SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook is developing an audio chat product similar to the popular young app Clubhouse, according to two knowledgeable people, as the social network is set to expand to new forms of communication.
Clubhouse, a social networking app, has grown in popularity as people gather in audio chat rooms to talk about various topics. Mark Zuckerberg, the executive director of Facebook, was interested in audio communication forms, said people with knowledge of the matter, and he appeared on the clubhouse app on Sunday to chat about augmented and virtual reality.
Facebook executives ordered employees to develop a similar product, said the people who were not authorized to speak publicly. The product is in its earliest stages of development and the project code name may change.
“We have been connecting people through audio and video technologies for many years and are constantly looking for new ways to improve that experience for people,” said Emilie Haskell, a Facebook spokeswoman.
A representative from Clubhouse declined to comment.
Facebook has broken into new technologies in the past, following various media that have drawn users in, especially when those audiences are young. Mr Zuckerberg bought Instagram photo sharing website, WhatsApp messaging app, and virtual reality company Oculus when they were all small startups.
Facebook is also known in Silicon Valley for being ready to clone its competitors. Instagram copied one of rival Snapchat’s marquee features, Stories, in 2016, which allows users to share ephemeral videos and photos. Last year Instagram debuted with Reels, a TikTok-like video product. When the Zoom teleconferencing service became popular last year, Facebook quickly created Rooms, a group video chat service. And this year Facebook has been working on a competing product for Substack, the popular newsletter service.
Facebook got involved in experimental app development through its New Product Experimentation team. The team has worked on podcast apps, travel apps and music apps, among other things.
The clubhouse, which was founded last year by entrepreneurs Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, has established itself in the elite of Silicon Valley as a private iPhone app only by invitation. The app is in the beta phase, which means that it is still in the test phase before a full release.
After logging into Clubhouse, users can create rooms for different topics. Instead of video or text, Clubhouse’s preferred medium is voice chat. Room sizes vary from intimate to thousands of people listening or participating. Sometimes it works like a mix of CB radio and party line from the 1980s.
The clubhouse flourished during the pandemic as people looked for ways to connect while staying isolated from each other. The app is at the top of the Apple App Store ranking in countries such as Germany, Italy, Japan and Turkey. At a recent internal meeting, Davison and Seth said Clubhouse had two million users a week.
Dozens of celebrities – from Drake and Tiffany Haddish to Jared Leto to a co-founder of Instagram – have appeared on the app, participated in various discussions, and used the service to promote their projects.
Investors noticed. According to PitchBook, the clubhouse raised $ 100 million in January, valued at $ 1 billion. It was valued at $ 100 million last year. Investors include venture capital company Andreessen Horowitz and more than 180 others, according to the company.
Others try to compete with clubhouse. Twitter is testing a product called Spaces that offers a similar audio chat feature.
International interest in clubhouse has also increased. On Monday, the app was blocked in China after people from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other countries joined there to share thoughts on topics ranging from political to secular.
Tech titans occasionally show up at the clubhouse. Last month, Elon Musk, the richest person in the world, agreed to be interviewed at the clubhouse by two Silicon Valley technologists, Sriram Krishnan and Aarthi Ramamurthy, who host a nightly talk show on the Good Time app. That brought a rush of interest, and Clubhouse tried hard to keep its service afloat.
On Sunday, the hosts of “Good Time” interviewed a Facebook manager when a surprise guest appeared: Mr. Zuckerberg. He spoke briefly about the future of augmented and virtual reality and Facebook’s plans before returning to his family.