At a press conference yesterday, social networking giant Facebook announced a new video chat service that is powered by Skype, the online communications provider that's about to be purchased by Microsoft. And this three-way corporate linkup is no coincidence: Ever since Microsoft made a tiny investment in the then-fledgling Facebook, the two companies have been close and generally exclusive partners, leaving competitors such as Apple and Google in the dust. So it's only natural that Facebook and Microsoft/Skype would team up to take on a recent communications foray by Google.
Despite a relatively late start, Facebook already dominates the online world and is surpassing even Google with unique page views. The service has a commanding lead in social networking, with 750 million very active users who utilize Facebook to stay up to date with friends and family regularly over 4 billion times every single day. The addition of video chat seems obvious and even overdue but is likely to make the activity fairly mainstream.
"We're already one of the biggest chat networks in the world," Facebook Cofounder Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday, while introducing the new video chat functionality. He also provided a nice dig at Google, which recently introduced a Facebook clone called Google+ that offers video chat. "Independent entrepreneurs, or entrepreneurs that focus on one thing, will always do better than a company that tries to focus on a million things," he said.
Tech pundits were quick to point out that Facebook's video chat functionality is "limited" to one-on-one conversations, meaning that there's no video conferencing, or group video chat, functionality. Also missing: mobile chat via smartphones and other devices. Facebook says this is all in the queue, however, and that most of its current (text-based) chats are "intimate," one-on-one chats anyway. So, this one-on-one video chat capability made sense as a starting point.
And although Skype and other products such as Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger have offered video chat for some time, these services have never quite bled into the mainstream user markets that Facebook already dominates. So it's very likely that Facebook's entry into video—however limited it might seem to the digerati—will formalize this capability as a new, mainstream activity. It's video chat that's so simple, even your grandmother could use it. And that's the point."Your least technical friend can get online and connected," Facebook's Philip Su said, demonstrating that video chat was just a click away to anyone using the service. "This is about the world's largest and most connected social network [partnering with] the world's largest provider of video."