Tuesday, 11 May 2021 10:43

Staff Reporter.

Facebook is starting the first test of its Live Audio Rooms product with public figures and creators in Taiwan, part of an expansion of the company’s audio services that will over time include podcast hosting and creation tools.

The social media giant announced a sweeping set of updates to its audio services in April, with Live Audio Rooms being the Clubhouse-like centrepiece, allowing users to participate in group voice conversations. It intends to expand the trial’s availability over time and the service will eventually be accessible in the Facebook and Messenger apps. Taiwan is one of Menlo Park, California-based Facebook’s most vibrant markets, where celebrities and politicians constantly debate important issues and freely interact with their audiences.

For the initial roll-out, 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. The company is integrating its Stars feature into the audio chat product, letting fans buy tokens to support their favourites, much like they do on live-streaming platform Twitch.

Facebook has in the past quickly rolled out new products similar to competitors’, from the Snap-like Instagram Stories to Reels, akin to TikTok. Clubhouse exploded in popularity during a pandemic-stricken 2020, when major events and gatherings were cancelled and people looked for new social outlets online. Its informal, unrecorded format appealed to many and it was propelled to prominence by drop-ins from notable figures like Elon Musk and Facebook’s own founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Clubhouse, which has been available on iOS for a year, is now opening the app to Android smartphone users.

Podcasts are another significant addition to the main Facebook app planned for the coming months. Having noticed the rise in popularity of Facebook pages for well-known podcasts, it’s integrating playback directly into its app. The social app will recommend new shows based on users’ interests and they’ll have the ability to comment on and recommend podcasts to others.

Also coming to the Facebook app are Soundbites, brief clips of shareable audio for capturing jokes, anecdotes and other momentary things.