As rumored and anticipated, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg today announced video calling, powered by Skype. The company also revealed other chat improvements, including an option to see the friends you message most and group chat, plus confirmed that it now has 750 million users. You can watch the whole announcement here.
While Facebook admitted that video chat has been around for years now, the company emphasized that it's still not an everyday activity for most people. Sometimes it's too difficult to set up, or the friends you want to talk to are on different services. As a result, a few months ago Facebook started working with Skype to bring video calling to the social network.
The video functionality has been built it right into Facebook Chat, so all your conversations start from the same place. To call your friend, just click the video call button at the top of your chat window (though there is a one-time setup you will have to go through first).
Facebook is making this new feature available in over 70 different languages to everyone over the next few weeks. If you don't want until Facebook gives you video calling, you can get it now by going to facebook.com/videocalling.
In addition, the new chat design includes a sidebar that lists the people you message most, whether on line or offline. It adjusts with the size of your browser window, and automatically appears when the window is wide enough. As for multi-person chat, which Facebook says is one of our most requested features, all you have to do is click Add Friends to Chat. Just like your other chats, the history of your conversation is available in Messages.
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.
The Skype tie-in to Facebook is important for another reason: Microsoft. Two months ago, the software giant announced it was acquiring Skype for $8.5 billion in cash. The deal was approved by the boards of directors of both companies, and once it goes through, it will be Microsoft's largest acquisition to date.
Before Microsoft's announcement, there were rumors that Google and Facebook were both interested in the Luxembourg-based company. Although Facebook failed to buy Skype, the company was still likely happy that Microsoft beat out Google. You see, Microsoft is a Facebook investor (since October 2007) and the two collaborate quite a bit.
Once the Microsoft-Skype deal goes through, and once we see start seeing Skype on Facebook, Facebook will finally be integrating something that Microsoft owns to its website. Previously, the partnership between the two has only seen Microsoft integrating Facebook content and data into Bing. At one point, Microsoft managed ads for Facebook, but that was eventually replaced by Facebook's own ad platform.
Facebook 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.
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