In February 2021, the New York Times reported that “Facebook is preparing a Clubhouse rival.” However, details such as what the product will look like and specific functions were unknown,Alessandro Paluzzi(Alessandro Paruzzi) posted a screenshot on Twitter that seems to be from Facebook’s audio SNS under development. The impression is that it looks more like an enhanced or expanded version of the existing Messenger Rooms rather than a standalone app. There was also a feature that seemed to be live audio streaming.
Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that the image was from the company’s “experimental effort in the field of voice distribution services,” but at the same time cautioned that it was “not a real product at this time.”
“If you try to derive the details of the product’s functionality from this image, it will be inaccurate,” the company said. Of course, the actual product is often very different from the one under development. Any change is possible before the official release in the future.
But this image does give some insight into what Facebook thinks about live audio. It also shows where in the company’s social experience it will be placed and is worth a closer look.
Reverse engineering scrutinizes the code to discover unpublished products at various stages of development. Paruzzi, who published this photo, is a mobile app developer and reverse engineering expert. Analyzing the code for Facebook’s Android app, I found that the live audio feature and its user interface were being tested. Some of the codes that Paruzzi has discovered so far have been discarded and never seen the light of day, while others were finally delivered.
The image shared this time also shows the live audio function of Facebook Rooms, which started in May 2020 to become a rival of Zoom. At that time, people were eager for video chat capabilities. But as the Zoom video pervaded every corner with the pandemic, we became “Zoom tired”. Now people are starting to turn off their video screens and get hooked on audio-only Clubhouses.
Related article: Facebook expands Zoom’s group video chat “Messenger Rooms” to the world
Facebook users can now create Messenger Rooms from Messenger or Facebook itself, which is simply group video chat. This means friends and family can share time remotely and share Facebook videos. However, the Facebook Room is limited to a maximum of 50 participants, and it is not possible to do a large-scale streaming project like YouTube live.
Related article: Facebook unveils new feature “Watch Together” to watch videos with friends on Messenger
The new screenshots extend the functionality of Rooms. There are three different types of Rooms, and you can choose between the same private video room, public video room, and private audio room as you do today. The private audio room is a place for voice chat with a group of friends, and the live audio room can open up radio broadcasts to a large number of listeners.
The live audio room will be provided with a dedicated link that allows participants to link to and promote on any Facebook social media or web site, including Messenger, Facebook Timeline, Facebook Groups, and more.
On the other hand, the live audio room (Palzzi made a UI mockup using Zuckerberg’s face photo as a dummy) is very similar to Clubhouse. The speaker is displayed at the top of the room with a large round profile picture. Room listeners are displayed below it. Also, the section “Followed by speakers” appears at the top of the audience section, which is similar to Clubhouse.
According to Paruzzi, the live audio room currently under development should be able to create a room that any Facebook registrant can attend. The room can be accessed from Facebook itself. Even if it is not expanded to full screen, the title of the room, the number of speakers, and the total number of listeners are displayed, and you can know the popularity of the room.
Needless to say, what Paruzzi saw is not the final product. It’s just a dummy of the user interface hidden in the program, and no backend is implemented. Facebook emphasizes that the image is just an experiment, as mentioned above.
However, the image itself was actually developed by a Facebook engineer and shows what direction the company is heading. Despite Facebook’s denial, its importance cannot be ignored.
A Facebook spokeswoman commented on Paruzzi’s image: “Facebook has been intimately connected with audio and video for many years and will continue to advance these technologies.”
It’s no secret that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has high expectations for voice social networks. In fact, Zuckerberg has already appeared in Clubhouse several times, most recently last week hosted by former TechCrunch writer and now SignalFire investor Josh Consttin. The Clubhouse Room emphasized the great potential of social audio. In doing so, Zuckerberg emphasized that audio has many advantages over other formats, based on his experience hosting numerous conferences.
(One of the benefits) is that it doesn’t require careful preparation. For audio such as podcasts and Clubhouse, you don’t have to groom yourself before the start.You can walk around freely while talking, and you can participate while doing other things without looking at the display.
“The live audio format will be an indispensable model for future social networks,” Zuckerberg praised Clubhouse.
In short, Facebook seems to think of Clubhouse as “one of the copyable features.” Zuckerberg has borrowed Snapchat’s Stories concept for Instagram in the past, and recently recreated TikTok on Instagram Reels. No matter how tough the Clubhouse rival is, Facebook doesn’t have to launch a new app. People are already on Facebook, so just set up a place where you can use audio. He appeared at Clubhouse, praising Clubhouse and at the same time suggesting that engineers were building dead copies. Zuckerberg said:
Facebook considers the diverse needs of users regarding voice and is building various tools so that voice can be used in a way that covers them. I am very much looking forward to the release.
Rachel Maga is a technology journalist currently working at Globe Live Media agency. She has been in the Technology Journalism field for over 5 years now. Her life’s biggest milestone is the inside tour of Tesla Industries, which was gifted to her by the legend Elon Musk himself.