Facebook has launched its response to the rising popularity of group video chats by expanding group video functions on Messenger and WhatsApp.
The social media titan is rolling out Messenger Rooms, which enable group video calls for up to 50 people. Users will be able to discover and drop in to rooms, as well as use augmented-reality filters and custom backgrounds.
During the lockdown, video-conferencing software and apps such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts have emerged as popular communication platforms for business and personal use.
Messenger Rooms allow users to create a "room" of people and set custom permissions for the participants, presenters and owners. Like Microsoft Teams, users can share the screen and use the camera at the same time.
This is the latest in a string of products from Facebook called "Rooms" – following a stand-alone app launched in 2014 that allowed users to be anonymous and, two years later, a public group-chat function within Messenger. Both were later scrapped, with the latter integrated into Groups in 2018.
A Facebook spokesman told Campaign: "This [new] version of Messenger Rooms is focused entirely on group video calls, whereas the version of Messenger Rooms built in 2015 was focused on group text chats around specific topics with people you may or may not know."
Rooms will now be created directly from Messenger or the Facebook site, and soon Instagram Direct, WhatsApp and Facebook's video-calling device, Portal. Users can also invite people who don’t have a Facebook account.
Facebook is also expanding WhatsApp video calls to eight people, up from four (pictured, above).
Messenger Rooms are rolling out in some countries this week and will expand to the rest of the world in the coming weeks, including the US.
Stan Chudnovsky, vice-president of Messenger, said: "We built Rooms with privacy and safety top of mind, so you can feel comfortable connecting with your friends, family and communities.
"We don’t view or listen to your calls, and the person who creates the room controls who can join, who sees the room and if the room is locked or unlocked to new guests. The room creator must be present in order for the call to begin and the creator can remove guests at any time."