PALO ALTO, Calif. — Hoping to give its users a more intimate way to stay in touch, Facebook on Wednesday introduced video chatting inside its online social network through a deal with Skype, the Internet calling service.
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The new feature allows users a way to connect with friends other than just posting messages, said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, said at a news conference here at the company’s headquarters. “It’s so easy, so minimal to use,” he said.
Last week, Google introduced Google+, its latest and most serious challenge yet in social networking, which includes video chatting for up to 10 people in an area of the site called Hangouts. So far, Google has limited the number of people who can sign up for the networking service.
To a certain extent, Facebook is playing catch-up — an unfamiliar position for a company that has grown to 750 million users worldwide, a figure Mr. Zuckerberg disclosed at the news conference. He has spent the last few years lifting Facebook past its rivals — it had 500 million users a year ago — but now faces questions about why he is following their lead.
The new Facebook service does not allow for group video chats, for example. It is also not available on mobile phones, unlike Skype’s smartphone apps.
Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land, an industry blog, said Facebook’s new service at least lets the company counter Google’s move with its video chat. But in the end, he said, video chatting has been widely available for years in a variety of ways, like through instant messaging services, Skype and Apple’s FaceTime.
“I didn’t get the impression that people were finding it difficult to find one-to-one video chatting if they wanted to,” Mr. Sullivan said. “This potentially makes it easier for more people to get going, but I don’t see it as that hard to begin with.”
To start a video chat on Facebook, users click a button on their Facebook chat list or on a friend’s profile page. A box will then appear on the computer screen of that friend to either accept or decline the call.
Conversations take place inside a window that pops up within the browser. Downloading a plug-in is required to make and receive calls.
Video chatting will be available to all Facebook’s users in the coming weeks. For now, however, users can access it at facebook.com/videocalling.
For Skype, the partnership with Facebook provides a chance to have more visibility beyond its 170 million users. The service is free on Facebook, but Tony Bates, Skype’s chief executive, raised the possibility of eventually making paid calls available to Facebook users.
Making calls from computer to computer through Skype is free. But people who use Skype to call a landline or a mobile phone must pay. Facebook’s alliance with Skype expands an existing partnership between the two companies. Their cooperation started last year when Skype let its users connect with their Facebook friends from Skype and to get news feeds.
Last month, the Skype added a Facebook contacts tab and let Skype users send instant messages to their Facebook friends and comment on their friends’ status — all without leaving the Skype window.
But making Skype available on Facebook is risky and may, in the short term, undermine its business, said Greg Sterling, an analyst at Opus Research.
Facebook’s users will most likely flock to the new video chatting service, he said, while avoiding visiting Skype’s branded service directly.
“Obviously this is a great feature for Facebook — it’s really simple and a lot of people will use it,” Mr. Sterling said. But he added, “I think it’s going to have an adverse impact on Skype.”
Mr. Bates said: “We’ve always wanted to be as ubiquitous as possible. The long-term partnership far outweighs users moving from Skype, or visa versa.”
Microsoft is closing in on its acquisition of Skype for $8.5 billion. The purchase, announced two months ago, would give Microsoft a bigger footprint in online communications for consumers and corporate customers.
Microsoft, through its Skype acquisition, would also strengthen its ties to Facebook. Microsoft bought a small stake in Facebook in 2007, and it continues to provide search results within Facebook.
During the news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg signaled that the Skype integration was the first of several deals that would add services to Facebook with the help of other companies.
“Independent entrepreneurs, or entrepreneurs that focus on one thing, will always do better than a company that tries to focus on a million things,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in a comment that could be interpreted either as an acknowledgment of Facebook’s limits, or as a dig at Google for its broad ambitions.