Facebook started Rollout Season 2011 with its answer to Google+ Hangouts today in the form of Video Calling, an integrated video chat feature built on Skype technology. Update (Hands on):
Typically, if two FB users want to perform a video call, they've got to leave Facebook and connect through either a Skype client, Apple's Facetime, Google Talk or even Google+ Hangouts. Now, all the users need to do is download a small plugin and boom — instant video messaging. It's accessible through the chat tab; just start a normal chat conversation, hit the Video Chat button and you're off and running.
By integrating video calling directly into the Facebook experience they're able to drop this technology directly into the mainstream. You thought getting Friend Requests from your parents was a hassle? Then you're going to love explaining to your mom why you don't love her enough to accept her video chat requests.
Facebook chat has historically been buggy, to put it mildly, so will Video Calling be more of the same? The demo looked smooth enough (see below) but we'll have to see how it works in real world situations.
Facebook/Skype partnership is a shrewd one, to be sure. Skype, if you'll remember, was purchased by Microsoft in May for $8.5 billion. This move not only strengthens Facebook's own feature list but also strengthens the budding FB/MS alliance (what with Facebook's recent Bing integration and all) against their common Google enemy.
In addition to Video Calling, Facebook also announced an update to Group Chat that allows for ad-hoc group messaging with a new design that makes it easier to find buddies that are online.
Update: We tested out the new FB video calls, and hey, they work! Video quality seemed a little below iChat/FaceTime, but was serviceable enough, and the process of jumping into a chat is minimal. I did notice that the requisite plugin ate around 30% of my CPU power during a call. Which is a bummer. Another drag is the separation of video and text chat—it'd be nice to have the two integrated (AIM AV executes this perfectly) rather than having to flip back and forth.