AMID all the excitement over the launch of Google+ (which, my friend David Lian wrote about in his column last week), many people have totally overlooked Facebook’s latest announcement – Facebook Video Calling.

In a collaboration with Skype (not their first joint-project, mind you), Facebook is allowing users to “bring your conversations to life”.

A visit to the Facebook Video Calling page ( tells you all you need to know about the feature, including the fact that “Video calling will be available soon” in Malaysia and to “Please check back later”.

You can forgive the average mainstream social media user for ignoring this news, however. After all, the early adopters and “tech elites” were still buzzing (pun intended) over Google+.

Then, there was also the fact that many people would find loopholes in the system to bring more friends into the invite-only trial system for Google+ (which, Google conveniently stopped before the Facebook announcement).

And you know what it’s like when you can’t have something – you obsess over it even if you don’t know what it is yet.

The fact is, Google+ is gaining popularity and I have been seeing more and more people try out the Hangout feature (well, there really is not much else to do yet … visit the average profile and there is almost no content other than status updates).

Hangout is Google’s answer to Facebook Video Calling, except that they launched it first. Basically, you can go into a virtual lounge where you are able to webcam and voice chat with a group, or Circle (to use the Google+ term) of people – not unlike Skype group video chats – among other things.

I’m not sure how quickly people are going to be comfortable being in an open room on webcam just yet, but for me, this is a big step in social media.

The fact that Facebook announced it so soon (despite it not being completely rolled out) after the launch of Google+ could also be an indication of how important this feature will be for the leading social media network in the world.

We already know what social media can do in terms of information dissemination, discourse and networking. But so far, it has remained mostly – strangely enough – two-dimensional in that there are little “real-time” elements to it.

When you send a tweet out, you wait for responses or retweets the same way you hope that a picture you post up before you hit the sack will amass a huge number of “Likes” by the time you wake up.

I feel that video has the potential of taking social networking to the next level. Interestingly enough, it is also kind of a throwback to one of the original “social networking” tools (even though we never acknowledged it as that then), the chat system.

When the Internet, as we know it now, was first introduced back in the 90s, Internet-relay Chat (IRC) was king. People who didn’t know each other joined rooms based on geographical location, interest or popularity and randomly chatted with one another. Networks were built, and suddenly, friendship transcended geographical boundaries.

This then took other forms – Palace (which aimed to turn room chatting from text to visual) came and went and Second Life took on a life of its own.

Things then got more personal – there was ICQ, which still allowed for the kind of anonimity that IRC offered which then quickly evolved into online chatting with MSN Messenger (now Windows Live), Yahoo! Messenger and of course, Skype. Along the way, people got tired of nicknames and started using their real names and real email accounts.

Social networks, in the early naughties threw a spanner in that evolution, like a meteorite landing on earth and wiping out the dinosaurs. Online chatting was getting too personal and it was getting harder to build new friendships and professional networks (bulletin boards were disappearing and online forums were starting to get out of fashion as well).

Well, thank goodness for Friendster (yes!), MySpace and then of course, Facebook.

Except that while things were more “social”, it was also pretty flat – text, photos and videos.

Now, with video chatting, social media can move forward and Google+ seems to be leading the way in bringing together the best of how we’ve been doing things for the past two decades.

I have little doubt whether video chats is the future of social networking. The only thing, really, is if we’re ready for it. That remains to be seen.

Tell us what you think!

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