Facebook’s "awesome product launch" has finally happened, revealing what many technology pundits had already predicted: video chat is now available on the service and is powered by the hugely popular Skype.
The feature allows users to click a new 'call’ button to begin video chatting, and is a natural addition to a social network which now has 750 million users – the equivalent of one in nine of the world’s population, socialising online.
In fact many technology experts are surprised that this development had not happened sooner, as the most natural extension of any kind of social interaction is to add a face-to-face feature.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, is usually quite media-shy. But he did a fantastic job of taking the attention away from Google+, the search giant's new social network which launched last week, by teasing journalists on a tour of Facebook’s Seattle office with the news that an “awesome” product launch was coming imminently. I am sure it was not his intention – but certain cynics have suggested that a major launch by Facebook, only days after Google released a rival social product, was probably a little too well-timed – even though the Skype partnership had been in development for six months.
Moreover, Google+’s 'Hangouts’ feature, which already allows users to video chat, has been quickly deemed its 'killer’ application by early adopters with access to the service, which is currently only open to a limited group of users. It also, until now, had been one of the only differentiators Google+ could boast of to its major rival, Facebook.
Now that Facebook users can video chat, it will be interesting to see if the hype around Google+’s Hangouts feature dies down among technology circles.
With a colossal 750 million members, Facebook is in the luxurious position of being able to add any innovative new tool to its offering and instantly blow other competitors out of the water – at least if its history is anything to go by.
Take the location-sharing trend. All Facebook had to was turn on a location feature, called Places, and instantly thousands of Foursquare users transferred their check-ins to Facebook.
It was the same with photos. Flickr, although still popular with photo enthusiasts, soon lost its mass appeal once Facebook turned on its photo-sharing capabilities. The social network is now the largest photo repository site in the world.
Why? Quite simply because people usually only want to share information with their friends – and the majority of most people’s chums are still all on one network: Facebook.
People have 'sign-up’ fatigue and, while the majority of people’s social circles are on Facebook, have very little incentive to take their digital networking elsewhere. Zuckerberg, a product perfectionist, will find a way to add any type of functionality which is becoming popular elsewhere on the web to his service. Many users are happy to wait for a feature to come to Facebook, rather then having to upload all of their information to a brand new service which they have no assurances that their friends will be on.
Now with the most popular video chat tool available via the most popular social network, Facebook users have even less reason to stray elsewhere when interacting with their friends online.
As Zuckerberg put it: “We think this is an awesome [partnership with Skype]. We are using the best technology for video chat with the best social infrastructure.”
He added that Facebook is all about partnering with the best services online which will benefit from being social and part of the site’s growing eco-system.
This partnership with Skype is the start of Facebook’s move from being just a single website to becoming the fabric which could potentially underpin all social interactions online. Google+ has a long way to go.