Facebook has been spotted testing a new voice chat feature. There are few details at the time, but it appears users experiencing the test see a “Call” button next to options to Chat, Message, and Poke on the profiles of friends. When pressed, users see a “Calling [friend’s name]” dialog pop up.
The Call feature could be a build out of Facebook’s partnership with Skype that brought the ability to browse the social network to the the Skype 5.0 for Windows VoIP app. However, no Skype branding appeared in test, so Facebook might be working on voice chat independently.
Facebook recently removed a job posting for a Network Engineer – Voice, meaning it has likely hired someone for the position. This employee could be helping develop the feature, or could simply be managing an internal phone system for Facebook offices.
Native web voice chat could pull business away from mobile operators, as users wouldn’t need to reach for their phones to call friends. The feature could also position Facebook to offer its own mobile handset that makes VoIP calls. COO Sheryl Sandberg has previously said “we want to make Facebook available everywhere on every device. That’s actually complicated in a world of so many cell phones, so many mobile operators.” If voice chat can be perfected on the web interface, it could eventually allow a Facebook phone to bypass the tangle of mobile operators.