Last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made what he called an “awesome” announcement: its 750 million users can now video chat using Skype, the world’s largest voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, service, which will close its acquisition deal with Microsoft later this year.
After downloading a small application, Facebook users will be able to invite their friends to chat via Skype, then click on a video camera icon to do so.
Technology blogs are buzzing about the announcement coming so soon after Google introduced a similar video conferencing feature, called Hangout, in its social networking system, Google+. There are many differences between the Facebook-Skype integration and Google’s Hangout — mainly that Hangout allows group video chats — but both new video conferencing applications will certainly compete for users. Analysts have commented that this is why Facebook rolled out its Skype feature on the tail of its new rival’s announcement.
“You’re going to have more and more competition between Facebook and Google,” businessweek.com quoted analyst Ben Schachter as saying on Bloomberg TV’s “Bottom Line with Mark Crumpton.” “The two companies are going to be battling it out for some time to come.”
So, what can users expect from the Facebook-Skype service? Is the Facebook incarnation at all different from regular Skype? Will businesses use the technology?
Skyping on Facebook is similar to the regular Skype service (which in October 2010, actually unveiled a voice calling feature between Facebook friends) in that you download the app, invite friends to video chat and then click on the video camera icon to do so. However, you also can connect your Facebook and Skype accounts to see — and comment on or like — your friends’ news feeds. Just a week after Zuckerberg’s announcement, more than 5 million Facebook users had downloaded the application, and more than 750 users rated the service 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Will this glowing recommendation from Facebook’s social butterflies fly with corporate video conference users? The current Skype application on Facebook does not allow multiple users to video chat, which gives Google Hangouts a point with businesses. But some analysts think that, between Google Hangouts and the Facebook-Skype integration, there are many opportunities for businesses to connect via what has been commonly thought to be purely social applications.
“Google's latest accomplishments will likely have little effect on Facebook in the short term. The social network goliath finally confirmed it has 750 million users, a good chunk of whom will probably try that new native video chat feature in the weeks and months to come. And you can also bet new features like group video chat are already in the works, whether it's in-house or with partners like Skype,” writes JP Mangalindan of Fortune magazine. But, Mangalindan adds, “For the first time in a while, social media is a two-horse race.”
Another writer, Tony Bradley of PC World, says the current lack of group video chat ability with Skype on Facebook should not deter business users. The service is free and easy to use, and being face to face, even via video chat, can increase productivity. Plus, with more than 750 million users, he writes, “you can be almost certain that whoever you want to speak to is out there — and because people spend more time on Facebook than any other online destination, odds are fair they’re online and waiting for your video chat.”
That, Zuckerburg would most likely agree, is, in fact, awesome.