Facebook is launching a new group video chat product to take advantage of the restrictions in movement around the world now stuck indoors and offer an alternative to services that have exploded in popularity in recent months, like Zoom.
Messenger Rooms, a feature that will be available on Facebook’s core social network and its Messenger app, will allow video chats among as many as 50 people, and won’t require participants to have a Facebook account, the company said Friday in a blog post. Chats will be free with no time limit, and eventually users will be able to create a “room” from any of Facebook’s products, including WhatsApp and Instagram.
The goal is a group video product that feels more social, and less corporate than what’s currently available, said Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg. People in Messenger Rooms will be able to use Facebook’s augmented reality filters, or jump between chats to visit different groups of friends, an effort to create “spontaneity and serendipity,” Zuckerberg added.
“All the products [out] there were primarily focused on enterprises and we thought that there was an ability to do something in the consumer space,” the Facebook CEO said this week via video chat from his home. “It’s meant to be more casual. Not everything has to be planned out in advance.”
Video chats have become a staple given the billions of people around the world staying indoors because of the coronavirus pandemic. Zoom Video Communications Inc.’s app, aimed at companies for business meetings before the outbreak, has jumped from about 10 million users to more than 300 million in a matter of months. Zoom’s shares declined 2% after Facebook’s announcement, reversing a gain of as much as 7.3% earlier Friday.
Houseparty, owned by Epic Games Inc., which also lets users bounce between group chats, said it added 50 million new sign-ups in a 30-day stretch, as much as 70 times its normal amount in some markets.
Facebook, too, has a number of video chat products already in high demand. More than 700 million people make voice or video calls every day on Messenger or WhatsApp, Zuckerberg said, a number that has increased since the emergence of Covid-19.
The Menlo Park, California-based company started shifting product priorities last month after seeing those spikes in usage from people using its live video and calling features. The demand prompted Facebook to announce other video features this week, including the ability to save Instagram Live videos after they’re over, and start a video chat inside Facebook’s dating feature. Video chats on WhatsApp can now host eight people, twice the previous amount.