In a highly anticipated announcement today, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook is teaming up with Skype to introduce the ability for users to have video calls with each other. Unfortunately, this feature lacks some of the fundamental perks that makes Google+ Hangouts so interesting.
Jake Ludington, a member of the LockerGnome team, joined me for a quick test of this new feature. During the test we were almost immediately made aware of some flaws present in the service which Facebook will need to improve upon if they hope to make a strong case against Google+ Hangouts.
Video quality isn’t great at all, at least not during our test. Jake appeared extremely pixelated when his connection should be more than sufficient for clear video. This may be due to the heavy traffic on the service closely following the announcement, though there was no sign of this clearing up at any point throughout the call.
Audio fed back constantly. This is a common problem with Skype that is only solved by requiring both parties to wear headphones. Ideally, the program should duck anyone except the loudest speaker while they are talking, and this didn’t appear to be the case during the test.
It was nice to be able to move the video window around and place it in a location that didn’t immediately disturb any work you may be doing at the time of the call. The convenience of having it integrated with a social network 750 million users are already a part of is also a big potential draw for this service. Even as frustrating as the initial installation may have been, knowing that the majority of your contacts are more likely to be on Facebook than any of a dozen other social networks counts towards this system’s likelihood for success.
Overall, this new venture between Facebook and Skype doesn’t seem as impressive as Google Hangouts, especially given the lack of group conferencing and virtually echoless audio. If this is Facebook’s answer to Google+, I have a feeling they are facing a competitive and difficult road ahead.