Facebook Partners With Skype, Launches Free Video Chat

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2011-07-06 Print this article Print

The social networking giant also enables group chat, an improved design and reveals that it is now serving more than 750 million users.

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Facebook made three significant announcements July 6, all important to the company and to the online social networking market in different ways.

First, Facebook announced that it has surpassed the 750 million-member mark, with a cool 1 billion clearly within reach. The last time Facebook talked about its membership last October, it had just passed 500 million.

Secondly, the company revealed a new partnership with Skype, the world's largest peer-to-peer video service, which is soon to become property of Microsoft.

Finally, Facebook launched its long-anticipated video chat service -- powered, of course, by Skype.

One-Click Path to Video Chat Entry

Facebook and Skype kept entry into this new feature to a bare minimum. All a user has to do to use the video chat is to select a friend who's available and click on the video chat icon in the chat window. The service then alerts the person the user is calling. When the callee accepts the invite to video chat, the videocams are then activated.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told a standing-room-only press conference here at the company's California Avenue headquarters that the whole process only takes about a minute.

"What could possibly be simpler than one click into video chat?" the 27-year-old company co-founder said.

The new Skype function on Facebook, which requires a download of a plug-in client, enables one video user to connect with one other user at a time. In contrast, Google's new social networking tool, Google+, enables up to 10 people to talk to each other in a group video chat session format.

Zuckerberg said a group video chat function is on the drawing boards.

There were a couple of other Facebook functionality news items on July 6. Zuckerberg also announced that Facebook has now enabled group chat and has updated its overall design to accommodate whatever size browser is being utilized.

"For example, when you go to the chat function, you can see who's online -- and you also can see who's not online. Another window will open up to tell you that, depending upon the size of your browser," Zuckerberg said.

Facebook, Google Each 'Playing Catch-up'

Gartner Research Vice President Ray Valdes told eWEEK he thought Facebook is "clearly in a defensive position" when it comes up against Google+, for a few reasons.

"I agree with Facebook's assessment that we're moving from a era where we make the initial connection to an era in which you assume a connection and build engagement. They're parallel with Google+ as far as group chat, but they're clearly in a defensive position, because they don't have circles and they don't have the group video," Valdes said.

"So in that sense, in terms of features, they're playing catch-up. However, they've [Facebook] got the installed base of 700 million-plus people and the social connections, so Google, on the other hand, is playing catch-up in that area."

Facebook's video chat has an advantage because it's easy to use, but it also has a disadvantage "because it's 'arm's length' technology," Valdes said. "This is because it's built on Skype, whereas Google has built theirs all by themselves."

Zuckerberg virtually shrugged off the accomplishment of gaining 750 million users earlier in the conference as if it wasn't a big deal.

"The reason why we didn't report it is we don't think it's the metric to watch right now," Zuckerberg said. "We're more interested in the value that Facebook brings to people and the things they share on it."

Skype CEO Tony Bates (left) and Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg share a laugh during a press conference to announce Facebook's video chat functionality at company headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.
(Photo by Chris Preimesberger)

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on Salesforce.com and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel