Facebook has today announced group video chats in Messenger, the latest addition to the ever-expanding messaging app.
Messenger already has group audio calls and one-on-one video chats, so the addition of group video makes sense - in fact, according to Facebook it's "the most requested Messenger feature ever". And given the popularity of video calls on the platform (245 million people make video calls in Messenger every month) and the use-case highlighted by other group video chat tools, like Houseparty, it seemed like a no-brainer that Facebook would eventually add group video capacity also.
Your new Messenger video chats can include up to six people at a time, while up to fifty people can listen in to the conversation and participate. You'll also be able to send text, stickers, emoji and even wear 3D masks during the chat (masks available on iOS only at this stage).
The timing of the launch is aimed at maximizing interest in the new tool as people look to connect over the holidays, which will no doubt help give the option a boost. And as noted, given the popularity of Houseparty, which also focusses on live group video conversation, there's clearly demand there - though it's not exactly great news for Houseparty itself.
Back in March 2015, a start-up called Meerkat took SXSW by storm, sparking the next big trend of live-streaming from your mobile device. Pretty soon (within a couple of weeks, actually), Meerkat had competition from Twitter-owned Periscope and things just got harder and harder from there till Meerkat could no longer compete.
No matter though - the Meerkat team went back to the drawing board, analyzing what worked and what didn't, and a few months later they released a new live-streaming app, this time focussed n group chats. That app, called Houseparty, has proven to be very popular - it now has 1.2 million daily users.
Pretty cool, right? Good for Meerkat, they've been able to tap into another trend and develop another popular app. But there is, of course, still the problem of bigger players lurking.
As we noted in our post about Houseparty's launch:
"...if a significant enough number of users show interest in multi-person live-streaming by using Houseparty, how long do you think it'll be before Facebook introduces the same option?"
As it turns out, that concern was valid, as Facebook has most definitely noted Houseparty's rise.
"The use case that caught our attention was people just hanging out on live, particularly young people. After school, they jump on a livestream and hang out. That use of live [video] is particularly interesting to us."
That's the audience that Houseparty is reaching - and now, with Facebook bringing group video chats into Messenger, that could spell significant trouble for Houseparty moving forward.
It's great that Houseparty has 1.2 million daily users - but Messenger has more than a billion active users, with a large proportion of them using the app daily. Hard for a start-up to face off against a competitor of that scale.
And this raises another key question about our evolving social media landscape - as the bigger players get bigger, how can newer apps and tools viably compete?
Snapchat, of course, has proven that it can be done, that smaller players with fewer resources can still challenge the big names. But even then, Facebook's slowly working to crush them, copying the app's key features and re-sharing them with their much larger audience. Eventually, Facebook will, most-likely, beat out Snapchat and any other players, if they so want to, which makes it extremely daunting for any newer platform looking to gain traction.
This is particularly true on live-streaming - live-streaming is costly to run and difficult to scale. You need a lot of resources to be able to build a stable live-stream platform. Group streaming app Blab couldn't do it, and as noted, Meerkat checked out. Eventually, we may end up with only Google, through YouTube, and Facebook as the two live-stream options, as even Twitter will likely struggle as the option gains popularity and momentum.
It's an interesting paradigm to consider - every time you see a new app, something like Peach, for example, it's worth considering what's popular about it, what's resonating with audiences. Then, watch how long it takes for those exact same functionalities to appear in the bigger platform offerings.
This won't, and shouldn't, stop new players from trying to break through, but as Facebook continues to expand, you can expect Zuck and Co to become more dominant in every form, making it very difficult for others to compete.
Scary? Maybe. But this is how the bigger players win out.
Group video chat is rolling out worldwide on iOS, Android, and web from today with MSQRD masks coming soon to Android.