Home Why Fype When You Can Hangout? Why Google Hangouts Are Better Than Facebook Skype

Why Fype When You Can Hangout? Why Google Hangouts Are Better Than Facebook Skype

Facebook announced a partnership with Skype today that enables Facebook friends to engage each other in one-to-one video calling. The feature demands comparison to what some people say is the killer feature of Google’s new social network rolled out last week, Google Plus Hangouts. Facebook’s announcement felt a little anti-climactic a week after the launch of Plus.

Alexis Madrigal says at The Atlantic that video chat is like cup holders in a car, essential only because of their ubiquity, but “to treat the ability to video chat in any form as tantamount to transforming communication would be reaching too far.” Michael Arrington says, in a story headlined to imply that there is a clear winner (“no contest”), that the two products don’t in fact overlap and don’t really compete. I’m going to argue otherwise; I believe Google Plus Hangouts are clearly superior.

Facebook’s new integration with Skype is commendable and will clearly bring joy to millions if not hundreds of millions of people. It’s available to all Facebook users today and is more a little more intuitive to use in a one-on-one chat than Google Plus is.

Facebook plus Skype is not as good a technology as Google Plus Hangout because having only one option is not as good as having more than one option, as long as the user experiences are not drastically different.

But you know what? Google Plus isn’t that difficult to set up for one-on-one conversation. You click to Start a Hangout, then you deselect the Public option, then you begin to enter a contact’s name and click one of the auto-complete suggestions. Then an invite is sent to that person. There is a risk that you’ll send it to the wrong email address. There is a risk that a person invited into a single-person chat won’t clearly see and understand the invitation.

I’ll bet those limitations will likely be resolved by the end of next week. Google Plus is fresh and new, it’s changing fast and its user experience team is paying a lot of attention to feedback from the probably millions of people testing the system so far. User experience is quite good throughout the rest of the site, all they have to do is smooth over a few rough edges and the Google Plus team will be able to offer its users the same functionality Facebook can and more.

By the end of this month one difference is going to separate Google Plus Hangouts and Facebook Skype: on Google you can video chat with more than one person if you want to. On Facebook you do not have that option, you will be limited to one-to-one video calling for the foreseeable future.

In the future, Google Hangout’s features like autofocus on speaking parties, video sharing and hopefully a more open API will all be relevant as well.

Of course the bigger picture battle between these two networks is another story, I’m just saying that Plus did a better job on video than Facebook.

Skype charges users $5 to $10 per month for multi-person video chat. It’s not cheap to provide. Google Plus will use it as a loss-leader and as an important feature differentiation over Facebook. It will eat the cost of high-bandwidth multiperson video chat in order to attempt to capture market share in social networking. Some observers say the Google Hangout system is architected in a way that puts much of the technical burden on the client side, or the end user’s computers. That should help.

I suspect people will like group video chats too, especially young people. That remains an open question (ReadWriteWeb’s Audrey Watters asks this afternoon Do Consumers Really Want Video Chat?) but I think social networking plus video equals more video. And the option of multi-person video is better than the limitation of single-person video calls.

This is just one of many weapons that Google Plus will bring to the battle against Facebook, but I think it’s an important one. The ability to watch YouTube videos together, to do quick, free, multi-person video calls, and to collaborate with small groups – I think those are going to be important features that Facebook just won’t offer for some time.

It probably won’t be enough to put Google Plus over the top and clearly Plus is nowhere near as widespread as Facebook, nor as tested with mainstream users. But which video chat feature is better? I think it’s clearly the one the provides more than one option.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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