Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised “awesome” new updates to the ubiquitous social network. Now that the company has unveiled a new video chat feature, the blogosphere has a chance to ask, “Well, how 'awesome' is it, really?”
A quick recap: Facebook will launch the new feature in tandem with Skype, and they’ve integrated the two services closely. Skype already had some Facebook features – the latest Windows version showed your friends list, gave access to Facebook chat, and allowed you to “Like” a friend’s status – but it still inhabited its own program and required users to register for a separate Skype account.
Starting today, though, the services have effectively fused. You’ll see a little “call” button on each of your friends’ profile pages, as well as a video icon in your right-hand chat window. In the announcement this morning, Zuckerberg emphasized that the service requires only minimal setup to use, and it’s true: the applet takes just a few seconds to download and install.
How does the new service stack up to Google’s offerings? The search engine giant has offered video, text chat, and free phone calls as part of Gmail. In addition, the Google+ social network that launched out of Mountain View last week includes a feature dubbed “Hangouts,” which allows group video chats with up to 10 members. For now, Facebook only allows one-on-one video chat (although Facebook did enable group text chat – for mobile devices as well as computers – as part of its announcement).
Generally speaking, pundits applauded the new Facebook features. MySpace founder Tom Anderson wrote on TechCrunch, “The challenge is to get the user base, and make it easy for them to use your product. Done and done for Facebook. The integration looks great.”
Over at TechCrunch, Michael Arrington pointed out that “If you want to have a one on one video chat, and your friend list is hosted at Facebook, the new Facebook video chat is a near perfect product.” However, Arrington also pointed to the lack of feature parity between Facebook’s and Google’s offerings – a complaint shared by many other pundits.
Ars Technica editor Paul Ryan pointed to the web-only interface as a stumbling block, saying, “[I] can't imagine ever using the new video chat service. A chat system that is tied entirely to a single website in a browser isn't particularly useful to me.” And AllThingsD reporter Liz Gannes pointed out that although Zuckerberg’s presentation repeatedly emphasized third-party apps and mobile traffic as key drivers of Facebook’s growth, the products announced Wednesday launched “without any support for apps and mobile.”
What’s your take? Will you be making frequent of Facebook video chat? If you’re one of the lucky ones currently using Google+, how do the services stack up? Drop us a line in the comments – we’re listening.