Facebook Video Calling vs. Google+ Hangouts [Analysis]

Facebook Video Calling wins from a practical perspective while Google+ Hangouts wins from a technical perspective.

Last week, Google announced Google+, which includes a video chat feature called Hangouts. Yesterday, Facebook unveiled its Skype-powered Video Calling service. So, which one is better?

Google's Hangouts feature allows up to 10 people to simultaneously engage in a group video chat. The main video feed switches based on who is speaking into the microphone.

Facebook's Video Calling feature offers one-on-one video chat powered by Skype. The video functionality is available directly in Facebook Chat in over 70 different languages.

From a technical perspective, Google's Hangouts wins hands down. Of course, it's never that simple.

You see, Facebook has 750 million active users, who share 4 billion "things" on the site every day. Google+ just launched, and Google isn't even letting everyone use it yet.

If I fire up Facebook Chat right now, approximately 10 percent of my Facebook friends are on my contact list. Half of them are online, and I can ask them to video chat immediately, and the other half are offline, but I can leave them a video message.

If I open up Google+ right now, one person is available to use the video chat feature. In other words, the multi-video chat aspect is completely useless to me.

From a practical perspective, Facebook's Video Calling wins hands down. It's still not that simple though.

You see, even if all the friends you want to video chat with never join Google+, word will still get around that it offers better features. As a result, Facebook will eventually be expected to catch up, or else.

So why didn't Facebook just add multi-chat video calling from the start? Facebook says this is because one-on-one video chat is more popular on Skype than group video chat. That may be true, but the starting point is skewed: Skype charges for group video chat.

Skype's group video calling feature also allows 10 people to videoconference together, but is only available as part of the Premium package. It costs $5.00/€3.50/£3.00 per day or $9.00/€6.00/£5.00 per month.

This is where Facebook's biggest problem lies: it didn't build video chat itself. Unless the company is willing to pay Skype (so far, the two companies have not exchanged any money for their partnership) to offset the cost, very few users are going to use group video chat. Google doesn't have this problem because it has more money to throw at its social initiative than Facebook has ever made as a company.

There is, however, one huge area that is arguably much more important than group video chat: mobile. Whichever company manages to integrate video chat into its mobile app will be rated very highly by its user base.

All in all, this leaves us with a race that will span the next few years. Google will be trying to get users to join its service and buy over Facebook users with shiny new features. Facebook will try to keep users engaged more and more on the site so that regardless of what other services they join, they will keep coming back to where all their friends are.

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