Facebook challenges Zoom

Facebook offers alternative to Zoom, unveils service featuring virtual "rooms" in which people can visit friends.

Arutz Sheva North America Staff ,


As users around the world turn to the popular Zoom platform for their online meetings during the coronavirus pandemic, Facebook is now offering an alternative.

The social network on Friday unveiled a new video chat service with virtual "rooms" in which people can pop in to visit friends, AFP reports.

The feature can be accessed through the Facebook Messenger application and allows users to make video calls that as many as 50 friends can join and linger in as long as they wish, even if they don't have Facebook accounts.

Unlike work video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, "Messenger Rooms" is tailored for socializing with friends and family whether it be birthdays, happy hours, book clubs or parent groups.

"This is designed to be more serendipitous and spontaneous," Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told AFP.

"I just keep a window open on my computer or phone and people who I normally wouldn't go out of my way to call just sort of drop by," he added.

"I feel like we are missing that in our lives right now," said Zuckerberg.

Zoom, which was designed as a business video platform, has seen a surge in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic.

Facebook users will be able to create virtual rooms and decide who to invite to join, Zuckerberg explained on Friday.

"I could be hanging out on a couch on the weekend and send out an invite to all my friends to come to a 'hanging-out-on-the-couch room,'" Zuckerberg said.

Fun features include augmented-reality effects such as bunny ears and aliens, along with immersive fake backgrounds.

In an unusual step, people don't need Facebook accounts or apps to visit Messenger Rooms.

"People can just send a link to their grandmother or whomever. You can tap on the link from anywhere and if you don't have the app it will open in your browser," said Zuckerberg.

He noted that Facebook has built in defenses to prevent unwanted guests from entering virtual rooms.

"We have the advantage of establishing a secure perimeter. There are tools to kick people out easily; lock rooms, or close them if things are going badly."

Messenger Rooms is expected to be available to Facebook's nearly 2.5 billion users around the work in coming weeks.

"Through this period people are relying on social and communication services more than ever," Zuckerberg said.

Facebook plans to add ways to create "rooms" from its Instagram and WhatsApp messaging platforms as well as using its Portal smart screens.

The network is also doubling the number of people who can simultaneously take part in WhatsApp group video calls to eight.

Facebook has also expanded live streaming features at the social network and on Instagram as people increasingly go online for cooking lessons, religious services, exercise classes, and more.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)