Facebook announced its answer to Google+ Hangouts Wednesday afternoon in the form of a video calling feature powered by Skype. The social network's new offering will allow users to call online contacts directly through the chat tab, without leaving the site or having to launch the Skype client, all the users need to do is install a small plugin.
For now the feature is limited to one-to-one video calls, unlike Hangouts, which allows up to ten people to connect simultaneously. But with 750 million worldwide members and marching towards the 1 billion milestone, Facebook has access to a much broader audience than Google could hope for -- at least in the foreseeable future.
A roadmap for new features and further Facebook-Skype integration hasn't been announced, so group video calling may be some time off. As usual, Facebook will be rolling out the new Skype video calling feature gradually over the next few weeks, though if you are feeling impatient to try it out you can get it now by going to facebook.com/videocalling.
The new feature also deepens the company's co-operation with Microsoft, which owns 1.6 percent of Facebook and is in the process of buying Skype for a whopping $8.5 billion to build up its web presence.
In addition to Video Calling, Facebook also announced an update to its Chat feature that allows for ad-hoc group messaging with a new design that makes it easier to find buddies you frequently communicate with and the ones that are online. Friends can be added from the active chat window, and if any of the chat participants aren't available at the moment, they will be given a summary of the chat log when it's over in the Messages section.