Last week when Google+ launched, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook was going to make a very exciting announcement this week. They recently held their conference and the announcement was indeed big news! On top of some really nice improvements to Facebook Chat, they announced a partnership with another online giant: Skype.
Keep reading to see a quick overview of the new Facebook features, and what they mean for the future of Facebook, Skype, and Skype’s new owner, Microsoft.
The biggest feature launch that came out of Facebook’s short event by far was integrating Skype into the site to provide video calling. They make this incredibly easy to use, adding a button in the top right of each chat box, as well as the top right of each profile page.
Engaging in a video call will allow you to video chat directly with your friends right in the browser. The only thing that’s required is a plugin that you’ll download the first time to try to chat with someone. Once you do that, Facebook will ‘call’ that user and connect with them. If they aren’t available, you’re given the option of leaving them a video message, which is also really cool.
While they will be rolling it out to all users over the next couple of weeks, you can get it now at http://www.facebook.com/videocalling.
Facebook also announced that they are rolling out what is a widely requested feature: Group Chat. You can now have multiperson chats right from the browser. Just click an icon in the top right corner of a chat box to add more people to a chat and it will become a group chat. Just like regular chat, you’ll be able to view your history in the Messages area.
During the announcement, Zuckerberg mentioned that the current way to chat is a little confusing, and that it could be better. With that in mind, Facebook redesigned Chat to include a sidebar with the friend you most commonly chat up. The sidebar will only show up in browser windows wide enough, and readjusts based on the size of the window.
It will be pretty interesting to see these features once they roll out to all users. I’m curious to see how video calling will affect Apple Facetime, Google’s Hangouts, and the Skype desktop app. It’s hard to imagine people using a desktop app now when video chat for all of your Facebook friends is right at your finger tips.
There is also, of-course, the implications of Facebook teaming up with Skype’s new owner, Microsoft. I think this is a big win for the software company. I personally feel that since Steve Balmer has taken over, Microsoft has made a ton of missteps with what could have been great products (the biggest being with the Zune, which I think is better than the iPod). The fact that they are working with Facebook to integrate their products into the biggest social network instead of trying to build their own is a very good decision, especially since Google+ launched last week. The fact that Facebook and Microsoft, two giants in the computer industry have teamed up ostensibly against perhaps the biggest giant of the Internet industry says something; this will not be the last time we see Facebook and Microsoft working together.
Speaking of Google+, this is also very good timing for Facebook. As a G+ user, I think that Google did an amazing job with their newest endeavor and Zuckerberg was a bit worried (even if he won’t admit it). I think that’s why he made a big deal a week in advance about this announcement. Google+’s hangouts are incredibly cool (multi-person video chat built right into a social network? Yes please!), and Facebook’s video calling shows that they are paying attention. I know that this has been in the works for a few months, but Facebook is definitely keeping a pulse on what users want (even if we didn’t realize it!) and the fact that we can now video chat with all of our friends without leaving our browser or needing to create a new account is a big plus for using video calling. It’s the whole reason people started favoring Facebook Chat over AIM.
As far as the other features go, I’m pretty excited for group chat; It seems that it will make planning things a lot easier, and could be pretty fun. I imagine this is also a prime candidate for Facebook’s mobile app- something that will really rival Google+’s Huddles. The new Facebook Chat redesign will definitely improve the user experience for chatters. It looks like Chat will be much more intuitive without being intrusive.
You can read the official post here. What do you think? Sound off in the comments!