Liz Gannes

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Facebook Introduces Group Chat, Video Calling

Facebook today launched group chat and video calling features in partnership with Skype — as expected and as was first reported by AllThingsD last September. It said the new features are the first in a string of upcoming product launches. Here’s how it all went down.

10:15 am: Mark Zuckerberg kicks off: Today is the beginning of launch season 2011.

First up, anecdote about how his elderly neighbor told him on the street this morning he wants Facebook to launch video chat. “I said, ‘OK, tune in!'”

Stepping back, Zuckerberg says people used to wonder about how big social networking would be. “I think that chapter is pretty much done at this point. … Now the world pretty generally believes that it is going to be everywhere. It’s billions of people, whether it’s us or someone else doing it, connecting all these people.

“That’s the last five years. What is the next? It’s not wiring up the world, it’s about what kind of cool social apps you’re going to build now that you have this wiring, this social infrastructure in place.”

Zuck contends that around the industry, companies that are best in class are thinking how they can offer their products in a social way. “The next five years isn’t just going to be about active users. Hopefully we’ll get to a billion at some point, the whole social industry to get to billions. But you measure by the amount of value people are getting, the apps they’re using, how much time they’re spending, the amount it’s driving the economy.”

10:20 am: So one important stat is the rate of sharing. The amount of stuff you share today is about twice what you were sharing a year ago, and this is consistent. “That kind of exponential growth is really profound.”

In teacher mode now: Humans don’t understand exponential growth. If you fold a paper 50 times it goes to the moon and back.

Law of sharing: y=2 to the x

“We do have 750 million users now, but the thing that’s growing even faster is the amount of sharing per person.”

Facebook thinks its growth and the growth of the social ecosystem follow Moore’s Law. In 2004, people shared .1 things per day.

Tracing growth (see chart): Before mobile photos were big, users uploaded albums every few weeks, then newsfeed increased the flow through the site, then platform, then comments, then “Like” button. We’re right at the elbow of the curve now.

“This is what I’m excited about. This is what we’ve been hard at work at over the last six months.”

Now 4 billion things shared every day.

10:27 am: Here are the three announcements for today: group chat, new design and video calling.

“Groups has been a powerful vehicle and already a meaningful portion of sharing is going through groups.”

“Turns out that dude I walked by will actually get to video chat with his grandson, so that’s cool.”

“We want to leave apps as much as possible to the independent entrepreneurs that will be best at building them. That’s a big difference from other Internet companies. We’ll build that infrastructure, we’re years ahead in terms of wiring it up.” (ooh! a tiny, tiny Google+ dig?)

10:34 am: Next up: Product director Peter Deng. Over 50 percent of people on Facebook are active users of Groups. Group chat is rolling out starting today.

Deng: “Chat is one of the most-loved features on Facebook, even though it’s been kind of hard to start a chat.”

Will resize to window, include friends who are unable to chat. Sidebar is one-click access to the people you chat with most (this looks kind of like RockMelt).

Now an engineer is showing the new “call” button, which will show up on users profiles between “message” and “poke.”

He’s video chatting on stage with the team back in Seattle, who tells him the feature has already launched to millions of users.

Here’s the link to the video chat feature.

“This is by far the easiest way to get connected by video. If it was any easier than that one click it would be reading your mind.”

Now he’s going through the set-up process. The plug-in takes 30 seconds to download, then works within the browser automatically, he says.

10:39 am: Zuckerberg invites Skype CEO Tony Bates on stage.

Bates: “It’s really gratifying to see the product … Skype’s mission is to make communications pervasive … We’re now averaging over 300 million minutes per month of video, and at peak times more than half of traffic is video.”

Started working on this with Facebook six months ago “in true partnership,” says Bates. He hints that they’re talking about including Skype paid products within the integration in the future.

10:43 am: Zuckerberg back to tell us what he just told us and thank Bates for his “great technology.” Now time for questions.

First question: Will you do group video chat? What do you think of Google+ Hangouts?

Zuckerberg: We started working on this before Bates was at Skype, then closer once he got there, and now they’re at Microsoft which Facebook has a long-standing relationship with. So there’s going to be a lot more. But one-to-one is the most important video experience, Bates and Zuckerberg say.

Zuckerberg on Google+: I’m not going to say a lot about Google+. We’ve all only had a little time to use it. Like I said, the last five years have been about connecting people, now it’s about apps. I think you’ll see a lot of companies and apps building social stuff. I see this as validation of the way the next five years are going to play out. We’re sure it’s going to happen, and if we don’t someone else will do it.

Question: What’s in this for Skype financially?

Bates: Today we’re just focused on creating a broad reach to the Web site.

Q: What about mobile apps?

Zuck: Video chat isn’t live for mobile yet, and the window resize stuff won’t happen on mobile, but the group chat stuff works.

This is mostly a Web experience for now, he adds.

Question about infrastructure load.

Zuck: Skype is peer-to-peer.

Bates: Think of this as a mini-Skype client. It’s powered in the same way.

Q: What is the current overlap between Skype and Facebook users?

A: We have no idea.

Q: Financial terms?

Zuck: There are none. It’s just Skype built into Facebook.

Q: How did Microsoft relationship affect this?

Zuck: Just gives further sense of stability and trust.

Q: What will drive the expected growth of sharing?

Zuck: One big factor is apps. Another is mobile. Another is social norms about how people think about sharing and sharing with small groups.

“We’ve focused on groups. The definition of groups is that everyone who’s in the group knows that everyone else is in the group.” (This is more Google+ retort, where users generate “circles” instead of groups.) “We have friend lists, people can use them and power users do.”

10:59 am: OK, that’s all for now! Zuckerberg and Bates are photo-opping.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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