As COVID-19 limits humans’ interaction to nearly virtual space, spiking the use of teleconferencing and putting Zoom on the spot for larger audience; Facebook has been stirred by envy of the surge and it is getting ready to mimic the video technology that has placed Zoom in the forefront of virtual activities in the face of coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Facebook introduced one of its biggest expansions into videoconferencing, unveiling several new video chat features and services. The changes include video group chats for up to 50 people in Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp video calls for up to eight people and video services for Facebook dating.
Mark Zuckerberg has earlier ordered Facebook employees to focus on video chat projects as the number of Zoom users increase daily.
It has become a race to beat Zoom as many of the Silicon Valley giants are introducing one video service after the other. Google has announced that it is making its video services (Meet) free, following the recent success of Zoom. Everyone appears to want a page of the story that has seen Zoom record over 300 million participants daily, a milestone from the 10 million before the outbreak of coronavirus.
The development has followed a trend of financial bullying by the tech giants, which many smaller companies had had to deal with recently. Tiktok and Snapchat have all had to ward off Facebook acquisition interest or attempt to outmuscle them with financial power.
Zoom appears to be the next target as COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a surge in the number of its users. Mark Zuckerberg said video has come to trend in the wake of the outbreak as people try to stay connected to each other virtually.
“The world was already trending in this direction before COVID-19. This is the trend in general – the ability to feel more present, even when you’re not physically together,” he said.
The push to get a taste of the success that Zoom is enjoying appears to be high among tech companies. But Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said in an interview that he is not bothered, that his company is focused on improving users’ experience and it is not thinking about competition. He said COVID-19 is a “once in a probably 100 years crisis” that shouldn’t stir competition.
Zoom success has been attributed to the simplicity of its use, from installation to setting up a videoconference, which compared to others, has given people a flexible alternative.
Google has made its video services free via Gmail and said it has witnessed an increase in number of users and hopes there will be more people signing up as the days go by.
But Facebook has been attuned to Zoom’s rise more than any other company, as it has been the case with other companies offering video services. Zuckerberg has tasked Facebook’s teams to accelerate their video chat product releases, which includes a desktop app for Facebook Messenger that has a video chat feature in April.
Zuckerberg said the new features have enticed many new users – more than 700 million people now use Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp for calls. He said that more changes will come to the apps as soon as possible. They may include messenger rooms, a quick way to create video chat rooms using Facebook Messenger that will accommodate dozens of users simultaneously. As part of its expansion, Facebook is introducing video chat rooms to its dating site and has a plan to do the same with Whatsapp and Instagram soon.
Zuckerberg wants the video chat experience to be serendipitous unlike the Zoom’s that’s “casual and more scheduled.”
“I don’t really think there’s anything today that you can display on an ad hoc basis that you’re hanging out and have whoever wants to join you over video. Sometimes people compare what we do to other companies, like you did earlier with Zoom. I think the main thrust of how people are going to experience Rooms will be very different,” he said.
While Facebook has all these video plans lined up, it is reportedly working with Zoom on a partnership to expand the use of its augmented and virtual reality division since January. The idea is to allow people to make video calls through Zoom using its device called portal. The plan has been to release it in May while Facebook continues partnership negotiation with other companies for its video chat, but Zoom’s decision to freeze all new feature development in order to fix its security concerns has put it on hold.
Google’s Meet and Facebook’s video platforms are watching Zoom’s success with such envy, and it keeps baffling them that their existence before Zoom has failed to make them people’s choice.