Facebook's new Skype integration is another marker in its long-deepening relationship with Microsoft, as both companies seek to battle Google.
When Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5
billion in May, it kicked off a good deal of analyst chatter about how Redmond
would choose to integrate the communications company's assets into its product
How exactly Skype will appear in
products like Office 365 remains to be seen, but the acquisition could end up
paying dividends for Microsoft in its competition against Google, by giving
Facebook-in which Redmond owns a minority stake-another tool with which to
battle for social-networking hearts and ad dollars.
Starting July 6, Facebook users can
video-chat with one another using Skype. (The social network is also
introducing a retooled people sidebar, supposedly to make initiating chats
easier, as well as a way to initiate group instant messaging.)
"We are now making it possible to video
chat with your friends right from within Facebook," read a note
on Skype's corporate blog. "The
partnership with Facebook makes fantastic business sense for Skype and gives us
an unprecedented opportunity to offer Skype's voice and video calling products
to more than 750 million active users on Facebook."
During a July 6 presentation at
Facebook headquarters, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed his company had
been working with Skype on the project for the past six months, before Tony
Bates assumed the CEO slot or Microsoft announced the acquisition.
"This is going to be something that's
rolled out to everyone that you can integrate immediately," he told the
audience. "It's so minimal and it's so easy to use."
More to the point, it offers Facebook a
counter to Google's own video-chat service, and perhaps even Apple's FaceTime
conferencing feature. Although Facebook and Apple aren't direct competitors,
the two companies apparently had a disagreement over allowing Apple's Ping, a
social-networking service centered on music, to import Facebook contacts.
Facebook is also rumored to be prepping an HTML5 mobile-app platform
conceivably challenge Apple's App Store.
Last week, Google offered a limited
number of people the ability to start a profile on Google+, its nascent social-networking
service. The search-engine giant likely sees Facebook as its major competitor
for online ad revenue, and CEO Larry Page has reportedly tied in employee
bonuses to success in social networking. Whether or not Google+ becomes an
existential threat to Facebook, it certainly raises the specter of increased
competition-and boosts the pressure on Facebook to create new features that
will hold its 750-million-member base.
Microsoft and Facebook have been
deepening their relationship in recent months. When Microsoft decided to evolve
its Bing search engine by "infusing the emotional into it," in the words of
Bing director Stefan Weitz, the company chose to do so by integrating Facebook
features such as the "Like" button.
When users query Bing for specific
people, for example, the search engine can offer Facebook information on the
results page. If they're traveling to a new city, such as Paris, Bing will tell
them which Facebook friends live there. Bing will also notify users of airfare
deals for places they've liked on Facebook, and let users post Bing Shopping
pages on their Facebook wall ("Should I buy this?").
In a March interview with eWEEK, Weitz
suggested that the Web's social layer has come to mimic the same sort of
behaviors that people exhibit in the real world. Even before the addition of
new social features, Facebook and Microsoft had already collaborated on
Facebook Profile Search, which leveraged a user's Facebook connections to
deliver more relevant results for people searches; they could also post
messages to their Facebook walls via Bing's pages.
During his July 6 talk, Zuckerberg also
painted a portrait of a Web increasingly focused on the social-specifically,
the ability to share loads of content. "We've seen this trend since [Facebook]
began," he said. In terms of how much data people share with those in their
social circles, "it'll be about twice as much a year from now, and twice as
much a year after that." That will affect everything from app development to
the tools that people use to interact.
Skype is evidently a vital part-at
least for the moment-of that Facebook evolution, and Microsoft owns Skype. More
than ever, Facebook and Microsoft find themselves bound together in a growing
battle for the Web.
Follow Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter