Skype today introduced a new beta version for Microsoft Windows users that adds support for several Facebook features. Skype for Windows 5.5 brings instant messaging, integrated Facebook contacts, and the ability to ‘Like’ or comment on a friends Facebook status directly through the Skype application. The free beta software also adds some general fixes and changes, such as a new call control toolbar, an easier way to save a phone number and visual improvements when placing a call on hold.
Fixes to core functionality are always nice, but for two reasons, the bigger story is the heavy Facebook integration. First, Facebook continues to become the de facto contact database for many. Smartphones of various platforms already pull in and sync Facebook contacts directly into the handset’s contact application. And why not, when it resolves the challenge of keeping your contacts updated? Put another way: Why should I spend time managing my contacts’ ever-changing information when it’s likely they are already doing so and I can have the information pulled down automatically?
Second, the addition of Facebook interaction with a Skype client opens up Facebook to a wider audience at a time when Facebook growth may have stalled. Skype says that in the fourth quarter of 2010, it averaged more than 145 million connected users per month. That’s smaller than the 600 million active Facebook accounts, but surely not all Facebook users are also Skype users. The Skype user base is also very active, using the service for 207 billion voice and video calling minutes last year. The new integration in Skype could help Facebook add to its subscriber base even as some data this month shows the service may have lost subscribers in the U.S.
Om has suggested a number of times that Facebook simply buy Skype, but of course, it’s too late now as Microsoft has already made the investment to the tune of $8.5 billion last month. Facebook appears set to leverage Skype regardless of that deal and it doesn’t have to spend billions to do so. The integration with Skype on the desktop is likely just a start: Between Facebook phones and smartphones that have Skype support, I think this will have even more impact when Skype adds Facebook integration on handsets in the future.