On Saturday, Facebook launched Messenger Rooms, a tool that would allow “anyone” to video call with up to 50 people soon. Built on top of Messenger, Facebook’s flagship chat app, Messenger Rooms’ existence is pretty self explanatory. Messenger Rooms exist because there’s growing demand for group video calling platforms in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Those keeping a track would also probably have figured out how Messenger Rooms are a classic Facebook thing. Facebook’s no stranger to copying “popular” trends and features, incorporating them inside its many apps and services, and using its vast user base to then topple rivals. Messenger Rooms are similarly an answer to Zoom and Houseparty.
But there’s more to Messenger Rooms than what meets the eye. For Facebook, Messenger Rooms are the gateway to a future where the Mark Zuckerberg-led social media giant plans to bring together three of the world’s largest messaging networks, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger, to allow cross-platform chat. Put simply, Facebook wants users of WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger, to seamlessly chat with one another in the future — and it is “actively” working on that future as we speak.
The Messenger Rooms announcement is probably the first time Facebook has dropped hints about enabling cross-platform messaging inside its services. How it would probably look like, what are the challenges involved, so on and so forth, all of that has been talked about, though very subtly.
It all starts with the general availability of Messenger Rooms. Anyone can theoretically video chat using Messenger Rooms, though you must have a Facebook account to create a room. Rooms can be created via Facebook or Messenger alone for now, though Facebook says it is working on ways to create rooms from Instagram Direct, WhatsApp and Portal, also.
Hours after the announcement, WAbetainfo, a website that tracks beta WhatsApp software, has found the first clues of one of the ways how Facebook might be looking to use Messenger Rooms to integrate WhatsApp and Messenger in the days to come. According to the finding, WhatsApp beta version for Android 2.20.139 apparently comes with a shortcut to Messenger available in the chat or group share sheet that will allow users to create Messenger Rooms links. The option to create a Messenger Rooms link will apparently also be available in the calls tab and when you’re trying to call someone. You’ll of course be directed to Messenger to create it.
Not only will this help Facebook tap into the vast user base of WhatsApp to promote Messenger and Messenger Rooms, it will also give it valuable insights for future development. The Messenger Rooms announcement clearly states the pros and cons of using Facebook’s new video calling tool, say over WhatsApp. WhatsApp will support video and voice calls with up to 8 participants starting this week (which is double the existing number), while Messenger will let you do that with up to 50 people, though not immediately — 50-people video chats are coming soon to Messenger Rooms, according to Facebook. So, that’s a pro for Messenger Rooms, maybe?
On the other end, WhatsApp chats, including video calls, are end-to-end encrypted by default while on Messenger, they are not, which by extension also makes Messenger Rooms not completely private. So, that’s the con.
This means, you can choose to video chat with up to 50 people on Messenger Rooms, provided you’re willing to toss your privacy out of the window. Or you can WhatsApp and preserve your privacy.
Be that as it may, it’s nice to see Facebook being more transparent about privacy and data now, even as it builds tools like Messenger Rooms in the wake of COVID-19, and looks at a more unified future, by way of what could be a “thoughtful” integration.
As part of its broader efforts to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger, Facebook is working to bring end-to-end encryption across its products. It’s easier said than done though, something that Facebook points out in its Messenger Rooms announcement as well. “There are significant challenges to providing end-to-end encryption for video calling with large groups of people.” Which is why Facebook had to launch a dedicated tool for en masse video calling rather than simply bumping up the participant count on WhatsApp to a 50. Bringing end-to-end encryption to Messenger and Instagram Direct won’t be easy either especially because Facebook (also) makes money off them through targeted advertising.
Till now, there was no word on how Facebook was planning to integrate its chat apps. Messenger Rooms is a start and even though it’s not exactly an ideal way to start the discussion on cross-platform play and privacy, at least it gives us an idea about the challenges that lie ahead. The bigger question is how Facebook plans to go about selling the idea to users.
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