Facebook launches Zoom competitor, with built-in special effects
San Francisco - Facebook announced it's making a big push into live video conferencing, capitalizing on millions of people stuck home globally amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The new service, called Messenger Rooms, allows users to conference with up to 50 people at a time - similar to Zoom, Houseparty and other video conference services that have seen their businesses boom over the past few weeks.
Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg billed it as another way Facebook can keep people connected in a live-streamed announcement.
Video conferencing has become a necessity during the pandemic, as workers telecommute and families use video to stay in touch. It's even become a destination for happy hours and dance parties.
Zoom, in particular, has benefited. The video conferencing 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 200 million people now. The free version of Zoom limits calls to 40 minutes until you sign up for a paid subscription, but can accommodate 1,000 people.
Facebook's Messenger Rooms is in some ways more limited - it must be started from Facebook or Messenger, though others who join don't need to have a Facebook account. And 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.