Facebook unveils its Clubhouse competitor ‘Hotline’ with beta test

Hot on the heels of Clubhouse and wanting to gain a slice of the burgeoning audio chat market, Facebook is finally showing its hand with ‘Hotline’ beta tests.

Well… that didn’t take long, did it?

Clubhouse’s meteoric rise over the last year has cemented ephemeral audio chat as the hottest new USP in social media’s ever-fleeting wheelhouse, thus putting a gigantic target on the app’s back.

Keen to usurp the newcomer platform, heavyweight Silicon Valley conglomerates are circling to take advantage of this profitable new market and it appears there’s no time to waste.

Less than two months after initial industry rumblings, we can confirm that yes: Facebook has been frantically developing behind the scenes to come up with an audio clone worthy of challenging Clubhouse – and eventually the likes of Twitter’s Spaces too.

Boldly showing its hand early on, Facebook has already launched beta testing for what it calls ‘Hotline,’ and despite sounding like a new kind of emergency service, it actually looks pretty decent.

Pieced together by Facebook’s New Product Experiment (NPE) division, which regularly doles out apps with fresh ideas (or in this case, someone else’s) Hotline has several features which may help to differentiate itself from Clubhouse, and arguably to build on the OG’s overall experience.

For starters, Hotline functions around a Q&A set-up – a format which has served Facebook well recently, with Eddie Hazzard’s acquired app ‘TBH’ growing to 2.5 million daily users in two months.

Those with access to the beta describe the update as a mashup of Instagram Live and Clubhouse, as creators speak to audiences able to throw both text and audio questions to the room. However, unlike Clubhouse, creators can also opt to turn their cameras on like a FaceTime or Zoom call and will be visible inside a small display circle.

For digital socialites already getting to grips with Clubhouse or Spaces, Hotline’s interface will look very familiar. The host appears at the top of the app, while those asking questions are displayed in the space below where their enquiries can be upvoted (or downvoted if you’re about that life), and reacted to via emojis.

The host can then choose to bring guests ‘on stage’ where they will appear alongside in a separate preview circle and toggle their own cam options. We’ve all got lockdown hair at the moment, don’t stress it.

While Hotline undoubtedly sounds neat, whether or not it manages to capture the interest of audiences like Clubhouse’s launch remains to be seen.

Much of Clubhouse’s appeal comes from the sense of anonymity and the low pressure environment it builds, which makes Hotline’s decision to record conversations post chat a curious one and possibly risky in the game of securing a big userbase.

These decisions lend themselves well to a professional setting with podcast-style sessions for instance, but when it comes to the type of casual online hangout inspired by Snapchat, Clubhouse remains the most suitable solution for most Gen Z users as things stand.

Paul Davison, you can breathe a sigh of relief, for now.

Want to give Hotline a try for yourself? Apply to the waitlist at hotline.co.

@thredmag

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