Facebook launched a bunch of new features Wednesday, including group chat, a redesigned chat user list, and the biggest of all, video chat via a partnership with Skype. It’s this last one that will have the biggest implications for most average Mac users.
I used Skype video calling approximately three minutes after it launched (with pal and web developer Wes Bos), and it worked perfectly. Installing the plugin on my iMac required a tiny Java app download that’s virtually foolproof to use, and making and receiving calls is as simple as clicking a few buttons and confirming you want to share video.
Video chat doesn’t appeal to everyone. It works well for people who have close relationships with one another (like parents and children) and who live far enough away from each other that face-to-face interaction is rare. But when you add the complication that both parties have to install a dedicated app and have that app open and active, the pool of people who’ll actually use it are even smaller. With Facebook chat, if they’re in your network, they’re potentially available for video calling. No Skype registration, no calling people ahead of time to tell them to open the Skype client so that you can call them, since people are much more likely to be Facebook users (there’s 750 million of them, Facebook announced today) and online at any given time on that site.
Skype’s Mac client also isn’t winning over any fans in terms of its design, mainly because that design feels unnecessarily cumbersome. Facebook’s Skype integration is the opposite of that: It’s invisible, blending in with Facebook’s web presence without drawing too much attention to itself or changing the Facebook experience that users are comfortable with.
For both the above reasons, I think Facebook Video Calling will unseat Skype as the video chat option of choice for Mac users, at least when it comes to consumers. Pro users might need the advanced Skype features offered through the dedicated Mac app, but some of those might make it to Facebook eventually, too, it was suggested at today’s press conference. And things like calling out to landlines and cell phones might be better handled through Skype’s smartphone clients anyway.
Facebook still has to bring video calling to groups and mobile, but the groundwork is laid for that to happen, and while some are saying Google+ is still in the lead thanks to its Hangouts group video chat, I think that’s underestimating Facebook’s advantage in terms of its huge network size lead.
I’m seeing a lot of negative reaction to this announcement on Twitter in general, but I think it will do wonders for the adoption of video calling among less techie users. What do you think?