If you’ve been hovering around the trends in social media and apps over the last six months or so you’ll have heard of Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces – both audio only chat room services which seemingly came from nowhere. Facebook too is working on a plan of its own, it’s called Hotline and we’ve been testing it in an Australian first.

This is a supported rogue product from Facebook, in that it’s the idea of their internal R&D team – a group of less than a dozen developers who are testing out new ideas. It’s so “non-Facebook” that you use Twitter to login.

Hotline is not an app, it’s a web based service – that’s not to say it won’t be or couldn’t be an app, it’s just the way they’ve chosen to roll out the first tests to put the proof of concept to the market.

EFTM was invited to take part in a “Hotline” with Facebook to demonstrate the product, and then let loose to give it a go ourselves.

Think of Hotline like a town hall meeting. One person is on stage, perhaps an expert in a field. In the audience could be five people or five hundred.

In many instances like that, there might be a microphone for the audience to ask questions, and a queue of people lined up to ask one.

Hotline takes that concept digital. The host is “on stage” with a small bubble showing their camera output to the audience. If an Audience member has a question, they type it in a box, and submit.

The host can see that question and welcome the viewer to “Join the Stage”. In this instance, the user is prompted to approve their microphone, and they are able to speak to the host one on one.

During that chat, a Host can welcome more people on stage, or essentially ask that person to leave with the click of a mouse, and welcome the next questioner to the stage.

If there’s someone down the queue with a great question, you can skip straight to them.

It’s acutally really quite cool.

As an early test, it wasn’t without its issues. In our first test the whole thing failed with someone’s introduction to Stage going wrong, leaving me unable to welcome others on stage.

But in our second test all that worked great. It worked best in Chrome Browser, either on PC or Mobile, but not on Safari for iOS.

In my test, I was sceptical, but really started to enjoy the chat. Anyone could ask a question, the conversation moved through various topics and people with knowledge in the audience were willing to step up and chime in.

I can see great benefits to this.

The addition of video sets it apart from Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, however the video should be bigger as more of a highlight – people can really “watch” the presenter or host.

Will it make it out of this test phase? It’s probably 50/50 – but if they put the right effort into it, it has the potential to be a bunch better than Clubhouse or Spaces, perhaps primarily due to the moderated text questions before you join the stage, but also because of the video.

Oh, and their system is also creating live closed captions which does an admirable job of turning voice to text instantly. Pretty cool alone.