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Facebook Adds Video Calls to Messenger

Messenger has been busy in 2015.

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Apparently Facebook’s interest in video extends beyond your News Feed.

The social network added video chat functionality to Messenger on Monday, which means you can now text, call and video chat through the standalone messaging app. The new feature looks and works a lot like Apple’s FaceTime and takes just one click to connect over video with one of your Messenger contacts.

The feature does not require Wi-Fi — you can make video calls using a data plan, and Messenger’s product management lead Stan Chudnovsky said the team spent a lot of effort building the app to work in areas where connectivity is weak.

“It was a main priority for us,” he told Re/code. “A bunch of people in the developing world will be able to use it as well.”

Messenger has grown significantly in the past six months and now has more than 600 million users. That growth trend received a massive boost when Facebook removed messaging from its core app, forcing users to download Messenger in order to send private Facebook messages on mobile devices.

Users weren’t pleased to have to download yet another Facebook app. Zuckerberg’s explanation for the split was that it would be easier to build products for Messenger as a standalone app versus a feature within Facebook’s main app.

Well, this is an example of one of those features, Chudnovsky said. The app has evolved at a rapid pace since the beginning of the year. Facebook added peer-to-peer payments, turned Messenger into a platform for other developers to build upon and added video calling, all since mid-March.

These are the kinds of things Zuckerberg and company had in mind when they removed Messenger from the flagship app, Chudnovsky said.

It’s not that Facebook couldn’t build voice calls into the main app (it obviously could have). But the feature would have been harder to get to, making it harder for people to use. More importantly to Chudnovsky, a feature like this would dramatically increase the size of the core Facebook app, a move that doesn’t align with the company’s goal to get people online in emerging markets.

“The size of the main app would just get bigger and bigger and bigger [if Messenger’s features were added],” Chudnovsky explained. “People would not be able to use it on low-end phones.”

It’s clear that Messenger is a top priority for Facebook in 2015. It hired former PayPal President David Marcus to lead all messaging at the company last summer, and then brought on Chudnovsky, another high-profile hire from PayPal, to lead product management at Messenger beginning in February.

As for Messenger’s rapid pace, Chudnovsky says the company plans to keep it up — for a time.

“It’ll be like that for a little while,” he said. “We have a mission to fulfill.”

The video call feature is available in 18 countries beginning Monday through app updates on iOS and Android. You cannot, however, make a video call using, the company’s new Web-based version of the app. For that, Chudnovsky says to stay tuned.


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