The social networking giant has something up its sleeve, something that probably has to do with video chat.
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has promised that his company will announce "something awesome" at a Wednesday media event. What that will be remains a matter of speculation, but there are a few possibilities that appear likely.
The leading theory is that Facebook will announce a video chat service powered by Skype, the Internet voice and video service that Microsoft is in the process of acquiring. Tech blogs Tech Crunch and Mashable have suggested as much, citing unnamed sources.
Such a move would have strategic value, bringing Facebook and Microsoft closer together and answering both Google, which offers group video chat through its recently introduced Google+ service called Hangouts, and Apple, which offers FaceTime video chat. Microsoft invested $240 million in Facebook back in 2007 and the two companies have a common interest in opposing Google, not to mention Apple.
Facebook is particularly concerned with Google+, which launched last week. The company has consistently disallowed software that helps users export Facebook friend data because it does not wish to empower other social networks, particularly Google+. Over the weekend, Facebook blocked Facebook Friend Exporter, a Chrome extension designed to copy Facebook friend data to Google Contacts or to a CSV file.
Another possibility is that Facebook will introduce "Project Spartan," the social network's forthcoming HTML5-based app development platform. Facebook is already a major game platform, but many of those games rely on Adobe's Flash technology.
Thanks to Apple's refusal to support Flash on its iOS devices and the fact that iOS devices now account for about 5% of U.S. Web browsing traffic, Facebook has to make sure its platform apps are as widely accessible as possible, particularly on mobile devices. HTML5 presently looks like a more future-proof technology than Flash. However, until HTML5 development tools mature, the Flash platform is likely to remain the preferred choice for Web-based game development.
Facebook has been working publicly on ways to accelerate HTML5 game performance for several months. In January, it released JSGameBench, a software tool for optimizing HTML5 game performance, and has updated the software several times since then.
Facebook is also said to be developing an iPad application. While this will certainly be welcomed by Facebook users who have iPads, it's unlikely that an iPad application alone would be deemed sufficiently "awesome" for its own media event. However, a Facebook iPad app wouldn't be complete without video chat capabilities, such as might be provided via Skype integration.
Finally, Facebook is reportedly in talks with European music streaming service Spotify, and the consummation of such a deal could well be "awesome," at least on the scale of tech hype. Google has held such talks too, but its recent launch of its own music service, Music Beta by Google, may have encouraged Spotify to consider a Facebook alliance.
Whatever Facebook reveals on Wednesday, the company must confront credible competition from Google in the social arena for the first time. Google+ has been well-received, unlike earlier social products. While Facebook has years before Google+ could match its reach--well over 500 million users these days--it can no longer count on Google stumbling for its defense; it has to turn out products that really are awesome.
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