Facebook to Launch ‘Messenger Rooms’ Free Videoconferencing Feature Similar to Zoom

Facebook Messenger Rooms
Courtesy of Facebook

Facebook is preparing to broadly launch a free videoconferencing product called Messenger Rooms — which will allow people to connect whether they use one of the social giant’s apps or not, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Friday.

The new videoconferencing feature is similar to Zoom and group video-chat app Houseparty, both of which have seen usage boom during the coronavirus crisis. Facebook’s Messenger Rooms will allow users to host videoconferences, with no time limit, for up to 50 people (whereas Messenger previously was limited to a maximum of eight users).

“Video presence isn’t just about calling someone,” Zuckerberg said in a live-stream on Facebook. “We’re going to start to see this theme of having a shared video-presence technology, but have the product experience vary dramatically” depending on use case.

Messenger Rooms will be launching across all of Facebook’s apps, including the Portal video device, starting this week, Zuckerberg said. In Facebook Messenger, a tray at the top of the news feed will show all active video rooms that a user’s friends are holding (if they’ve been granted permission to participate).

Zuckerberg said the company developed Messenger Rooms with security top-of-mind, and has learned from mistakes made by others in the videoconferencing space. “We’ve built this with security and privacy in mind from the beginning,” he said.

The CEO alluded to the problem of “Zoombombing,” unwanted intrusions from people into Zoom meetings. Messenger Rooms can be made private, or they can be open to people in a group with whom a user has more frequently interacted with, Zuckerberg said. “We also know it’s really important that annoying people — or problematic people” don’t drop in to users’ Messenger Rooms, he said.

In a blog post, chief privacy officer Erin Egan wrote, “Regardless of whether you use Rooms through your Facebook account or join as a guest, we don’t watch or listen to your audio or video calls.”

Other security and privacy features of Messenger Rooms, according to Facebook are: room locking (disabling others to join once a session has started); removing and blocking participants; and reporting a room name if someone believes it violated Facebook’s policies.

The company also is updating Facebook Live, the platform’s one-to-many live-streaming feature, to bring back “Live With,” a feature that lets broadcasters add another person into the live video.

In addition, Facebook plans to add the ability for users to charge for access to live-streaming video events, including online music performances, classes and tutorials, and professional conferences.

And in another new feature, Instagram Live videos will now be viewable on desktop computers, Zuckerberg said. After Instagram users hold a live-stream they will soon be able to save the videos to IGTV, so they will be available for longer than the 24-hour limit in Instagram Stories.

Facebook already is a major video-presence player: More than 700 million users of WhatsApp and Messenger participate in video calls daily, according to Zuckerberg. In many countries, video calling has more than doubled during the coronavirus pandemic, Facebook said.

But so far, Facebook hasn’t been in the online-meeting game. Zoom has become the most popular platform: It was used by 49% of U.S. consumers who participated in online meetings, per a J.D. Power survey conducted April 8-9. Zoom was followed by Microsoft’s Skype (26%), Google Hangouts (19%), Microsoft Teams (12%) and Cisco Webex (9%).

Zoom, the internet videoconferencing platform that has seen usage boom during the COVID-19 pandemic, this week said more than 300 million users daily have been participating in its online meetings, up from a peak 10 million in December 2019. The company earlier this month said it was freezing product development for 90 days to focus on enhancing security in its system.

Epic Games’ Houseparty, meanwhile, said it has had over 50 million signups for its app since the quarantines went into effect in the U.S.