Facebook’s new video chat product, Messenger Rooms, is now available to everyone on both mobile devices and desktops, the company said on Thursday. The product is a more feature-rich and enhanced version of Facebook Messenger’s existing video calling feature, allowing up to 50 people to chat on video without time limits using the main Facebook app or the dedicated Messenger app.
Facebook says you can set restrictions on who can join, or you can make the link public to anyone, even if they don’t have a Facebook account. “You can start and share rooms on Facebook through news feeds, groups, and events so you can drop by at any time,”
You can still use Messenger to make one-to-one calls and video chats, or group calls and group video chats as before. If you now tap on the “People” section of Messenger, you will be able to create a room. From there you can set parameters such as the function of the room – including “hanging out” or “happy hour” and a user-defined option – and who is allowed. You can do the same from above Facebook News Feed in the main app.
You can make the space available to any of your friends and anyone you share the link with, or you can select specific people from your friends list who will receive personal messenger invitations from you. If you’d like to publish it to your entire friends list, it will appear at the top of the newsfeed for your entire network. So be careful not to accidentally do this. And be careful where you put the link.
Facebook is promoting the new product in its main app with a carousel of cards at the top of the screen, which lists the faces of different friends, and the “Say hello” option. When you tap a card, you can create a room with that person or notify them directly in Messenger. In my short time experimenting with the live product, I found it somewhat confusing, albeit technically powerful.
The quality is solid and there are some great additional features like AR filters and virtual backgrounds. So I can see the potential here, but I’m also careful to leave my room open without ending what you have to do manually, or accidentally opening a group video chat with more than 500 people, many of whom I don’t have . stop interacting at all.
For Facebook’s broader business, Messenger Rooms offers the opportunity to reposition its messaging products as better-known and more sophisticated versions of popular video chat alternatives. Facebook says that it does not encrypt the calls continuously as with WhatsApp, but that calls are not displayed or listened to, as is not the case with Messenger. The company also advises users to report rooms where illegal behavior occurs.
So far, the Zoom conference call app has filed charges to replace social meeting points during the COVID-19 pandemic despite its myriad privacy issues. But there is also Houseparty, the Epic Games app that Facebook originally tried to clone with its unfortunate and now deceased Bonfire competitor. And Google recently reworked its Hangouts Meet conference call for business calls and turned it into Google Meet, a more consumer-friendly and currently free option tied to users’ Gmail accounts.