THE ZUCKERBERG NETWORK was never going to allow Google to get much of a head start with its new social services. So when it became clear that Google had mastered the dark art of integrated video chat, the folks at Facebook must have exploded. Either because they were just about to announce it, or because they hadn't thought of it first.
It's highly unlikley though, that Facebook started building video chat into its site after Google+ launched last week. And we think that shows when you come to use the system, which is actually quite well thought out.
We first tried to get chatting through the social network yesterday, but demand had defeated the servers and the whole thing had ground to a halt. We managed one quick call, but the video quality was bad, audio sounded like a DALEK trapped in a black hole and we could only connect to one person.
Today, on the other hand, everything seems smoother and up to standard. Calls now go through almost instantly, assuming the person you're calling is in front of their computer and wants to see your beaming face peering at your from your monitor.
Placing a call simply involves selecting a contact from the new, full-height, contacts bar on the right of the screen, opening a chat and then pressing the new video button. It's simple, and easy to get up-and-running.
Image and sound quality was excellent. Much improved from yesterday, with video looking smooth with enough detail to see what is happening with your friend. Sound was good too, in fact our test calls were crystal clear.
One other area that impressed up was the setup. Aside from installing a plug-in, there's no need to set anything up in most cases. Everything happens quickly too, and you'll be gassing away in no time at all.
If the person you're calling isn't available, there's also the option to record a video message for them, which is quite a useful feature. It certainly adds a new potential dimension to kids cyber-bullying each other, but only time will tell how that turns out in the long term.
It's certainly early days, but Facebook video calling is looking like it could be a really big deal. And it raises questions about what Google+ offers that's unique. µ