Facebook plans to go after Clubhouse — and podcasts — with a suite of new audio products

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A competition to Clubhouse and a foray into podcasting are among the audio items that Facebook plan CEO Mark Zuckerberg has promised will be released over the coming weeks and months. The plans for each of those—including one to incorporate Spotify’s music player inside Facebook—are detailed below. Speaking to tech journalist Casey Newton, Zuckerberg added that he wanted Facebook to be able to allow audio creators to get paid when their works go live.

Facebook wants you to start communicating with others on the site.

According to sources, the social network plans to introduce a number of “social audio” items on Monday, some of which won’t be available for some time. They include Facebook’s attempt to compete with Clubhouse, the quickly expanding audio-only social network, as well as a Spotify-supported drive for podcast distribution and discovery.

The audio plans for Facebook include:

Rooms, a videoconferencing product it introduced a year ago when the pandemic prompted widespread use of Zoom, now has an audio-only version.
A product akin to Clubhouse that will allow audiences to hear speakers on a virtual “stage” and engage with them

A tool that would enable Facebook users to record quick voice messages and post them in their News Feeds, just like they can today with text, images, and videos
a podcast discovery tool that will be integrated with Spotify, which has made significant podcasting investments over the past few years. I’m not sure if Facebook plans to do anything else but mark podcasts for its users and submit them to Spotify. (It’s important to note that Spotify and Facebook first collaborated ten years ago, at a time when Facebook was promoting the concept of “frictionless sharing,” which purported to allow your Facebook friends to view the content you were reading, listening to, or watching. That quickly lost steam.)
The timetable for the goods Facebook will disclose tomorrow is likewise unclear to me. In my opinion, the product Rooms, which is once again a form of videoconferencing without video, is the most likely to go live right away. Other goods might not even debut in beta form until later this spring, according to sources.

All things considered, the announcements are intended to convey CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s conviction that his consumers are prepared to adopt speech and audio as a means of communication. His enthusiasm in that concept is not unique among Big Tech executives; Twitter has already released Spaces, its version of Clubhouse. As part of its own product release, Apple is also getting ready to launch a new subscription podcast service, which it might do as early as Tuesday.

On Sunday, Newton wrote that he and Zuckerberg would discuss “this wild transitional moment in tech and media,” noting that Facebook is “increasingly interested in newsletters, live audio, and other technologies.” On Monday at 1 pm ET, Zuckerberg is scheduled to speak with technology journalist Casey Newton (and contributor to Vox Media).

In response to a Recode inquiry, Facebook provided the following non-comment: “We’ve been bringing people together through audio and video technologies for many years and are continually looking for new ways to enhance that experience for users.” Apple and Spotify representatives declined to comment.

Clubhouse, which was introduced at the start of the pandemic and has seen remarkable growth over the past year, has clearly caught Zuckerberg’s attention. He has participated in several conversations on the platform, including one with Daniel Ek, the CEO of Spotify. Just months after announcing a funding round that valued the firm at $1 billion, Clubhouse has now announced a fresh funding round that values the company at $4 billion.

At the same time, experts have predicted that Clubhouse, which hosts fleeting, real-time talks in front of crowds of up to 5,000 people, may struggle to recapture the frenzy it enjoyed in 2020 and earlier this year, when most of the world was cooped up and seeking distractions. Along with the novelty of the app, the rate of downloads seems to have decreased, and Clubhouse hasn’t updated its user totals since February, when it claimed to have 10 million users.

And I advise reading this Twitter discussion from startup investor Shaan Puri if you want a meaningful analysis of Clubhouse’s product issues. TL;DR: It might be challenging to continuously produce live, audio-only content that appeals to both current and potential users.

However, Clubhouse is still only available to Apple iPhone users, so when it becomes available to Android users, its popularity is expected to increase once more. It’s definitely too early to predict the future viability of the live podcasting and virtual conference mingling concept that Clubhouse invented.

It is also plainly far too early to predict whether Facebook’s enormous popularity will enable the platform to unseat Clubhouse. However, Zuckerberg hasn’t shied away from imitating features or services created by rivals or would-be rivals, with varying degrees of success: For instance, Facebook successfully copied Snapchat’s “Stories” feature, but Rooms, a potential rival to Zoom, never gained traction. And Reels, its ongoing effort to copy TikTok’s short-form video service, is filled primarily with videos that initially surfaced on TikTok. A Facebook-branded version of Substack’s popular write-your-own-newsletter service is still in the works.