Facebook Adds Video Chatting to Messenger App

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Once a highly coveted feature for TV channel surfers, Picture-in-picture (P-i-P) has faded into relative obscurity in the cord cutting era. Now, Facebook is bringing it back, with a twist.

An update to the social network's standalone Messenger app lets you add a live video to the corner of your smartphone's screen while you're chatting. Part P-i-P, part conventional video chat, Instant Video is designed to ride the coattails of live streaming, which has exploded in popularity over the past year thanks in no small part to Facebook's original Live Video feature.

The difference with Messenger's live video implementation, of course, is its inherent intimacy: it's just between you and the person (or group) you're chatting with. While both parties are viewing the same Messenger conversation, you tap on the video icon in the top right corner to start sharing real-time video.

Audio is off by default, but you can turn it on manually. The video panel floats over the active text conversation, which you can continue while you're streaming. The video stream is unidirectional, but your conversation partner can share his or her own video once you're done.

In a blog post announcing the new feature, Facebook describes Instant Video as a "reflection of the ubiquity of video." Still, you can't ignore the fact that its presence in Messenger is clearly a supplement to—not a replacement for—text conversations. Unlike the formality and awkwardness of a Skype or FaceTime session, video in Messenger will let you quickly show off your ice cream flavor choice or new pair of heels before retreating to the comfort of texts.

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