Facebook has created a new video-calling service in partnership with Skype, confirming rumours that have been flying around the blogosphere since Mark Zuckerberg last week raised expectations about the launch of fresh features.
New group chat features and a new design were also announced, with many more developments to come as Mr Zuckerberg called the next weeks and months “Launching Season 2011” for Facebook, taking clear aim at Google and its recent unveiling of its new social network service, Google+.
“I think the driving narrative for the next five years isn’t going to be about wiring up the world,” said Mr Zuckerberg, who last week said the new launches would be “awesome”.
“It’s about what kind of cool stuff are you going to be able to build, what kinds of social apps can you build now that you have this social infrastructure,” he said.
He also confirmed Facebook’s latest user numbers – 750m active users – which had previously been estimated only by outsiders, then dismissed the metric as being no longer relevant. More interesting, he said, was the rate at which users are sharing their thoughts, photos and articles on Facebook.
Every day 4bn things are shared on Facebook, he said. Today people are sharing twice as much on the site as they were a year ago. And Facebook expects the rates to double every year, pushing exponential growth in activity on the site.
Mr Zuckerberg emphasised Facebook’s vast social infrastructure as the key to future social innovations and said other companies that were best in class, like Skype, should be the ones to build new social tools and applications.
That is a better strategy than “other internet companies out there who try to do everything themselves”, he said, again making a dig at Google.
Although Wednesday’s announcement did not include group video chat, one of the key features of Google+, Mr Zuckerberg hinted that a Facebook version would be rolled out soon.
He has been studying the competition. He has more followers on Google+ than any other user – almost 45,000 as of Wednesday evening, according to Social Statistics. That is nearly 15,000 more than Larry Page, one of Google’s founders, has.
While Facebook’s strength is in the bank of social data that it has accumulated from users, the hype built around the Skype integration is muted by the fact that it still has to play catch-up to Google+ on features such as group video chat and easier groups management, said Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner Research.
“It’s supposed to be awesome, but it seems less than awesome in the shadow of Google+,” he said.
Tony Bates, chief executive at Skype, was enthusiastic about the benefits his company would gain in being connected to the world’s largest social network, including a 50 per cent increase in video calling traffic.
Philip Su, the software engineer at Facebook who spearheaded the technical integration of Skype, said video calling from Facebook would be easier and faster than strict Skype-to-Skype video calling. When a Facebook user sees a friend or family member is online, he can click to start a video call. The person receiving the call only needs to accept the call, and Skype will download in the browser in under 30 seconds, he said.