Facebook Live Audio Rooms give Clubhouse a new rival - with some limits

Facebook is opening up its Live Audio Rooms and podcasts, as the Clubhouse rival looks to carve out a slice of the fashionable audio chat segment. Initially, the service will be limited in terms of who can set up an audio session; similarly, whether you can actually start hosting a Facebook Live Audio Room will depend on what sort of smartphone you're using.

To begin with, Facebook says, it'll all be available only to public figures and select Facebook Groups, and only in the US. If you want to create a Live Audio Room, you'll need to be using an iOS device, too. Android hosts are left out, but listeners can be using either an iPhone or an Android device.

As with Clubhouse – and the other services which have also sprung up to capitalize on the live audio category – the idea is for individual rooms focused on specific topics to proliferate. Public figures – whether they be politicians, celebrities, or experts in their field – can invite friends, verified public figures, or followers, or indeed any listeners into their room, to be a speaker. That can be arranged before the Live Audio Room opens, or during the conversation.

Up to 50 speakers are supported in any Live Audio Room, though there are no limits to the number of listeners. Private Groups are limited to only the members of the group, whereas for Public Groups it's possible for non-members to listen as well.

Upcoming and ongoing Live Audio Rooms will be listed in the News Feed, and if you have notifications turned on for the Facebook app you could see alerts about sessions the social network thinks you might be interested in. There's support for signing up in advance for reminders about upcoming sessions. Facebook has live caption support, a "hand-raiser" button to ask to be included in the conversation, and real-time reactions.

To reward hosts, there are "Stars" which can be purchased in packs, just as Facebook offers for rewarding gaming streamers. Sending a Star will move the listener to the "front row": basically flagging them as supporters. Facebook currently pays creators $0.01 per Star received.

Live Audio Rooms also support built-in fundraising tools. You'll be able to select a nonprofit or fundraiser to highlight during the session, so that people tuned in can donate directly.

As for podcasts, there'll be a new miniplayer built into the Facebook app, so that the audio continues even as you browse your Groups and News Feed. A full-screen player will also be available, supporting screen-off playback. There'll be a catalog of available options, plus the ability to comment, bookmark, and share podcasts; later in the Summer, Facebook says, captions and the ability to create and share short clips of podcasts will be added.

It's part of what Facebook is calling Soundbites, which will spread into Live Audio Rooms too. They'll be "short-form, creative audio clips" the company says, though we'll only find out more later in 2021 when the system launches.