Facebook Video Chat v. Google Hangouts: It's No Contest

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One of the questions I had when I broke the news last week about the Facebook/Skype partnership: Would group video chat be part of the product, and if so would it be free?

The answer is no, there’s no group chat. Facebook says that one on one video chat is far more popular on Skype than group chat and so it makes sense to start there. But that’s misdirection – group chat on Skype requires that at least one user be paying $4.49/month for premium service. So not a lot of group video chat happens on Skype.

Google’s new hangout product is all about group chat, and it’s free. Up to ten people can use it at once. Google is smart about this, figuring out which person is talking and focusing the video stream on them until someone else takes over. If you want to have fun with a group of friends, or hold a dead simple video team call, Google Hangouts is perfect for that.

But Google Hangouts isn’t as good for one on one conversations. The whole setup of a hangout, sending out invites, is too complicated for that, Instead you can just initiate a Google video call directly to another user, and that works very similarly to Skype and now Facebook (Google should add a video chat button to user profiles, too).

If you want to have a one on one video chat, and your friend list is hosted at Facebook, the new Facebook video chat is a near perfect product. You can initiate a call right from the home page, or that person’s profile page. And there’s no need to register for Skype, or download the Skype client.

Both products require their own download, though. And neither work on mobile yet.

So for now, there’s really no comparison between the products. Facebook video chat is great to talk to friends one at a time. Google Hangouts is great for group chat. There’s no real overlap between the products at all.

But…I wouldn’t be surprised to see Facebook launch group video chat down the road. Until now Skype has kept up fees for premium/business users, and we’ve heard that it was always a key “future revenue” product that they pointed to during their IPO and buyout process. But few users seem to be willing to go premium, and their new owners may just remove that pay barrier sooner rather than later. When that happens I’d expect Facebook to launch that feature as well shortly afterward.