Apr 28, 2014 · 4 minutes

Video communications just got a lot more interesting.

Facebook today added new video-sharing features to its Facebook Messenger app. (The new feature is available only in the iPhone app for now, but an Android version is coming.) The app doesn't allow for live communications -- users must record a video and then share it with their friends -- but the addition shows Facebook's commitment to improving Messenger.

That's not the only video-related news revealed today. Skype also announced it has brought free group video calling to Windows, Mac, and Xbox One. The feature allows up to 10 people to communicate with each other in a single video chat, and was previously only part of the service's premium offering, which costs $8.99 for an entire month or $4.99 for a single day.

Both releases follow increased competition from other messaging services. Line is expected to add voice-calling features to its popular mobile messaging service, and WhatsApp plans to do the same. Google has built its chat service directly into the Android operating system; Apple has done the same with its own communications service. It's a crowded, crowded market.

That's a good thing. A crowded market hoping to out-innovate incumbents and wannabe "disrupters" alike is better than a near-empty market where bloated software that works only half the time is the only viable option. It's about time someone made video interesting again.

Reactions from around the Web

Wired considers Skype's announcement part of Microsoft's battle with Google:

The Skype announcement is a smaller move. But it’s part of the same trend. As with free Windows and free Microsoft developers tools, the jury is still out on whether the company’s new approach will prove successful. But some are already praising Microsoft’s move. For several commenters on Hacker News — one of the main online hangouts for the Silicon Valley cognoscenti — the move could push more people towards Skype and away from Google+. “Everyone I know hates switching to [Google+] for group calls,” one commenter wrote. “We have to use Skype to guide people through the G+ interface and get them on a group call.”

“I never realized it but my parents get really uncomfortable when I try to walk them over how to set up Google Hangout, and most of the time the conversation just continues on Skype and we drop the experiment,” wrote another.

Pando weighs in

Pando's Carmel DeAmicis explained why there's room for more than Skype and Google Hangouts in the video communications market:

We’re in the video conferencing 2.0 era, and companies are starting to innovate on the original Skype/Cisco products.

A few factors have converged at the same time to make video conferencing rise in popularity. For one thing, most computers and smartphones are now built with high resolution two-way cameras. For another, Internet connections have improved the video transmission process — although it may not seem that way when your Skype call drops for the millionth time.

Lastly and most importantly, the YouTube generation raised on video is growing up. They’re very comfortable with video consumption and creation. Many of them are armed with smart phones, and communicating through video is second nature to them. I wrote about Glide, a startup hoping to replace video chat with video "texting":

The trouble, to hear Glide CEO Ari Roisman tell it, is that we’re using synchronous video communications tools in an asynchronous world. We’re used to responding to an email or Facebook message whenever it’s most convenient for us. Having to make ourselves available at exactly the same time as the person we’re talking to feels, and in some ways is, anachronistic.

Roisman hopes to change that with Glide, which allows users to share video that can be watched in real-time or whenever they’ve got a spare moment. (The company refers to this as “live or later” in its promotional materials.) The service, which is available on the iPhone and Android smartphones, is today announcing a rapid increase in its daily active users and the amount of video they’re sharing. “Video texting,” as Roisman calls it, might actually become a thing. Pando alum Erin Griffith wrote about Skype-owned GroupMe’s journey from startup darling to me-too messaging service in October 2013. In the report, GroupMe’s founders claim that the service’s low user count isn’t really a big deal:

Even combined with Skype’s 250 million monthly users, GroupMe’s four million monthly active users is a far cry from the billion users Martocci promised after the sale. It’s also a far cry from the hundreds of millions that WhatsApp, Line and WeChat have.

The GroupMe founders are quick to point out that these other services don’t focus on groups, an area which GroupMe dominates. “We are for groups, that is our fundamental distinction,” Hecht says. “That has been enough of a distinction, and that will persist. I don’t think we’re going up against the others because we didn’t ever have one-to-one messaging.” [illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]