Today we gained yet another addition to the ever-growing arsenal of video conferencing platforms cropping up as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — this time, from Facebook Messenger. Messenger, which has long supported video-chatting on its platform, just dropped a new format called Messenger Rooms.
Like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Group FaceTime, Messenger Rooms facilitates group video conferencing, except users can start calls directly on Messenger or Facebook and invite anyone to join — even non-Facebook users. Rather than scheduling a chat, it's as simple as starting a call from within Facebook Groups, Events, or your News Feed — a feature that will likely make Messenger Rooms the preferred video conferencing platform for active Facebook Group users who want to easily connect with their fellow Doggo Meme members without curating a group of people to call on Zoom. Once a room opens, users will see it on their homepage and can then click to join on their phone or computer without having to download any app or software. The room's host can choose who can discover the room and who can share the invite link, as well as lock the room to keep it private. Each call will be able to support up to 50 people in one call with no time limit (as compared to Zoom's 40-minute time limit on free accounts and Group FaceTime's 32-person limit).
While it includes with the familiar bunny ears AR filter fare, it also comes with 14 ambient lighting effects baked into it (some of which do the flattering work of Zoom's "Touch Up My Appearance" feature), a feature that its competitors haven't quite adopted. Messenger Rooms also will include a ton of 360-degree backgrounds, like Space Cats, Black Hole, Raining Donuts, Chic Apartment, Lake Forest, Sunset Beach, and Ball Pit. Not quite Snap Camera's potato filter, but at least more fun than Zoom's preloaded virtual backgrounds.
Facebook also, importantly, notes that it will not view or listen to user calls — a practice that the tech giant has been guilty of in the past. And in light of Zoom's precarious security, which can allow for Zoombombing intrusions if certain privacy measures aren't taken before a meeting starts, the Messenger Rooms host can unlock or lock the room to new guests, control who can see the room, and must be present in the room for the call to begin.
The new service will be available in some countries this week and will roll out around the rest of the world in the weeks to come. Facebook also says it will soon roll out ways to join from Instagram DM, WhatsApp, and Portal as well.