TechCrunch reports that Hotline, led by product developer Eric Hazzard, has been launched into beta testing by Facebook’s New Product Experimentation (NPE) Team, which develops, releases, and tests new products to find out how they are perceived by the public. This new social media app takes certain features from the invitation-only audio chat room app Clubhouse — which is currently only available on iOS — and also from Instagram Live, where participants can use both video and audio functionality when communicating with others.
During a Hotline live stream, a listeners’ section is divided between those who are just watching and those who are participating by asking questions. Participants can also upvote or downvote questions that have been asked, which can help the presenter in making a decision on which question to answer next based on what the audience is interested in. The event host can also include listeners in the conversation by pulling them onto the stage area, a popular Clubhouse feature.
When audience members join the presenter on the stage, only their profile icon and audio are enabled. A setting that switches on video has been added but is not yet functioning in the beta test according to reports. Meanwhile, the rest of the audience can react by using different emojis or by typing in new questions. Hosts can moderate the conversation by removing unwanted questions from the queue or unwanted audience members.
Unlike with Clubhouse, all events hosted on Hotline are recorded. Additionally, throughout the initial beta testing stage, Facebook teams are moderating live streams, adhering to Facebook’s Community Standards, Terms of Service, Data Policy, and the NPE Team’s Supplemental Terms. After the event, the host will receive one mp3 and one mp4 recording of the event which can then be further uploaded to other media sharing websites.
The first person to test out Hotline in a real-life scenario was Nick Huber, a real estate investor who hosted a live stream on April 7. TechCrunch explains that Facebook chose Huber for the first test run because he fits the profile of the type of creators that Hotline is looking to appeal to, which is someone who provides value to the audience by sharing advice that can help others enhance their professional skills or finances. In this case, Huber delivered a live stream discussing investing in industrial real estate as a source of a second income.
As of now, anyone is free to join Hotline and there is no limit on the number of new members, however, this may change in the future. Facebook also notes that “NPE Team apps will change very rapidly and will be shut down if we learn that they’re not useful to people,” which helps avoid disruption to the billions of current Facebook apps users.
In comparison to its more casual competitor Clubhouse, Hotline is presented by Facebook as a more professional question and answer app which focuses on experts and industry leaders starting a conversation that can serve the audience by providing advice in different aspects of professional and personal life, while the presenter receives the benefits of increasing their brand and business presence digitally.
This is just one of the recent products that Facebook is developing to rival well-known social media apps. Earlier in February, Facebook also launched apps that resemble certain features of TikTok in BARS, a video sharing app aimed at rappers, and also Collab, which enables musicians to deliver performances virtually. That is not to mention the many additions to Instagram, such as Live Rooms. It is yet to be seen whether Hotline and other recently developed NPE Team apps pass the beta testing stage and become either publicly available stand-alone apps or are integrated within existing Facebook products.
While Hotline’s look and feel strongly resembles Clubhouse’s, it has some notable differences in user experience. For example, signing in requires a Twitter account — an odd requirement considering it is a Facebook entity — and your identity is further confirmed with a text message. These additional login steps may raise some eyebrows, as only a few days ago it was discovered that in 2019 over half a billion Facebook users’ personal data was leaked. Facebook then said it would not notify those users about the breach and instead put the burden of responsibility to safeguard personal data onto its users.