Will video chat be Facebook's next big thing?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg


On July 6, Facebook is hosting an event where it will unveil an unnamed new product, which TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington says will be an in-browser video chat client from Skype.

Though we haven't yet received an acknowledgement of this report today from Facebook or Skype, Arrington's proclamation is entirely plausible.

Earlier this week, Skype took the wraps off of "SkypeKit," a collection of software and APIs that lets connected devices hook up with Skype's voice and video chat service. Following the debut of SkypeKit, the software company updated its Android app, and marketing chief Neil Stevens said the goal was to bring Skype Video Calling to as many platforms as possible.

But none of that is really news. SkypeKit was launched in beta well over a year ago, and Skype 5.3 lets users import their Facebook News Feed, update their status, post comments or "likes" and initiate voice calls all from within Skype. In the current beta version of Skype (5.5) users can also send instant messages from Skype to Facebook Chat.

Really, video chat is the next logical step, especially when considering Google's planned inclusion of group video chat in the "Hangouts" section of its new Google+ social sharing platform.

"These 'new' innovations are actually not new at all, they are alternatives to what we already have, just in a new location," said Ian Small, CEO of TokBox, a company that offers a free video chat API for websites and WordPress blogs. "Google, Skype and perhaps Facebook clearly believe, as we do, that face-to-face communication is a key part of human interaction. However, they are looking at video chat as a destination. We don't feel that the video chat itself is the destination. We think of it as a facilitator of real human interaction around whatever else you want to be doing, discussing or watching, wherever you are."

The real killer feature behind Google+ Hangouts right now is that it lets a group of people simultaneously watch content on YouTube in their group chat. If Facebook debuts a group Facebook video chat next week, its interoperability with other Facebook services (i.e. social games) could really catapult it into the stratosphere.

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