Speculation ran wild after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters last week that his company was going to “launch something awesome” today at 1 p.m. ET. Would it be an official iPad app? A new photo platform? A systematic buy-back of every Social Network DVD? Today we learned the answer: Video chat. (They call it video calling, but that sounds weirdly retro to us: “Dear, you have a video call from you mother on the teleboxmachine.”)
In a live announcement from Facebook’s HQ in Palo Alto, Zuckerberg unveiled a new video chat system that combines Skype software with Facebook’s social infrastructure. The software functions as an app within Facebook, so there’s no separate program download required. According to a live demonstration, users will be able to click on a single button on a friend’s profile page to initiate a video call. Overall, it’s nothing all that groundbreaking — video chat is already commonplace thanks to Skype. But the integration of it into Facebook was inevitable, and the move comes just as Zuckerbeg is defending his turf from companies like Google, which recently debuted a new privacy-focused social network called Google+ that features seamless video chat.
Zuckerberg also announced two other launches: A group chat feature that will allow for ad hoc chats between groups of friends, and a new layout that will put a separate bar of friends (both online and offline) on the side of browsers. Both are aimed at increasing interaction between friends on Facebook, which Zuckerberg highlighted as a key goal for his site now that continued expansion — 750 million users and counting — seems all but guaranteed.
Is Facebook’s video chat really “awesome,” as promised? The feature is rolling out today, so we’ll find out soon. And if you’ve tried it already, let us know what you think. Is this a new killer app for Facebook, or just a logical update?