On Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed the company’s plan to enter the social audio space. “We think that audio is also going to be a first-class medium,” Zuckerberg told journalist Casey Newton in a conversation broadcast on Discord. “Every once in a while a new medium comes along that can be adopted into a lot of different areas,” Zuckerberg said. “I think that’s going to be true with these live audio rooms.”
For the 600 people listening in, the irony was thick. Live audio is not exactly a “new medium.” The very platform where Newton was interviewing Facebook’s CEO has offered live audio for five years, and is reportedly worth $10 billion. Clubhouse, now a year old, was recently valued at $4 billion. That startup’s speedy rise was duly noted by more established platforms, who have launched or announced their own live audio features in recent months: Twitter Audio Spaces, Reddit Talk, even LinkedIn is working on one.
Facebook’s take on the idea is hardly fresh, but lack of originality has never stopped the company before. Soon, it will debut its Clubhouse competitor, called Live Audio Rooms, where people can chat in real time. The company is initially testing the feature in Facebook Groups and with public figures, but it said in a blog post on Monday that it expects the rooms “to be available to everyone on the Facebook app by the summer.” It plans to roll out live audio rooms for its Messenger app this summer too.
Facebook is also introducing a few other audio products. One is Soundbites, which Zuckerberg described as “snackable” audio content—a place for jokes, poems, pithy insights, or anecdotes, that go into an algorithmic feed. (Twitter introduced a similar feature last year; unsurprisingly, “tweeting with your voice” has not yet taken off.) Another is Boombox, a collaboration with Spotify for sharing music. Facebook will also add a space to play and discover podcasts directly from its main app.
The social audio category is already very crowded, but Facebook arrives with some competitive advantages. The company already has more than 2 billion users, providing a built-in listener base. Its hugely successful advertising business means it has plenty of financial and human resources to throw at this latest initiative, should its executives choose. Clubhouse, meanwhile, doesn’t even have an Android app yet. And yet, Facebook’s size does not alone guarantee it will win the day. Conquering by copying has long been part of Facebook’s playbook, and the strategy can sometimes pay off. When Facebook’s Instagram stole the Stories format from Snapchat, users loved it; the reception of Reels, its TikTok ripoff, has been more mixed.