Thursday, September 1, 2016

Facebook Messenger adds live video to compliment your conversation

A good rule of thumb in software these days is that any social product without a video feature is going to get one eventually. Another good rule of thumb is that any feature developed by Snapchat is coming soon to a Facebook product near you. Enter "instant video," a twist on Snapchat's video calling feature that lets you share a live stream from inside a traditional text chat.

Facebook Messenger has had a FaceTime-like video chat option since May 2015. But the company wants to encourage even more video usage of its platform, and so today it's introducing a lightweight add-on to your text messages that lets you share video from a window inside the chat app. "Video calling is still relatively new, and until recently, reserved for special occasions," the company said in a blog post. "Instant video is a reflection of the ubiquity of video — we simply expect to have that ability in real-time, all the time."

I'm not sure how true that is. Facebook's suggestions for when instant video might come in handy — asking a friend's opinion about a pair of shoes you're considering buying, or "what ice cream flavor to bring home," or watching a friend's reaction to your messages — don't strike me as everyday uses. But hey, Snapchat has it, so might as well bolt it on to Messenger.

To use instant video, you and your friend both need the latest version of Messenger on Android or iOS. From inside a conversation, tap the video icon in the top right corner of the app and you'll begin broadcasting. For the recipient, the sound is off by default. As on Snapchat, the feature only works if both of you have the conversation open. (You can always launch a regular video chat on Messenger if your friend isn't currently looking at the chat.) Your friend can share video back if they want.

Facebook Messenger has significantly more users than Snapchat, and I'm sure a healthy chunk of them will find instant video useful. For Snapchat, it's another piece of evidence that Facebook sees it as an existential threat — and that the company will go to great lengths to blunt its momentum.

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