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Facebook Unveils Zoom Rival Called ‘Messenger Rooms’

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Facebook on Friday (April 24) unveiled a free video-chat service called Messenger Rooms that will allow up to 50 people to virtually meet at once. That’s a clear challenge to the explosion of Zoom Video Communications’ video-meeting app, which has been exploding in popularity amid the worldwide social distancing that’s taking place due to COVID-19.

“To help people feel like they’re together even when they are or have to be physically apart, we’re announcing features across our products that make video chat and live video easier and more natural,” Facebook said in a blog post announcing the new service.

The company said Messenger Rooms will allow users to “invite anyone to join your video call, even if they don’t have a Facebook account. Rooms will soon hold up to 50 people with no time limit. Host celebrations, gather a book club or just hang out on the couch with friends.”

The new product comes at a time when consumers and businesses the world over have turned to Zoom to hold personal or company meetings while sheltering at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Zoom said Thursday that its user base soared 50 percent to 300 million people just since April 1.

The company offers a mix of free basic services and premium monthly subscriptions. However, Zoom has faced criticism over alleged security flaws, so competing services are lining up.

Facebook, which noted in its blog post that its WhatsApp and Messenger apps already has more than 700 million accounts making video calls per day, aims to get in on the action in part by besting Zoom’s free service. For instance, Messenger Rooms will have no time limit on sessions, whereas free Zoom video calls can only last 40 minutes. Facebook said Messenger Rooms will also soon allow for augmented-reality features like adding funny faces to people’s appearances.

Facebook also said in its blog post that it plans to soon allow for group voice and video calls with up to eight people on WhatsApp. Additionally, the company intends to offer other new video products like a revamped Facebook Live With service, which will allow a guest speaker from anywhere in the world to join in on a live video.

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