Skyping on Facebook

The early adoption crowd has been waiting all week for Mark Zuckerberg’s “awesome” announcement, which the Facebook founder promised during a visit to the company’s Seattle office last week. Admittedly, in Zuckerberg’s vernacular, the word awesome doesn’t carry quite the same weight as it does for the rest of us, but thankfully, today’s announcement didn’t constitute a description of the billionaire’s breakfast, but rather the not entirely unexpected launch of Facebook’s incorporation of VoIP service Skype into its interface as Facebook video chat.

For the privacy conscious among us, the revelation that Facebook still makes announcements may have come as something of a surprise, given the relative stealth with which it has introduced recent features such as automatic face recognition, but today was all about positive stories for Facebook.

Although talk of the social media giant’s demise may be premature, the amount of Buzz (pun intended) generated by Google+ over the past week will have worried Zuckerberg despite the fact that a profile attributed to him is the most followed on Google+.

Google Hangout, which allows for up to ten friends to chat at once, would likely have had Skype running scared as it was, so pairing its 170 million users with Facebook’s now-confirmed 750 million users makes sense for Microsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition as well as helping Facebook keep pace with Google in the social media stakes.

However, while Facebook has incorporated group chats into its text chat feature, Facebook video chat remains a one-to-one video chat feature, just like Skype. The process is clean and relatively hassle-free; no external Skype account is needed, and one user with the video chat plug in can call another without it, at which point the recipient will be prompted to install the plug in.

One concern that Facebook will have is that the outages which have dogged Skype in the past couple of months will not blight Facebook’s video chat; such downtime may result in users defecting to Google, never to return, however Skype CEO Tony Bates assured the assembled press at today’s launch that, “the technology is tough”.

Zuckerberg said at today’s launch that while he wouldn’t rule out group video calling in the future, possibly as a paid, premium feature, he, “wouldn’t undersell the importance of today”, which he described as “symbolic of the way [Facebook] are going to do things, which is a focus on Facebook providing a social infrastructure, and outsourcing the creation of apps to independent entrepreneurs whom he described as, “best in class”.

This seems to be a deliberate tactic to not go toe to toe with Google, who can, it seems, create any app that Facebook can, only better, as evinced by their already rolled-out group chat.

Rather, Facebook seems content to rely on the fact that it has 750 million and growing members, and that companies that have not as yet embraced social media will come to them with apps, “Companies that are best in class are thinking about “how are we going to offer our product in a social way?””

Zuckerberg is clearly hoping that these companies, of whom he cited Netflix as a potential example, will seek safety in numbers and choose Facebook as their social platform of choice.

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