Update: It's official! Facebook announces video calling, powered by Skype
First, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters that the company was planning to "launch something awesome" next week. Next, Facebook e-mailed journalists (including myself) with an invitation to a Facebook Event at 10:00 AM PDT on Wednesday July 6, 2011.
Now, the rumors and speculation are starting to pour in. The most likely one so far is the announcement of Skype video integration on Facebook (one of my many guesses when Zuckerberg first declared that something awesome was coming next week).
Facebook will launch an in-browser video chat product powered by Skype, according to a source with knowledge of the partnership cited by TechCrunch. The product will include a desktop component, but it's not clear if you will need the Skype desktop client or additional software even if you already have Skype. Either way, it will reportedly be an in-browser experience.
Facebook and Skype first talked about a potential partnership in September 2010, but they could not reach an agreement. When Skype 5.0 was released in October 2010, the new version offered voice calling between Facebook friends, but it did not include a video chatting feature. The integration was a one-way road: only Skype added some Facebook features to its client.
Following rumors that Google, Facebook, and Microsoft were all interested in the Skype, the software giant swooped in. Two months ago, Microsoft announced that it was acquiring Skype for $8.5 billion in cash. The deal was approved by the boards of directors of both companies, and is Microsoft's largest acquisition to date.
While Facebook failed to buy Skype, the company was still likely very pleased that Microsoft got the Luxembourg-based company rather than Google. Microsoft and Facebook have been partners for a very long time. One of the biggest reasons for this is simple: the software giant and the social giant realize they need to work together to compete with the search giant.
It all started in October 2007, when Microsoft invested $240 million in Facebook. Then in October 2009, Microsoft announced a global partnership with Facebook to add status updates to Bing search results. In June 2010, Microsoft added Facebook integration to bing.com/social. In October 2010, Bing began showing what your friends have Liked and started to offer Facebook-powered people search results. Finally, in May 2011, Bing added even more Facebook features to its social search.
Even though Facebook began talking to Skype long before Microsoft was ever in the picture, something tells me the software giant's pending acquisition didn't hurt discussions between the two web companies. Once the deal goes through, and assuming this rumor ends up being correct, Facebook will finally be integrating something that Microsoft owns to its website. Previously, the partnership between the two has only seen Microsoft integrating Facebook into Bing.
Facebook reportedly has 750 million users, and since Skype only has 170 million users, it's understandable what Skype gains from this integration. On the other hand, data has shown that Facebook users want voice (and video) chat, so it's clear that the social network will benefit as well.