Facebook announced Wednesday that it is rolling out three new features to its platform: group chat, a new chat design and, as widely rumored over the past week, video calling.
All the new features were first introduced by Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg this morning at his company's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.
Rolling out starting today is group chat. While users have been able to group chat since last fall, the feature has only been available for users in dedicated Facebook Groups. The company says that around half of users are already active in those Groups, but users have also wanted a way to chat with multiple users on the fly. Newly launching today is the ability to create ad hoc group chats with any of your friends.
In tandem with the new group chat, Facebook is also set to roll out a new design for the chat interface that actually takes into account the browser’s size. For example, users with wider browsers will see a sidebar with friends available and unavailable.
Finally, as leaked out by TechCrunch last week, Facebook is set to finally launch video chat between users, a service that is powered by Skype. For now, users will only be able to video chat one-to-one, meaning that Google+ still has the upperhand with its Hangouts service, which lets up to 10 users participate in a single video conference.
Asked whether group video chat is on the way and what he thought of Google Hangouts, Zuckerberg at first dodged the question, talking about how “excited” he was to release one-to-one video chat. He then briefly noted that he wouldn’t say much about Google+ since the service has only been out for so short a time, but he thinks it represents a shift in mindset for Internet companies that finally see the need for social infrastructure.
For those of you looking on eagerly for Facebook announcements related to a new photo sharing service, beautiful HTML5 mobile sites, tablet apps or even music services, don’t be too disappointed. Right at the outset of the briefing this morning, Zuckerberg said that today is just the beginning of “launching season 2011,” where a bunch of new projects being built over the last half year will start rolling out.