Facebook is co-opting some of the most important video chat innovations like Zoom's gallery view for large groups and Houseparty's spontaneous hangouts for a new feature called "Rooms". It could usher in a new era of unplanned togetherness through video.
If you start today in English and desktop in English-speaking countries, you can start a video chat room that friends can discover via a new section above the newsfeed or via notifications that Facebook automatically sends to your closest friends. You can also simply invite certain friends or share a link that anyone can use to join your room.
Up to 8 people can currently participate, but this limit will rise to 50 within weeks, making it a more legitimate alternative to Zoom for big happy hours and the like. And more importantly, users will soon be able to create and discover rooms through Instagram. WhatsApp and portal as well as joining from the Internet without an account make this Facebook the first truly interoperable product.
"People just want to spend more time together," Messenger Stan Chudnovsky told me on Facebook. Single and group video calls were already increasing, but “Now, in the time of COVID, the whole thing is exploding. We already had a plan to do a few things here (so people could hang out with videos anytime), but we accelerated our plans. “There are no plans for advertisements or any other direct monetization of spaces, but the feature could lead to Facebook products being central to people's lives.
The decision to create a separate and highly prominent space for discovering the space above the news feed shows how seriously Facebook takes this product. It could have blocked rooms in a standalone app or made them into another newsfeed post, the actuality of which would be lost in the algorithm. Instead, it was ready to remove the feed almost entirely from the home screen under the Composers, Rooms and Stories. Facebook clearly sees sharing, short-lived content and the synchronous connection as the key to its future as static status updates.
Facebook goes all-in on video
The introduction of Rooms goes hand in hand with a series of other video updates that are intended to compensate for the lack of Facebook in the communication of many to many. Messenger and WhatsApp now see 700 million people a day using audio and video calls, while Facebook and Instagram live videos now reach 800 million people a day. Facebook already owns the many-to-one feed and has emerged as the leader in one-to-many live streaming, but "the centerpiece took a lot more investment," says Chudnovsky.
Here is an overview of the other announcements and their meaning:
- Virtual and 360 backgrounds with mood lighting – Facebook will shortly be able to choose a virtual background to hide what is behind a video call, including 360 backgrounds that look different when you move, and mood lighting to help you look better camera
- WhatsApp extends group calls from a maximum of four to eight participants. By including larger families and groups of friends, WhatsApp becomes a more profitable competitor of Zoom
- Facebook Live With Returns – It is difficult to be the center of attention for a long time. So if you can get a guest on the screen during live calls, stay interesting and under little pressure
- Donate button for live video – This makes it easier for musicians, activists and ordinary people to raise money for purposes during the coronavirus crisis
- Live only via audio – As more and more musicians bring their tours to Facebook Live, you can now listen while you are away from the day you don't want to watch or save data, and you can use a toll-free number to dial in Videos of some pages
- Instagram Live on the Web – You can now watch live videos and comments from your desktop to do multiple tasks on longer streams
- Live on IGTV – Long live videos don't have to go away as they can now be saved on IGTV. This promotes a higher quality of Instagram lives, which are intended for a long lifespan
- Portal Live – You can now switch live to pages and groups from portal devices to move while streaming
- Facebook dating video chat – instead of choosing a date on which you have no chemistry, you can video chat with matches on Facebook dating to get a feel for someone first.
How to use Facebook rooms
Facebook tried to make Rooms startable and findable in all of its apps, in the hope of flashing into the room. You can start a room via the newsfeed composer, groups, events, the messenger inbox and soon via the video chat button of Instagram Direct, WhatsApp. and portal. You can choose a start time, add a description, and choose who can join in three ways.
You can only limit your room to people you invite, e.g. B. for a family visit. You can open it to all of your friends who can see it in the new Rooms recognition bar above the newsfeed or inbox and possibly similar interfaces in the other apps. In this case, Facebook may notify some close friends to make sure they see it. Or you can share a link to your room wherever you want and make it public effectively.
Facebook has apparently observed the PR disaster that resulted from zoom bombing and deliberately built security into rooms. The host can lock the room to prevent people from joining via a URL. If you start someone from a room, they will be automatically locked until they are unlocked. This ensures that trolls who find your link cannot simply continue to join from the Internet.
Of course, Chudnovsky tried to downplay the influence of zoom and houseparty on the rooms. "We are happy that there are many other apps that people can use when they see each other and want to stay close to each other. I don’t think we really learned anything that actually became part of this product," he said. It's also convenient that Rooms is essentially a non-exclusive video version of Clubhouse, the voice chat app that is currently spoken of in Silicon Valley
The copier that cannot be copied
Facebook has been working quietly on rooms since at least 2017 and is investigating how group chats can be found. This year a standalone app for discovering group video chats called Bonfire was tried. In fact, Facebook launched an independent app called Rooms for anonymous forums back in 2014.
The genius of this introduction is how it combines three of Facebook's greatest strengths to create a product that copies others but is itself difficult to copy.
- The ubiquity Thanks to its messaging apps and web compatibility, Rooms is easily accessible without having to download a new app.
- The frequency The number of visits to its feeds and inboxes, where the 2.5 billion users of the app family find rooms, and Facebook's willingness to make big profits by sticking rooms like stories on our screens could be a new one Initiate an era of spontaneous, casual sociability.
- The social graph We have developed Facebook's apps with great breadth, and the depth of understanding of who we care most about allows them to reach enough concurrent users for Rooms to be fun by intelligently ranking us and who gets notifications to join instead of spamming your entire phone book.
No other app has all of these features. Zoom doesn't know who you care about. Houseparty is growing, but it is anything but omnipresent. Messaging competitors don't have the same detection interfaces.
Facebook knows that the real engagement on mobile devices comes from messaging. It only took one way to send more messages than our one-to-one threads and asynchronous group chats required. Rooms turns video calls into something you can passively discover and join instead of being actively initiated or explicitly attracted to a friend. This could significantly increase the frequency and duration of Facebook use without the deleterious effects of zombie-like scrolling of anti-social feeds.
For more information on tech from author Josh Constine, see his Moving Product newsletter