In a live-streamed announcement, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg billed it as another way Facebook can keep people connected.
“Video presence isn’t just about calling someone,” he said. “It is starting to be a fundamental building block of a private social platform with lots of new use cases.”
Videoconferencing has become a necessity during the pandemic, as workers telecommute and families use video to stay in touch. It has even become a destination for happy hours and dance parties.
Zoom, in particular, has benefited. The videoconferencing company recently said the number of people participating in Zoom calls on a single day grew from 10 million at the end of December to more than 300 million people now. The free version of Zoom limits group calls to 40 minutes until you sign up for a paid subscription, but it can accommodate 1,000 people.
Facebook, like its fellow large tech companies, has a reputation of developing services for its own apps similar to ones made popular by smaller companies. The Stories feature on Facebook-owned Instagram came months after Snapchat revealed Stories on its own app. Facebook has also released online shopping marketplaces similar to Craigslist and neighborhood groups like Nextdoor.
Facebook’s Messenger Rooms is in some ways more limited than Zoom — it must be started from Facebook or Messenger, though others who join don’t need a Facebook account. It’s limited to a total of 50 people.
But Facebook said Messenger Rooms will be free and won’t have a time limit. The new Facebook feature also allows people to drop in and join other rooms, or come and go as they please (though you can restrict who has access to your rooms) — much like the newly popular Houseparty app.
Facebook has a head start in the video streaming game with its built-in following of more than 2 billion users. But it has also been plagued by misinformation and privacy controversies, eroding people’s trust in the service.
Facebook says it will not “view or listen” to video calls.
WhatsApp, a messaging service owned by Facebook, will expand to allow eight people on each call, up from four now.
Facebook said 700 million people are chatting on daily video calls on Messenger and WhatsApp combined.