Facebook's audio rooms are almost here - and they look very familiar in their design.
Earlier today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted a test of the platform's new audio rooms feature, with a range of Facebook executives in attendance.
Testing out Live Audio Rooms with Mark, @fidjissimo, and some of our Facebook Gaming Creators today. Drop by at 10am PT (US only for now; make sure you’re using the latest app version) https://t.co/mpAf9ULguf— Boz (@boztank) June 15, 2021
As Facebook's VP of reality Labs Andrew Bosworth notes, the room was only available in the US, and only ran for a short time, but it did provide some new insights into how Facebook's in-development audio rooms will function - and for anyone who's already used Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse, it's an almost identical format.
As you can see in these images, which were shared by TechCrunch, the audio room was available via a Facebook event, from which users could mark their interest and register for reminders when the event was about to go live. The room itself displayed the speakers in round profile bubbles at the top of the screen, then a listing of those in attendance that are 'Followed by the speakers', then all other listeners below that. The active speaker at any given time was signified by a glowing ring around their profile bubble.
You can also see the Facebook Live Reactions flowing up the screen, just as they do for regular Facebook Live streams.
Facebook's audio rooms also have automated captions available from the menu, along with reporting features, so it's very much like the already available audio social options, just in a Facebook setting.
Zuckerberg's connections/followers could also see the in-progress audio room in the Rooms status bar in the Facebook app while it was in progress.
Facebook announced its coming audio rooms option back in April, before launching an initial test among users in Taiwan last month. This is the first time the option has been made available in the US, and while Zuck and Co. didn't provide a definitive date for a full US launch, they did say that the option would be coming to more people 'very soon'.
Really, everything about it feels very familiar - there's nothing new or original to Facebook's take on the format, at least not at this stage. Facebook's even used a purple default background in the main image, which is similar to the purple color that Twitter has used for Spaces. Which, of course, is no accident - but even though Facebook's 'innovation' these days is largely cloned from competitors, Facebook's audio rooms could still win out, and become a bigger, more used option than Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces because of Facebook's more targeted approach to its usage.
The key here lies in exactly where these new audio rooms will be made available.
As reported by Bloomberg on Facebook's initial Taiwan test:
"For the initial rollout [in Taiwan], Facebook is limiting the test to what it says is a handful of public figures while planning to bring Live Audio Rooms to Facebook Groups as well."
That could be a major key, because while giving everyone access to audio rooms is great, the broader issue then becomes discovery, and finding the right audio rooms that are relevant to each users' individual interests. Because if people can't find relevant rooms, they'll quickly lose interest in the option - and already, both Clubhouse and Twitter are having trouble highlighting the right rooms to the right people, at the time that they might want to tune in.
But Facebook, which is focusing on individual creators, and groups, where 1.8 billion users are already engaging around topics they care about, could be onto a winner by making the rooms more specifically available to those who are more likely to engage with each specific topic, as opposed to trying to use algorithm matching to showcase audio broadcasts of interest.
That may well end up being the most important innovation. Soon, when you head to your Facebook groups, you'll see an in-progress room, hosted by people you've already seen posts from, on topics that you care about. Again, both Twitter and Clubhouse don't have sophisticated algorithm-matching on this front, so you're likely to see a broad mix of audio rooms in both apps that may or may not be aligned to your interests.
As such, Facebook could have a more defined path to ongoing rooms usage - so again, while the presentation of this new format seems limited in terms of innovation, that likely won't matter, and Facebook will probably win out in the end as the audio rooms platform of choice for many.
With the new format now looking pretty much finished, we'll likely find out soon. We'll keep you updated on any progress.