Facebook tests group video chat app called Bonfire

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Facebook is making another foray into the group video chat space.

Facebook has rolled out a standalone mobile app in Denmark called Bonfire that enables people to host video calls with multiple people. The Next Web first reported the news on Wednesday, which a Messenger spokesperson later confirmed.

“At Facebook Inc. we continue to build and test new products and services. We already have many great experiences for people to video chat in groups, or as individuals, across the family of apps, including Messenger. We are interested in how everyone uses technology and how we can build great experiences for them. We’re running a very small test in Denmark of an app we call Bonfire. We have nothing further to share at this time,” said the Messenger spokesperson in an emailed statement.

While limited to Denmark for now, Bonfire may portend a broader attempt by Facebook to corner the fledgling group video chat market. Of course, there are already platforms for group video chats. Google’s Hangouts and Microsoft’s Skype offer group video calling. And standalone apps centered on group video chat, like Houseparty, have emerged.

There is also Facebook’s own messaging service, Messenger, that added group video calling in December 2016. That begs the question of why Facebook would roll out a standalone group video calling app when it already has the feature in a product whose user base spans 1.2 billion people. The answer is unclear. Perhaps people aren’t hosting group video chats within Messenger and, for whatever reason, may be more comfortable doing so in a different app and maybe one not so closely associated with Facebook.

Odd as that may sounds, Facebook isn’t opposed to making an all-hands-on-deck assault on an emerging product category, as evidenced by Facebook’s and Instagram’s and Messenger’s and WhatsApp’s cloning of Snapchat’s Stories feature. And there’s a related wrinkle: Snapchat does not yet support group video calling in its app, creating an opportunity for Facebook to potentially one-up its rival.

If and when Facebook rolls out Bonfire beyond Denmark, the next question centers on how it benefits Facebook’s business. The answer is most likely ads, given that Facebook’s business is largely ad sales. That could translate into brands creating branded Snapchat-style filters and effects that people can use when chatting with friends.

Facebook could also open up the app to brands, which it has done with Messenger, though that might be uniquely difficult. Unlike text conversations, video calls would seem to be impossible to scale and automate.

Facebook could link Bonfire with its other properties for brands, which it has also done with Messenger. In this case, a brand could promote an invitation-only group video chat with a celebrity spokesperson through ads on Facebook and Instagram, have people message its Messenger bot on why they should receive an invite, and then use Bonfire to host the chat.

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