Facebook tries its hand at group video chat with Bonfire

Facebook has been quietly testing a new group video chat app, called Bonfire, which allows up to eight friends to engage in conversation as well as use special effects, similar to those you’d find in apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

The app was spotted in the wild in Denmark’s iOS App Store by The Next Web. The report also notes that when they tried to invite other users to join them in chat, the recipients would receive notifications on Messenger and in Facebook, but were unable to participate.

By nature of its one-country launch, the indication is that this is clearly a test Facebook is performing, and one that seems to cater to the growing popularity of group video chat.

Recently, Skype updated its app to improve its group chat feature with fun features like emoticons, while a number of newcomers – like iMessage-based Fam – have entered the scene. The app also competes with Houseparty, Airtime, ooVoo, Marco Polo, and many others on group video, and, to some extent, the apps for co-watching videos, like Tumblr’s Cabana or YouTube’s Uptime.

However, unlike the other apps in this space, Facebook’s Bonfire seems to designed not only as a way to hang out with friends in a private space through face-to-face conversations, but also a way to feed content back to Facebook’s existing social networking apps, including Facebook itself, Instagram and Messenger. The App Store description today notes that you’re able to take pictures of your video chat and then share them.

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It’s unclear why Facebook would want to launch an entirely separate app for group video chats, instead of just building out a similar experience within Messenger, where it already has the attention of over a billion users.

Few of Facebook’s in-house developed social apps have taken off – it killed the apps from its Creative Labs division and closed that effort down at the end of 2015; shut down its push notification-based app Notify last year; and more recently killed off its Snapchat competitor for high schoolers, Lifestage, as well as its standalone Groups app.

That’s not to say it didn’t learn from those experiences to inform the development of new features in its main apps, but it does seem to indicate that it has challenges when it comes to launching new social experiences that are able to gain traction.

The Bonfire app, which has been downloaded only around 2,000 times, said TNW, was first launched on the Danish App Store in mid-August, then updated this month with the ability to do special effects.

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