When Facebook first announced it was revamping its Messenger video chat feature, I rolled my eyes.
At this point in self-isolation, I’m suffering from the fatigue that comes with constant video chat sessions. I also feel like there are plenty of platforms out there already: Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, Microsoft Teams. Do we really need to throw another one in the mix?
After using Messenger Rooms with co-workers, however, I didn’t mind it. As with Zoom, you just need to send a URL to start a session with friends or family. (It helps that your invitees aren’t required to have a Facebook account.) Once you’re on the call, it feels like you’re using any of the other aforementioned platforms. You can switch between viewing modes and share screens. If you’re calling in from the mobile app, you can play with some fun and quirky filters.
Messenger Rooms is definitely the most simple video chat tool I’ve used during the pandemic.
Messenger Rooms is definitely the most simple video chat tool I’ve used during the pandemic. I didn’t have to ask friends to download specific apps, log into accounts, or plug in passwords. All I had to do was create a Room and drop a link.
Of course, Facebook has its drawbacks when it comes to privacy and transparency concerns, but it’s definitely the easiest option if you’re looking for something that will appease both family and friends. Also, I’m sure we’re all tired of explaining the concept of Zoom to our parents, grandparents, and other technologically disinclined loved ones.
A quick start
There are a few different ways to start a room. If you’re using Facebook on desktop, you’ll see the option to “Create Your Room” at the top of your News Feed right underneath the Status window.
From there, you can fill in information like “Room activity.” You can customize the meeting’s purpose or pick from options like Happy Hour, TGIF, Trying Rooms (to test it out), Bored at Home, and more.
Here’s where it gets a little weird, though.
When it comes to who you can invite, you get the option to click “Friends,” which means that literally anyone your friends with on Facebook join in. Once you create the room, they’ll see it at the top of their News Feed and can click to join in from there.
I’m not quite sure what would compel anyone to do this, but seeing as how we’re in the throes of a global emergency, I will reserve all judgement for the time being.
Thankfully, you can choose to invite “Invite Specific Friends.” If you’re not sure who you want to invite yet, or the person you want to invite is not on Facebook, you can skip this step and opt for a shareable link instead. That way, you can just message the link and the friend can click on it to drop in.
Lastly, you pick a date and time. If you’re trying to plan ahead, you can pick a future date on the calendar and the exact start time — you’ll then be able to send the invite out to friends.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t let you add the invite to third-party calendar apps but you can tinker with your Settings to sync all your Facebook events to your preferred calendar.
Otherwise, if you’re ready to start the video chat session at that moment, you can choose “Now” as the start time.
I didn’t go through this process though, since I barely use Facebook. I do, however, rely on Messenger a lot to talk to close friends and family, and used it to start a room.
If you’re using Messenger on desktop, all you have to do to start a room is click on the camera icon in the right-hand corner and then “Join as (insert your Facebook name).” If you’re using the Messenger app on mobile, then you’ll find the option to start a room under the “People” tab.
Whenever you’re ready, whether you’ve started a room through Facebook or Messenger, press Join at the bottom of the display to enter.
Since I was on deadline, I constructed a worst-case scenario and assumed that starting the room was going to be a grueling task. I went into it blind, thinking I’d have to ask everyone to download the Facebook or Messenger app, send out friend requests, and then sit there filling out a bunch of information just to get the thing going.
Instead, I started a room in literally seconds. All I had to do was copy and paste the link to everyone on Slack and they all began to quickly trickle in. If starting a video call was this seamless on other platforms, I’d probably be a lot more eager to join the sessions friends are constantly setting up.
A very casual, laid-back environment
In addition to not needing a Facebook account to use Rooms, you also don’t need to download any of Facebook’s apps to use it. In that case, when you click on the link to join, it’ll open a web browser instead.
If you do want to use one of the apps though, you’ll have to download Messenger and link it to your Facebook account.
When I sent the link to all my co-workers, no one had any trouble entering the room. All they had to do was click the link, plug in their name, and they were in.
Once people start to join the call, everyone appears in tile view by default, with your window at the bottom. You can also switch it so that everyone’s tiles appear on the left side of the screen and whoever is talking appears in the middle.
Personally, I think watching the middle tile switch every five second is nauseating, but since you can have up to 50 people join the session at a time, it’s useful when you can’t quickly pinpoint who’s taking.
When you hover over someone’s tile, you have the ability to message them privately or view their Facebook profile (if they have one). It was after noticing these features that I realized Messenger Rooms is likely not the best option for work-related meetings —particularly with bosses or any other higher ups. While I really have nothing to hide on my Facebook account, I’m not too sure how I would feel about the possibility of having my editor click through my profile photos from high school and college.
If you’re planning a movie or a game night, you can also share your screen or pin a specific person’s window so that it’s kept front and center at all times. But one of the most important features here is the ability to lock the room. Once you have everyone, you can toggle the feature on to keep anyone else from joining.
And, no, I don’t mean to keep out certain Facebook friends out or maybe that one friend you all find annoying (hi, that’s me, I’m the annoying friend). I’m talking about keeping it safe from zoombombers, who are known for dropping in on random video chats and spamming them with all types of uncomfortable content.
Since Messenger Rooms aren’t password protected, you’ll probably want to lock it once everyone has shuffled in. Otherwise, your video chat session might get a little awkward or scary (if it isn’t already, depending on who you invite).
It’s a lot easier than Zoom, which does require using a password to enter a locked room. After a while, it gets annoying to have to go through the process of search for the invite in your email and typing in the password.
Having the option to just toggle the lock on and off is definitely a lot more seamless.
Additionally, there are no time limits to how long you’re in a room for. Unlike Zoom, which only allows you to hold video chat sessions for up to 40 minutes under its free tier, you don’t have to worry about rushing through the call.
Similar to Zoom, though, you can also have some fun with it by adding different filters, backgrounds or lighting effects.
That feature is only available on the Messenger app, though, since it uses the pre-set filters that are already baked in. When you join a call, you’ll be able to click on a smiley face icon in your window and then scroll through all of the different options to layer over or around your face. While you can’t get creative and add your own, the way you can on Zoom, you can still have some fun with it.
The least irritating option
If you’re looking for a video conference tool that allows you to get tons of people together in literally seconds, then Messenger Rooms is certainly the one to use.
With the ability to share screens, switch viewing modes, and add tons of people, it operates as any other video chat tool does. So you’re not missing out on any of those necessary features by using it. But, as I mentioned before, I’d designate it solely for family and friends if your personal Facebook accounts are linked to it. You know, in an effort to keep things professional.
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Facebook without also getting into privacy issues.
Even on Rooms, Facebook does collect meta-data (pieces of information like who you’re speaking with, when, and how often), and there’s no end-to-end encryption on the calls. Again, it’s not password protected so you have to remember to lock your room.
It does, however, solve the common struggles of other platforms: asking people to make accounts, download specific software, send out passwords, and then enter those passwords successfully.
I don’t know about you, but when dealing with family and friends that are’t tech savvy, the ability to just literally drop a link and tell them to click on it is a dream.