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Facebook Messenger's instant video makes Skyping look old-school

The new feature from the social network is designed to offer a quick video supplement to a text chat.

Facebook Messenger's instant video​ is designed to be a lightweight way to add live video to a text chat.
Facebook Messenger's instant video is designed to be a lightweight way to add live video to a text chat.

You already could make video calls using Facebook Messenger, but now the app packs a new, lighter-weight mechanism called instant video for chatting with your contacts.

With Facebook Messenger's instant video, you don't start an instant video chat as you would a regular video chat in the app. Instead, you can fire one up while in the middle of a text chat and send a quick live stream to your friend that appears in a small window on the screen. There's no sound unless you turn it on.

For decades in the 20th century, the video-augmented phone call was one of those long-promised technologies like jetpacks, fusion energy and flying cars that never appeared in any practical way, if at all. With the marriage of the Internet and phones, though, video chat has become almost ho-hum. It's useful and popular, to be sure, but no longer a revolutionary change like Skype was in its early years.

Facebook understands this, too. "Instant video is a reflection of the ubiquity of video -- we simply expect to have that ability in real-time, all the time," the company said in a statement. But the company argues that the instant video feature is better suited than a full-on video conversation for quick communications -- getting a second opinion on a pair of shoes, for example.

And Facebook has good company here. Snapchat's text conversations take a similar approach.