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Facebook adds Skype video chat

Facebook today announced that it is teaming up with Skype to bring video chat to the world’s largest social networking site.

Declaring that video calling was just the first in a series of social apps, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the emphasis was now firmly on sharing. “The amount of information (users) share is about twice the amount of stuff they would have shared a year ago; and it will be twice as much a year from now.” And social applications, like Skype, will help make that possible.

The Facebook announcement comes less than a week after Google announced Google+, its latest attempt to wrest a share of the huge social networking market away from the acknowledged leader. Google+, which has been well-received by technology pundits, also includes a video chat component called Hangouts.

With Skype inside the Facebook environment, there will be no separate registration or Skype accounts to worry about. If your friend is online, you will be able to connect for a video chat with one click on the call button next to their name. However, it appears that for now Facebook video chat will be restricted to one-on-one calls, rather than the group chat available with Hangouts.

Skype CEO Tony Bates seemed unconcerned that he might lose paying customers to Facebook’s new feature. “We want to be as ubiquitous as possible,” he said. “We made the decision that the long-term partnership far outweighs the concern of users moving from Skype to Facebook.” The fact that Skype’s soon-to-be new owner, Microsoft, is also a small stakeholder in Facebook may have made that strategic call a little bit easier.

In an indication that Facebook might have been in the unusual position of responding to a competitor by rushing a product to market, the video calling service will not yet be available on mobile devices. Until the Facebook mobile app can be updated, users will need to communicate computer-to-computer.

The video chat feature, tentatively dubbed Facebook Calling, is being rolled out across the Facebook universe over the next several weeks. However, those users who want to try it sooner can opt for an early download. (Although at the time of writing, it appears Facebook is experiencing technical difficulties with this download.)

In other announcements, the Facebook (non-video) Group Chat feature now lets you chat with multiple people at once, and a new Chat layout lets you see a sidebar on your screen that shows you the friends you message with the most, so connecting with close friends or colleagues is even easier.

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