Group video chats arrive on Instagram: What you need to know

27 Jun 2018

Image: Sergey Causelove/Shutterstock

Instagram now lets users have four-way group video chats, sounding another gong in the death knell for traditional voice calls.

Smartphones around the world will twinkle with renewed vigour today (27 June) as Instagram’s hotly anticipated group video chat feature goes live.

Revealed at last month’s Facebook F8 developer shindig, anyone can start a video conversation on Instagram with someone else who they happen to be in a direct conversation with by tapping a camera icon on the top right corner.

Instagram is on an innovation roll

The feature comes hot on the heels of Instagram last week revealing IGTV, its new long-form video platform for the vertical camera position of most smartphone users.

IGTV will see Instagram take on YouTube, as creators and vloggers are currently disgruntled by recent changes that YouTube has been making to its algorithms and revenue-sharing plans.

So, is this basically Instagram busting into the free voice and video calling space that Facebook is already bludgeoning traditional telecoms with through WhatsApp and Messenger?
Intagram's new video calls feature

Image: Instagram

Pretty much. Instagram, which last week also revealed that it has surpassed the 1bn-user milestone, said that Video Chat in Instagram Direct lets users seamlessly connect across iOS and Android without a phone number.

Mobile operators shouldn’t be put out though as it will no doubt beef up their data revenues.

It is also a clever ploy by the Facebook-owned photo-sharing app to boost advertising revenue because the longer people spend on their Instagram screens, the more ads they can push out.

Wait, how many people can I connect with in one call?

Instagram said that you can video chat with up to four other people at a time, and the video will expand as more friends join.

If there’s an active video chat in a group thread, the camera icon will turn blue and you simply tap the camera to join the conversation. You can video chat with your friends for as long as you like. When you’re ready to leave the video chat, tap the red phone icon at the bottom.

I can chat with anyone, right?

Wrong. You can only video chat with people you have an active Direct thread with. If you block a person, they will no longer be able to video chat with you.

And what if I don’t want to talk with anyone?

You can also mute a person if you don’t want to receive notifications from them.

Cool, how do I get it?

To update your video chat notifications, tap the Gear icon on Profile and find the new Video Chat control in Push Notifications.

What else has Instagram been up to?
The new topics channel feature in Explore. Image: Instagram

The new topics channel feature in Explore. Image: Instagram

As well as IGTV and Video Chat, Instagram has introduced a new topic channels feature on its Explore search engine to make it easier to browse through posts you want to see and accounts you want to follow.

It includes a For You function that lets you see channels on topics you might like, such as art, sports, beauty or fashion.

This could be a continuation of Instagram’s longstanding tradition of copying features from rivals such as Snapchat and making them their own, only in this case the targets of emulation appear to be Pinterest and (to a slightly lesser degree) Flipboard. It could signal a new epoch for crafty publishers to serve up content to mobile-toting readers.

For example, Instagram has also continued its onslaught against Snapchat with a whole slew of camera effects designed by Ariana Grande, BuzzFeed, Liza Koshy, Baby Ariel and NBA in the Instagram camera.

Users can discover the new effects in their Instagram camera if they follow the above accounts.

All of the new features are available on Android and iOS from today.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years