Skype CEO Tony Bates (left) and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook launches video chat service after joining forces with Skype

Facebook’s 750 million users will now be able to video chat, after the social network joined forces with Skype.

Facebook’s Skype video service is free, and is available from today. It is initially limited to one-to-one video chat.

The agreement, announced by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, deepens the company’s cooperation with Microsoft, which is in the process of buying Skype to build up its web presence.

Zuckerberg said Facebook has hit a record 750 million users. The new service could be a huge boost for Skype, which currently has about 145 million regular users.

The partnership comes as competition heats up in the internet market, with Facebook and Google, as well as fast-growing companies such as Groupon and Twitter, vying for billions of dollars in online advertising revenue.

By incorporating free video chat directly into its service, Facebook will give its members another reason to use the site more often and for longer periods of time, said Gartner analyst Ray Valdes. “They need to continue to keep their users engaged and coming back everyday,” he said of Facebook.

Financial details of the deal, if any, were not disclosed.

Skype’s chief executive Tony Bates said the deal with Facebook is only the start of a potentially lucrative partnership. “For us, this makes a lot of business sense,” said Bates.

Neil Stevens, the general manager of Skype’s consumer business, said the company was planning on introducing a for-pay service that would allow users on Facebook to place calls to landline and mobile phones. Stevens said he could not provide a timeframe for when such a service might be available, and said details about whether the service would work with Facebook’s so-called Credits currency had yet to be worked out.

Facebook, which also unveiled a group messaging function, adding to its existing one-to-one text chat, is returning fire from Google, which last week turned up the competitive heat by introducing a social networking service dubbed Google+.

While many of Google+’s social networking features are similar to those already available on Facebook, Google is generating interest with its videoconferencing function, which allows up to 10 people on the service to participate in a video call.

Zuckerberg hinted that video chat for multiple people could eventually be available on Facebook. But he said that most video chats today occur between two people.

“We think this is awesome because we’re using the best technology that’s out there for doing video chat with the best social infrastructure that’s out there to create some really cool new scenarios,” said Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg said the announcements were the first of several to come in what he described as “launching season 2011”.

Facebook’s new video offering could benefit Microsoft, which owns 1.6 per cent of Facebook and announced its $8.5 billion purchase of Skype in May.

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