Kicking off what he promised would be the start of “launching season 2011” as well as the start of a new era of social networking, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced an integration deal between Facebook and Skype during an event at company headquarters in Palo Alto. The service will allow Skype users to see Facebook updates within the Skype application, and Facebook users will be able to video chat with each other.
Social networking has evolved into an era in which the question of whether or not this concept would grow into a real movement has been answered, Zuckerberg said. He confirmed that Facebook now has 750 million users, but downplayed the number as less important now that Facebook has become nearly ubiquitous in much of the world: “You don’t measure the value of the Internet by how many people are using, it, you measure by the quality of the apps and how people are using it.”
The new video chat service is just part of a redesigned chat service that lets Facebook users only see the friends they exchange the most messages with in their chat window, as opposed to just anyone from their friends list who is online at a given time. Facebook also launched a multi-user chat service that lets you set up a chat conversation with three or more people as part of the new chat service.
But it’s the video chat that will get the most attention, given Google’s recent launch of Google+ and its Hangouts feature. Skype is the engine for this service, and it’s pretty simple: just click on the name of one of your Facebook friends and click a video icon to request a video chat. Group video chat isn’t available yet, and it’s also not available on mobile, but the video service is rolling out to Facebook users over the course of the day.
It’s an interesting gambit for Skype, given that Facebook has more users than Skype and the service would allow people to bypass Skype’s desktop application completely. Skype CEO Tony Bates pitched his company’s participation as a gateway to the Web for Skype, a company which is pretty much a standard voice-and-video-calling service on the desktop computer and has rolled out several popular mobile applications.
But users of Skype’s application will also be able to do a lot of the things they do within Facebook right from that application, such as read status updates, post new status updates and chat with friends. And Business Insider reported that the two companies are working on a way for Facebook users to call phone numbers, perhaps using Facebook’s budding payments system, Facebook Credits. That’s something Google (NSDQ: GOOG) also allows from within Gmail Chat, although Google’s service is free inside the U.S.
Of course, it’s also worth noting that Skype is folding into Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), a large investor in Facebook with close ties to the social networking service. Zuckerberg said that Facebook and Skype were working on the integration project anyway when the Microsoft-Skype deal started to take shape and pushed ahead once they both realized that Microsoft–perhaps Facebook’s biggest friend in the tech industry–wouldn’t stand in the way of anything.