Facebook’s long, sad history of treating video like a secondary concern are over. Today the company finally made their big “awesome” announcement–which began more than 12 minutes late–and despite some early leaks of the actual information, it actually is still pretty awesome. FacebookĀ video chat is now a reality, thanks to a partnership with Skype that provides video chattingĀ capabilities for all users.

And for an announcement centered around video, they sure had a lot of technical difficulties. The broadcast started (showing the journalists, then panning to the stage) and then stopped. And it was a full 15 minutes after the published start time before CEO Mark Zuckerburg took the podium.

Zuckerburg started with a funny anecdote about an older gentleman who told him he’d heard about the big announcement on the radio, and personally hoped it was video chat so he could chat with his grandson. Cute. He then said he wanted to get straight to it and not waste any time, only to contradict himself by saying that before the announcement, he wanted to talk a while about the “landscape.”

He was a little all over the place with that “setting the stage” speech, but talked mostly about how people are sharing online at exponential rates year-over-year. While he was going on (and on), the Facebook blog published the announcement early, long before Zuckerburg even got to it. Oops.

Facebook Video Chat With Skype – The Details

Facebook announced three things today:

1. A new interface for chat.

2. Group messaging for chat.

3. Video calling for chat, powered by Skype. Clearly, the last one is the big announcement. So what are the details?

  • You will be able to video chat from right within your Facebook chat box, so text-based and video-based chats all start from the same place.
  • Group video chat will not be possible. Group text chatting, however, is being added.
  • The feature goes live to everyone in a few weeks, but you can get it early by going here (at least for now).

Why The Facebook Video Chat Announcement Is Big

This is a huge coup for Facebook, particularly in light of the brand new Google Plus social networking product. While Google Plus is still in private beta, it’s made waves with a few key features that Facebook has long been missing. First and foremost among those features is Hangouts–group video chat environments. So for Facebook to be able to come out one week later and take away those Google Plus bragging rights is a shot to the gut for Google’s fledgling network. And don’t think they don’t fear Google Plus–the phrase “the number one social network” was uttered several times throughout the announcement.

Of course, a lot depends on how well it works. Hangouts, I can tell you from first-hand experience, works incredibly well. Picture is good, even with multiple chat partners–though it seems to lag a bit for users who are on slower connections, which makes sense. So Facebook’s new video chat service with Skype has got to work just as well. If it doesn’t, they’ll lose a little ground for rushing out an inferior product just to steal some press from Google.

But if it works as well as Hangouts, then Facebook just gave a lot of users one good reason not to jump ship to Google Plus. Of course, Google Plus has plenty of other features that people seem to be enjoying so far, like the user interface, the ability to group friends into Circles, and Instant Upload. (As an aside, Instant Upload is amazing. I just take a photo or video on my Android phone, and then put my phone away and go on with my life… the file is uploaded to my Plus photo album or video album automatically, and it’s there waiting for me the next time I log in. I can leave it private, or share on my Stream. I love it.)

And the ability to do video chat with multiple friends at once is still a huge benefit Google Plus has that Facebook does not.

Beyond this announcement’s impact on Google Plus, it’s a long-overdue step in the right direction. Video matters to social, in ways I’m not convinced Facebook fully understood at first. Sure, you could always embed a YouTube clip, or upload straight to Facebook and share, but video’s integration into our lives is going so much deeper than that. It’s going into education and communication, it’s moving quickly into the workplace… and now, thankfully, it’s headed for your Facebook experience, so that you can chat whenever you want, face to face, with your friends and loved ones.