Skip to main content
//empty //empty

Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Facebook Inc introduced a videoconferencing tool and expanded livestreaming features on Friday, capitalizing on a surge in demand for video chats during the coronavirus pandemic while taking its first steps toward a planned integration of messaging products across its apps.

The videoconferencing tool, Messenger Rooms, will enable as many as 50 people to participate in a call, the company said in a statement. It will display a tiled layout of participant videos - up to 16 on desktop and 8 on mobile - resembling the design offered by competitor Zoom.

Facebook users will be able to share links enabling non-users to join Rooms via a web browser on both desktop and mobile, eliminating requirements to download an app or create an account as on other services.

Story continues below advertisement

There will be no time limits on the calls.

With the launch, Facebook joins a crowded field of companies rushing to dominate the market for video meetings, as millions of people locked in their homes around the world are suddenly reliant on the tools for work, school and social life.

Elements of the product had been slated for release in the third and fourth quarters of the year, but Facebook accelerated its plans after observing a spike in group calling during the lockdowns, Head of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky told Reuters.

“Our video calls doubled, and when we’re looking at the group calls usage, that went up even higher,” said Chudnovsky. “So we figured out a way to build those things faster.”

Facebook said in its statement there were now more than 700 million accounts participating in calls on WhatsApp and Messenger each day.

Microsoft Corp, Zoom Video Communications, Cisco Systems Inc and Alphabet’s Google also have rolled out updates of their video meeting tools while reporting record growth since the lockdowns began.

On Tuesday, Microsoft introduced a new “Meet Now” for Skype that can accommodate video meetings of up to 50 people without downloading any apps. Google, whose Meet tool for businesses has been its fastest-growing service this year, said this month that it was working on enhancements for consumers too.

Story continues below advertisement

PREEMINENCE OF MESSENGER

Chudnovsky said Facebook’s free offering is focused squarely on the consumer market with Messenger Rooms and is not currently making overtures to businesses, the main source of revenue for most other videoconferencing apps.

The company is simultaneously expanding its livestreaming offerings, such as an option to add a guest to a live video on the core Facebook app and the ability to save live videos on Instagram to the IGTV video-sharing app.

Its decision to build Rooms on Messenger’s infrastructure asserts the app’s preeminence as the company begins to realize Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg’s vision to weave together its messaging services, offering a first glimpse at how that integration will be structured.

Messenger Rooms will be accessible across the social network’s sprawling array of online gathering spaces, enabling users to jump into group video meetings directly from News Feed as well as in Groups and Events pages.

Facebook is also planning to add buttons within messaging service WhatsApp and the chat function of Instagram, although those users will be prompted to open Messenger to create Rooms, said Chudnovsky.

The company is simultaneously expanding group video calling within WhatsApp, which has more users than Messenger, but is capping the number of participants there at eight people.

Story continues below advertisement

Chudnovsky said Zuckerberg’s plan to extend end-to-end encryption across messaging services would also apply to Messenger Rooms. “We would like to have it all encrypted if possible,” he said.

The encryption plan is lauded by privacy advocates but has met stiff resistance in Washington, where lawmakers warn it could hinder the fight against child abuse and other illegal activities.

Be smart with your money. Get the latest investing insights delivered right to your inbox three times a week, with the Globe Investor newsletter. Sign up today.

Report an error
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies