Facebook just announced video chat with Skype at a press conference in Palo Alto.
Our first take: it looks extremely easy to use — you have to download a plug-in once, but the download pop-up is integrated into Facebook and isn’t any harder than adding a game, for instance.
And Facebook has a huge built-in user base of semi- and non-technical people who can get going on this right away.
That said, Google really stole Facebook’s thunder with Hangouts last week — it offers group chat with up to 10 people simultaneously, while the Facebook feature offers only one to one calls, just like regular Skype.
This is a big win for Skype and its soon-to-be-owner Microsoft, though: Skype suddenly gets access to Facebook’s 750 million users.
Here’s our transcript of the event.
10:05 PT: We’re here, waiting for the event to start.
10:11: Mark Zuckerberg just walked in, he’s hanging out by the free drink refrigerator. So far no sign of Skype CEO Tony Bates.
10:13: Zuck: “Today marks the beginning of ‘launching season’ in 2011.” They’ve been working hard.
He’s amused that his 70-year-old neighbour accosted him to talk about what he’s launching today. “I hope it’s video chat.”
10:16: Social networking — it was new. But until recently people had open questions whether it would be this widespread ubiquitous phenomenon. That chapter is more or less done.
“We’re not everywhere yet, but there’s this clear arc where the world generally believes it is going to be everywhere.” Billions of people, “whether it’s us or somebody else doing it.”
Last few years, companies who were really serious about desktop software started building Web apps. We’re at this inflection point where we’ll see that with social software. Companies in gaming, communications, search, how are we going to offer our product in a social way on a social infrastructure.
10:19: How do you measure these things? It’s not just about registered users, or active users. “Hopefully we’ll get to a billion at some point.”
It’s about the rate at which they’re sharing more stuff. It’s growing exponentially. The amount they share today is twice what they shared a year ago. Go forward, it’ll double every year.
If you folded a piece of paper 50 times, it would go to the moon and back more than 10 times — it’s 2 to the 50th power times the height of a paper. (People don’t understand maths.)
So this trend of people sharing 2x stuff every year, it’s growing much faster than users.
We hit 750m users. Officially. But that’s not the interesting metric.
(This is great — Zuck is going all mathematical on us and explaining what logarithmic growth is.)
Moore’s law is the most famous instance of logarithmic growth — 2x the transistors on the same chip every 18 months.
Photo: Matt Rosoff
All this is a looooong way of saying “we’re ready.”
10:25: Aha — Skype just tweeted that they’re looking forward to some “awesome” news being shared.
10:26: Three things.
1. Group chat.
2. New design.
3. Video calling.
Group chat — ad hoc sharing. People have asked for it.
The new design — billions of chat messages per day. It’s hard to find people online, even though the number is massive. You either have to click on buddy list to pop it up, or the “face pile” on the home page (you have to know what your friends’ icons look like).
Confirmed: video calling with Skype.
I can go to a profile, even if they haven’t installed plug-in to do video chat, quick call and it’ll pop up on his screen. Click “I want to download the plug-in” and we’re chatting. This only works because the system already knows we’re connected.
NOT like traditional Skype where both people have to have the software.
“Turns out that dude who walked by will actually get to video chat with his grandson.”
10:31: “Companies that do one thing will always do better than companies doing a million things.” (cough — Google+)
10:32: Now a Facebooker named Peter is demoing group chat. We’ll grab some screens and post them as they come up.
New sidebar at lower right shows all your friends online, you get a new camera icon to start video call.
Philip from Facebook’s Seattle office is going to demo video calling. Can get to it from the chat tab or any friend’s profile page.
Looks pretty straightforward. “Your least technical friend can get online and connect to somebody else.” Simplicity. No separate accounts, no separate Web sites, the download is small and easy, one button click to any friend on a social network that already HAS all your friends.
(No group video chat feature, though. I wonder what Google is thinking now.) Even the download is pretty easy.
It’s rolling out today.
10:40: Now Skype CEO Tony Bates is on stage. Classic use case of Skype is grandchild speaking to grandparent.
The technology is hard. Started thinking about this 6 months ago. Long-term strategic relationship with Facebook. True partnership.
Photo: Matt Rosoff | Business Insider
He didn’t say much about what they’ve done to get ready — no technical detail.
Now Zuck’s back. So the group chat gives users an ad-hoc way to set up groups without doing that up front. Kind of like Google+ Circles, without having to actually set up those groups manually.
We’re going to see a lot of new things like this over the next few months and years, very excited to what we have to bring.
Q: And now we’re into Q&A.
Is group video chat coming? And what do you think of Google Hangouts?
Zuck: today we’re doing 1-1. Just rolled out group chat for text. We were working with Skype before Tony came on board. Now Skype is a part of Microsoft, we have a very longstanding relationship with Microsoft.
“I wouldn’t rule anything out.” But don’t undersell the importance of what we have today. The vast majority of chat is 1-1 today. We’re really excited about what we’ve built.
Bates: 1 to 1 is most important part.
Zuck: I’m not going to say a lot about Google+, we’ve only spent a little time on the service. But think about the narrative — the last five years has been about connecting people, now we’re building social apps. We’ll see a lot of companies who haven’t looked at social in their apps. Not just Google.
Netflix is a good example — they’re trying to do social well. It’s going to be a hybrid in these places to build on top of social infrastructure as it already exists.
I view this as validation. Every app is going to be social. If we build the best service, there’s massive value.
Q: Any concern people will switch from direct Skype usage to Facebook?
Bates: We’ve set a goal of 1 billion, this helps us get there. This helps us be as ubiquitous as possible.
Q: How do you accept the video invitation?
Zuck: You contact a friend, something pops up on their screen. They click to accept a call. You’ll hear a ring as if your phone is ringing.
Q: What’s in it for Skype financially?
Bates: There will be an opportunity to have Skype paid products in the future, but today it’s just about reach.
Q: What about mobile?
Zuck: Video calling is coming to mobile, isn’t live yet. The group chat stuff works.
Our messaging system — the inbox is the same as the IM interface that pops up. Mostly Web features.
They’re not giving a date for video on mobile. “We try to develop each thing and make it really good.”
Q: How will this impact infrastructure? Huge load. Will you continue to build your own data centres?
Zuck: Definitely makes sense to build more of our own datacenters instead of leasing. One of the fundamental innovations Skype had is it’s all peer to peer.
Bates: Think of this as a mini-Skype client that’s embedded nicely into Facebook.
Q: What’s overlap between FB and Skype users?
They don’t know.
Q. What are the financial terms? What did the Microsoft relationship play into this partnership.
Zuck: No economic terms. Same free Skype service they already offer, but put into the Facebook form. But we’re figuring out what to do next. We have had work with Skype before, but most features were built into Skype client.
The Microsoft deal — “we have a really good relationship with Microsoft.” They’ve worked with Bing, ads. “It would have been fine if you were an independent company too.” Now it’s a sense of stability.
Bates: We’re not owned by Microsoft yet. We haven’t closed. But we’re very hopeful. But we started talking about that.
The day we announced, we came and talked to Mark. Steve (Ballmer) and I are really aligned on this.
Zuck: We had this lined up. “Is the acquisition going to change anything? No.”
That’s a wrap.