July 07, 2011, 7:43 AM —
Photo credit: REUTERS/Norbert von der Groeben
Wow, Facebook, really?
Last week, Mark Zuckerberg told us that the company was going to "launch something awesome" this week. I'll freely admit that I'm not at all a fan of Facebook. I find the UI obtuse and the content mostly spammy. I use it because my family members use it, but never visit unless I get some kind of email notification. At the same time, I kind of want to like it since I know so many people really enjoy their time on Facebook. So I was excited to see if this "awesome" announcement was something that could help me finally get involved with the service.
Uh...no. In fact, they announced multi-person text chat, and 1-on-1 video chat. Welcome to 2005, Facebook!
[Also see: The 10 biggest mistakes people make on Facebook]
The video chat was arguably the most interesting part of the announcement, given that it's powered by Skype, which Microsoft recently purchased for $8.5 billion. That timing can't have been a coincidence, but I'm not sure what Microsoft's angle is, yet. I'll leave pondering that puzzle to industry insiders with access to leaks and whistleblowers.
Me, I'm still steamed about the awesome announcement let-down. I mean, there's not a thing wrong with adding video chat to Facebook, but I fail to see how it's a big deal. Maybe I'm just too old and un-hip, but I can't get too excited about video-conferencing with friends on a casual basis. When I'm chatting via IM or Twitter or G+, I'm generally multi-tasking. I'm throwing out comments in between skimming web pages or working on some project. I can't imagine it'd be compelling for my friends to watch me do this. Nor, frankly, do I have to worry about how presentable I look when I roll out of bed on a Sunday morning and get online.
When I do actually want to sit and chat and focus on a person, I can already do that on any number of services, including Skype itself (I'm being polite and not mentioning G+'s multi-person video chat, Hangouts).
Zuckerberg made a point of mentioning how easy it was to start a video chat with someone. He left out the part about downloading and running a .jar file, and ticking a checkbox in the Flash player to give Flash the authority it needs. Simple stuff, but not quite as easy as 1-click and a 12 second download, as Zuck demoed it.
It was easy if you know where to look and what to click on, and most importantly, if you have a webcam set up. Grandma and Grandpa Luddite who want to video chat with their grandkids (a use case Zuckerberg was really pushing during the announcement) are still going to have to hoof it down to Best Buy and figure out what webcam to buy and where to plug it in and all that. (Granted most modern laptops have a webcam built in these days, but there's still a ton of old hardware out there.)
It's trivial to add a webcam, right? Sure, for you and me it is but this is Facebook, the realm of the Everyman. The other day I watched with amusement as my partner struggled to help one of her clients — a professional in a non-technical field — get some services running on a new computer. When my partner asked about her browser, the professional responded with "What's a browser?" Yes, those people are still out there. Will video chat be easy for them?
Anyway, I can rant all day about Facebook. What do you think? Am I hopelessly out of touch? Are Facebook users clamoring for video chat? Did you find this to be an awesome announcement? I'd love to hear your comments.