse is the hottest social media trend of the year, and Facebook doesn’t want to be left out. In April, the social network announced a slew of new audio formats for its platform like podcasts, a “Soundbites” audio creation tool for short audio content, and “Live Audio Rooms” for joining Clubhouse-like talks. And starting today, these features are rolling out in the US.

Facebook started testing Live Audio Rooms in groups first and planned to roll it out to everyone using Facebook and Facebook Messenger by the summer — right on time, given today’s announcement. In a blog post, the company writes, “Public figures and select Facebook Groups in the US can create Live Audio Rooms on iOS, and select podcasts will be available to listeners in the US. In the coming weeks, we’ll expand the ability for more public figures and Groups to host a Live Audio Room and introduce new features for both experiences in the coming months.”

Along with announcing the rollout, Facebook has also shared more technical details.

Unsurprisingly, the Live Audio Rooms interface is pretty similar to Clubhouse, with highlighted speakers and a front row of (paying) listeners visible to everyone. There are options for sending emoji, raising your hand to join the discussion, and sharing the conversation with others. Public figures will also be able to monetize discussions via so-called Stars emoji, which are already known from Facebook’s live video streams.

You’ll be able to have an unlimited amount of listeners in Live Audio Rooms while there will be a maximum of 50 speakers. In groups, admins are able to decide if moderators, group members, or other admins can create Live Audio Rooms. While anyone can tune into talks in public groups, private groups only allow members to listen (naturally).

Facebook members will be able to join rooms from the news feed and via notifications on iOS and Android, and you’ll be able to sign up for reminders when a scheduled room goes live.

On the podcasts side, there will only be a small selection available in the beginning, including “Joe Budden of The Joe Budden Podcast; ‘Jess Hilarious’ of Carefully Reckless from The Black Effect Podcast Network and iHeartRadio; Keltie Knight, Becca Tobin, and Jac Vanek of the LadyGang; and Nicaila Matthews Okome of Side Hustle Pro.”

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You’ll be able to listen to podcasts on dedicated sites or in a mini player while scrolling through your news feed and other places, but you can also use it in other apps or with your screen off like a regular audio player. Podcasts can be commented, liked, shared, and bookmarked. Later this year, you’ll be able to turn on captions and there will be an option allowing you to share short specific parts of podcasts — in essence, podcasts will be integrated almost like regular posts. Facebook also plans to use its algorithm to recommend new content that you might like to listen to, helping create that famous platform lock-in.

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Then there are Soundbites, which Facebook describes as “short-form, creative audio clips for capturing anecdotes, jokes, moments of inspiration, poems, and many other things we haven’t yet imagined” — basically Stories, but audio-only. Like Audio Rooms, the feature will first be limited to a few content creators who will experiment with different concepts for the new format. To make it easier for everyone to create these Soundbites once they are more widely available, the company is also introducing a new suite of audio technologies that help with speech-to-text, voice morphing, and improving audio quality via AI.

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The announcement marks Facebook’s biggest foray into audio content yet. It’s pretty obvious that the features are aimed at competing with Clubhouse and, to an extent, Spotify (with its push for exclusive podcasts). Facebook is known for either outright buying successful competitors or copying their core features in order to push them into irrelevancy, and it looks like the company is once again trying to prevent its latest rival from gaining a foothold.

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