Facebook is adding a new feature that lets users video chat with up to 50 people, a direct challenge to video conferencing apps Zoom and Houseparty, both of which have seen usage skyrocket amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Messenger Rooms lets users invite up to 50 people, even those without Facebook accounts, to both public and private video chat rooms for free and with no time limit.
Facebook said the feature is rolling out to some users on Friday and will expand to the rest of the world in coming weeks.
Rooms will debut with a smaller limit, but the tool will soon scale up to allow up to 50 people, a spokesperson told CNBC.
Zoom allows 100 person video chats, but has a time limit of 40 minutes with a free account; Houseparty can host up to eight people.
Facebook emphasized that the person who creates the room controls who can join, who sees the room, and if new people can join at all—a knock at Zoom, which has been dealing with persistent privacy and security issues as uninvited users “Zoom-bomb” chat rooms with inappropriate images or profanity.
Zoom shares, which have shot up in the last few months, were down more than 5% following the news.
Facebook has come under fire for cloning competitor’s features and integrating them into their apps before, particularly after the launch of the Snapchat-like Facebook and Instagram stories, as it keeps a watchful eye on social media upstarts. The company was even working on a standalone group video chat app like Houseparty until it shut down the project last year.
As the coronavirus has forced people to depend on video conferencing tools for work, school and communicating with friends, Zoom and Houseparty have become staples during the coronavirus shutdowns. Zoom’s daily active users skyrocketed from 10 million to more than 200 million in just two months. Houseparty has also seen users increase.
Facebook also announced a slew of new video features, including the ability to watch Instagram Live on desktops, video-calling on Facebook Dating and increasing WhatsApp video calls from four to eight people.