New Messenger Rooms will let people start group video chats that can be joined by up to 50 people. The company told the BBC it released the features earlier than planned due to the coronavirus lockdown. Facebook said it had worked with cryptographers to prevent unwanted guests from dropping into chats. While the new features will launch for some users in the UK on Friday, it will take several weeks for the update to reach all Facebook members.
Like Houseparty, Messenger Rooms will let people drop in and out of group video chats while the “room” is open. John Hegeman, vice president of news feed for Facebook, said the company wanted to recreate the “serendipity” that happens in the physical world, something he claimed video-conferencing competitors did not do.
Rooms can be created via Facebook or Messenger, and the company said it planned to add the feature to Instagram, WhatsApp, and its Portal video-calling devices “soon”. People creating a Messenger Room will be able to keep their room private, block unwanted participants and send invitations to people who are not on Facebook.Participants will be able to use augmented reality filters and change their background in real-time.Publicly discoverable rooms will be listed at the top of the Facebook news feed.
Facebook said video-calling on Messenger had doubled since last year, in areas most affected by coronavirus. Rival app Zoom saw daily active users grow to 300 million in April. And Houseparty, owned by Fortnite-maker Epic Games, was downloaded more than two million times at the beginning of March, as the first major US cities issued stay-at-home orders.
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