We’ve seen video chat making a charge to social over the past week with Facebook and Skype joining forces to offer easier video chat with your Facebook friends, and Google+ introducing Hangouts for group video chatting.
The Skype + Facebook deal is an interesting one with Skype now owned by Microsoft, and the company pushing for even deeper penetration into people’s phone habits – you can Skype from your mobile (for free on some networks like 3), and video chat between two people is free as it always has been. Skype is the company that brought video calling to the masses, and as such is by far the biggest player – but it is a freemium product, so calling out in most countries costs a small amount, and to group video chat you need at least one user to be a Premium Subscriber.
This is where the two services differ – Google’s Hangouts is a completely free service with no premium upgrades available, and whilst group chat on Skype is a value added service, group chat on Hangouts is the main service. Google+ has made it ever so simple to send out invites to the people you want to chat with, and then focusing the video on the person doing the talking at the time. What hangouts is less good at, however, is the one to one video chat that Skype excels at – sending an invite to chat with one person is annoying when you just want to ring them, and finding that person on Facebook is about as easy as it gets.
Both services, then, have their own strengths and weaknesses with little overlap in reality. Both products require downloads – and currently if you want the best of both worlds you’ll need both. With Microsoft pushing for deeper market penetration you can expect that Skype may well make video calling free for friends (something Facebook could be used to discover), whilst leaving it as a premium service to businesses – whilst at the same time Google is only going to make it easier and easier to make person-to-person calls from Google Hangouts.