Facebook takes on Zoom, Group FaceTime with free video calls for up to 50 people

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Facebook on Friday announced new video calling features including Messenger Rooms, which allows users to host video calls of up to 50 people.
Photo: Facebook

Facebook announced Friday it will add the ability for free video calling for up to 50 people on its new video-calling service, Messenger Rooms. The change is taking direct aim at the Group FaceTime and the popular Zoom service that has taken the world by storm as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The expanded service will launch by days end in selected regions with a smaller number of users at launch, but will not be available for the maximum number for a few more weeks, the company said. 

By comparison, Zoom allows up to 100 people to video chat for free for up to 40 minutes. Video calls on Messenger Rooms have no time limit. Another popular such service, Houseparty, supports up to eight people. Messenger video calls – the original video service of Facebook – are limited to eight people.

Apple’s Group FaceTime supports up to 32 people in a video chat on iOS and MacOS devices, as long as all of them have FaceTime.

Zoom now has over 300 million users and Houseparty has more than 50 million. Both Zoom and Houseparty are available as standalone iOS apps. Messenger Rooms will be part of the existing Messenger service, which is also available as its own standalone app on iOS devices.

Zoom & Houseparty … look out

Messenger Rooms poses an immediate threat to both Zoom and Houseparty. The new video features come as more users are using Facebook and its apps to socialize and communicate with friends, family, and business associates as they remain in quarantine as a result of the pandemic.

The service will include features like augmented reality filters that allow people to add silly masks to their faces. Hosts will also be able to lock the calls and remove users. Facebook and Messenger users can create Messenger Rooms, and they can invite anyone to join, including people who don’t have a Facebook account.

What’s App expansion

Facebook also announced that it’s doubling the limit on people on its WhatsApp’s service from four people to eight. Additionally, the company is introducing a video calling feature to Facebook Dating so users of that service can go on virtual dates.

“Between WhatsApp and Messenger, more than 700 million accounts participate in calls every day,” said Stan Chudnovsky, vice president of Messenger, in a blog post. “In many countries, video calling on Messenger and WhatsApp [has] more than doubled, and views of Facebook Live and Instagram Live videos increased significantly in March.”

Facebook said it will also expand its Facebook and Instagram live streaming features. On Instagram, users will “soon be able to save your videos to IGTV so they stick around longer than the 24-hour limit in Stories and are easier for others to find,” a statement said.