07/07/11 Facebook details Skype-powered video calling, group chats

Facebook announced its new Skype-powered video calling on Wednesday, as expected, along with a new group text chat feature.

About as soon as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, alongside Skype’s chief executive Tony Bates, wrapped up the news conference where the new video feature was unveiled, Facebook software engineer Philip Su published a post on the social network’s blog detailing the new products.

Su was on hand at the unveiling and gave a walkthrough of the video chat application, which requires a free update download from Facebook to get the feature up and running.

“Video chat has been around for years now, but it’s still not an everyday activity for most people,” Su said in his post. “Sometimes it’s too difficult to set up, or the friends you want to talk to are on different services.

“So a few months ago, we started working with Skype to bring video calling to Facebook. We built it right into chat, so all your conversations start from the same place. To call your friend, just click the video call button at the top of your chat window.”

Su said that the video calling feature would be built into Facebook for every user over the next few weeks, but users looking to start today can do so via the software update download.

“For those of us who have been working on this, it’s particularly exciting to bring video calling to over 750 million people,” he said. “We’re making this available in over 70 different languages, so friends can stay in touch all over the world.”

In another Facebook first, group chatting is coming to the world’s most popular social network.

“Multi-person chat,” as Su called it in his post, has been one of Facebook’s most requested features.

“Now when your friends can’t figure out what movie to see, you can just add them to a chat and decide together,” Su said. “To include more friends in your conversation, simply select Add Friends to Chat.”

Unlike Facebook video calling, the group chat feature will make its way to Facebook mobile apps, Zuckerberg said at the Wednesday unveiling. Group chats in Facebook arrive just in time to match Google+’s Huddle group chat feature.

Google+, unlike Facebook, offers a feature to do group video chats called Hangouts — something Facebook video calling can’t match as of yet. But that may be coming in the future, Zuckerberg said.

“I wouldn’t rule anything out, but I also wouldn’t undersell what we’ve rolled out today,” he said, adding that the majority of video chatting online today is one to one. “As far as the Google stuff goes, I’m not going to say a lot about Google+ obviously.”

Zuckerberg said that the last five years have been about connecting people through social networking and that he and Facebook believe the next five years will be about building apps on top of the social infrastructure that Facebook and others have built.

Google’s entry into social networking, and social-networking efforts by other tech companies such as Netflix, confirms Zuckerberg’s vision, the CEO said. More than 4 billion things — links, photos, videos — are shared across Facebook each day, and apps built on the social network will help push that amount of sharing even higher.

“I view a lot of this as validation that over the next five years this is how things are going to play out,” Zuckerberg said.

L.A. Times – Nathan Olivarez-Giles