Facebook Product Announcement: Video chat, group chat, new chat design

“Today marks the beginning of what we’ll call launching season 2011.” -Mark Zuckerberg, before announcing video chat, group chat, and a redesigned chat interface

Zuckerberg began by describing the evolution of social networking, which was originally about “connecting people.” Though we once doubted that social media would become ubiquitous, that question has been settled. Where do we go from here?

Now, the focus is on what “cool” social apps will be built–and big companies are taking notice. How will we measure engagement? Not just active users, but how many apps are being used, how much time people are spending on apps, the effect on the economy, and how much people are sharing.

Facebook hit 750 million users, but that’s not the important thing, Zuckerberg said; rather, it’s that people are sharing more and more.

courtesy of http://www.livestream.com/facebookannouncements

Facebook will be rolling out “a lot of stuff” over the next few months. For now, it’s group chat; a new chat design that makes it easier to find friends online; and video chat (in collaboration with Skype).

Group chat: Over half of the people on Facebook are active users of groups, and people love chatting with these groups (which average 7 people). Using the normal chat interface, you can add other friends to the chat.

New chat design: This takes into account your browser size, so it might add a sidebar with a listing of your friends (photos and names) online.

Video chat: Accessible through the normal chat interface and on friends’ pages. “Your least technical friend can get online and connected with someone else,” said Facebook engineer Phillip Su. According to Tony Bates, CEO of Skype, Skype boasts an average of 300 million minutes of video a month. It will be a “true partnership” with Facebook.

Zuckerberg said they’ll leave the development of add-on apps to other entrepreneurs, compared to other Internet companies that try to do everything (*cough* Google *cough*).

Question and Answer
(Zuckerberg unless otherwise noted)

Q: Is group video chat in the works, and what do you think of Google Hangouts?

A: Today we’re just rolling out one-on-one chat. “I wouldn’t rule anything out,” but the majority of video chat is one-on-one. “I just think that this is super awesome.” As for Google+, everyone is moving in a social direction.

Q to Bates: Are you concerned that people will shift from Skype to Facebook video?

A by Bates: Not really.

Q: How do you decide to start video chat?

A: It rings and you click “accept.”

Q to Bates: What’s in it for Skype financially?

A by Bates: Today, we’re just focusing on getting a broad reach, although paid Skype products may be in the works.

Q: Are these features available on mobile devices and tablets?

A: Video is not live for mobile yet, but group chat works. “These are mostly web features for now.”

Q: How will Facebook accommodate the added load of video?

A: We’ll build more of our own data centers, but Skype’s video calling is p2p anyway.

Q: What is the current overlap between Facebook and Skype users?

A: We don’t know.

Q: What are the financial terms of the partnership? How did Microsoft play a role?

A: We’re figuring out what we want to do next. We have a good relationship with Microsoft.

Q: What’s happening in group and friend management?

A: We’ll see more apps. Only around 5% of users adopt friend lists. Sharing to small groups is not the biggest trend (it’s topped by apps and mobile).

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The Facebook Tagging Patent

Facebook has been awarded a patent for tagging people/things in photos and other digital media. As Inside Facebook reports, it also has a patent on “purchasing a gift in a social network environment.” On top of that:

Facebook also applied for four search-related patents in the last month that control how results are shown to users based on their social proximity to the information or how often they access it.

This brings up a lot of questions.

  • The photo tagging patent refers to “selecting region within the digital media”; does that mean tagging someone in the whole photo/video–not just a certain part of it–falls outside the patent?
  • Is gifting “in a social network environment” really novel or nonobvious enough to deserve a patent?
  • Would Google+1 be affected if Facebook got its social search patent?

I wrote a paper during college on software patents, and I still feel that I–and many others, including some patent officers and judges who settle disputes–don’t fully understand what is being patented. Any comments from those more technically inclined would be appreciated.

Liveblogging SocialMedia.org’s BlogWell DC

Yesterday, I made my way out to USA TODAY’s headquarters in McLean, Virginia, to liveblog BlogWell DC, an event about how big brands use social media. I covered presentations by USA TODAY, Discovery Communications, Delta Air Lines, and the IRS.

I was pretty impressed with the quality of the presentations and the variety of social media strategies discussed. Among the highlights:

  • What America Wants, a 4-day Twitter campaign to win a full-page ad for your favorite charity (USA TODAY)
  • Streaming live tweets onscreen during a primetime show (Discovery)
  • An April Fool’s joint press release with the Bronx Zoo cobra (or, at least, its Twitter account holder) for a Snake on the Town documentary (Discovery)
  • Tweeting at a user who was wondering what TV show to watch (Discovery) (this was one of the most interesting — the idea of searching for relevant tweets then encouraging a user to buy/use/consume your product)
  • Quick customer service on Twitter (Delta)

Some of the common themes:

  • LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMERS
  • Make it easy to engage and participate
  • The worry that users will share personal information (phone numbers, SSNs) on sites like Facebook
  • Be human (send direct messages, respond to tweets, etc.)

Overall, the event just opened my eyes to all the innovative and targeted ways to use social media to engage customers. Well done!