Credits: Facebook

The audio space has grown a lot during the pandemic, fueled mostly by the young Clubhouse. On Monday, the space welcomed its latest competitor, Facebook, after the social media company officially rolled out its Live Audio Rooms in the United States, as well as podcasts and live audio streams to keep users engaged on its platform and to compete with emerging rivals. For now, some public figures in the US with verified accounts and a handful of high-profile Facebook groups can create and host live audio rooms and invite anyone else to speak.

According to Facebook, both features would be made available more broadly in the coming weeks and months, as more people, podcasts, and Groups are brought on board. For now, all Facebook users in the US can access podcasts and Live Audio Rooms.

Some of the public figures Facebook has roped in for the Live Audio Rooms include Grammy-nominated electronic music artist TOKiMONSTA, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and producer and independent journalist Rosa Clemente.

According to Fidji Simo, head of Facebook’s app, “Live Audio Rooms and podcasts rolling out in the US is just the beginning of our audio journey. Looking ahead, we are working with creators who will use our audio tools to further develop and launch Soundbites — short-form, creative audio clips. The audio market is fundamentally very fragmented. Every single platform is doing something specific, either the live audio component or the podcast component. Facebook, however, is approaching audio as all of the formats working together.”

Live Audio Rooms is Facebook’s answer to the invite-only social media platform Clubhouse, which saw a rapid increase in downloads and popularity during the pandemic with over 10 million users and a valuation of over a billion.

Live Audio Rooms offers a standard set of features just like Clubhouse, including options to enable captions, “raise hand,” requesting to join the conversation and using reactions (such as “like” or “thumbs up”) and options to share the room with others on Facebook.

You can also sign up to be reminded when an audio room goes live. When listening to a conversation, a user will be notified when friends or followers join. In Live Audio Rooms, the profile picture of the host appears at the top of the screen while that of the listeners appear at the bottom.

There are subtle differences between Facebook and other audio apps, however, such as the ability of hosts to choose listeners to speak or inviting people to join as a speaker. There can be any number of listeners in a session, but there cannot be more than 50 speakers, Facebook said.

As for podcasts, select podcasts will be available to listeners in the States, and Facebook’s new feature “Soundbites” will roll out later this year as well. Some of the podcasts include 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. Facebook will open up to other podcasters this summer.

You can now listen to podcasts while browsing Facebook via a miniplayer or a full-screen player with playback options, including with your phone display turned off. This is a new feature added by Facebook.