Facebook Messenger is on a roll, pushing out new features in rapid succession as 2016 comes to a close.
A week after releasing a new, Snapchat-style camera, the wildly popular messaging app is introducing group video chat, its most requested feature. Group video chat on Messenger will be available globally, both on iOS and Android, and will start rolling out Monday.
Messenger's impressive run of new feature releases (it's also experimenting with AI-powered contextual suggestions) is evidence Facebook is unwilling to simply let it ride the coattails of the 1.79 billion user core app it's inherently tied to. Instead, as Messenger ships fun new features, Facebook is proving the wisdom of spinning out the app in 2014, a move initially met with user backlash.
Group video chat on Messenger will support up to six videos at a time, but up to 50 people can watch and, if they so choose, join via voice, stickers and the like. A video icon will now appear at the top right of group conversations, and tapping on it will alert group members and give them the choice to join.
Group video chat is having a bit of a moment right now. Houseparty, a group video chat app by the creators of Meerkat, just raised $50 billion. And Fam, an iMessage group video app, seems to be taking off as well.
One big question about Messenger remains: how will it make money? At this point, the app is very popular — claiming over 1 billion users — but it's not contributing meaningfully to Facebook's bottom line. Facebook is anticipating a slowdown in ad load growth, so it may soon need to make a revenue push inside Messenger, something that lead to even more changes. But in the meantime, enjoy your video chats.
Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.
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