Facebook’s announcement today included information about the much talked-about video chat. Now, video chat is nothing new or particularly special. It’s been consumer available since the mid- to late 90’s (CU-SeeMe, anyone?). However, it’s always been something that hasn’t been accessible to many folks, especially the less tech savvy among us.
Think about it for a second. Not only do you have to purchase the hardware (easy), you have to find a suitable chat program (less easy), set up and successfully connect your camera (not easy or impossible depending on driver support), and then convince your chat partner to do the same (nearly impossible). Unless one was very determined, the average user would rarely get over the hump of setting up a workable video chat on both ends.
Nowadays, most laptops (and all-in-one desktops) come with built in cameras. Even many of our phones have multiple cameras, along with iPads, some Android tablets, etc. So, we’ve solved the hardware issue mostly. Facebook has come along and solved the rest of the equation by providing a mostly ubiquitous solution to the chat program fragmentation issue.
Facebook’s fastest growing audience is the 40+ demographic. They’re more likely to have children and grandchildren that are tech-proficient, and in an attempt to connect with them, have joined Facebook (and other social networks) en masse. Many times, this is driven by physical distance between relatives. Considering all that, I believe that we’ll see a surge of Facebook video chat use by this demographic.
This surge of use is exactly what will keep Skype in business. Microsoft made a smart move to acquire this property in light of their current partnership with Facebook (the rumors of video chat had to come from somewhere). Otherwise, the prospect of a Facebook-built chat within their infrastructure and application would have spelled Skype’s doom. Although it is certainly one of the easier video calling applications out there, that extra step required to use it is what will make the majority of users choose Facebook’s solution over the official Skype application.
I predict that Skype will get out of the standalone video chat game within the next 3 years. Although Google+ is making a solid run at whittling away the nerdier social media users, integrating some of Skype’s advanced video chat features will eventually phase out Skype application users, and turn them into Facebook video chat users. There are very few (if any?) Skype video chat users that wouldn’t at least be familiar with using Facebook’s version.
If they can also launch this feature for businesses via the Page application, that would solve many of the privacy concerns that some people would have with switching from Skype to Facebook. The framework is there (via the “Use Facebook as ABC Company” feature). You’d switch your session to login as the business, and then be able to chat as ABC Company to someone who has Liked the business. There is a huge potential for businesses using this by the ability to broadcast to your Page (much like uStream).
I believe that Skype made the right move. While they could likely still keep a small portion of video-only users on their service, I think that handing that over to Facebook will be a wise choice for them in the long run. It’s a real life example of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em“.