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Rounds provides fun and intimate video chat via Facebook

This morning, I had the pleasure of chatting to a charming British expatriate currently living in Israel. We started with Skype but quickly moved to Rounds' new Facebook video chat app. It took all of 60 seconds to be won over by Rounds and the cute, intimate conversations that it catalyses. In a single sentence, Rounds is video chat with a bunch of buttons that you can push to make things more friendly.

With that said, I don't much care for the interface -- it really feels quite cramped inside Facebook's mega-narrow center column -- but it's easy enough to use with a bit of trial and error. Almost the entire UI changes as you mouse-over things, which is probably quite handy after you get used to it, but it's confusing at first.

Back to the topic of friendliness: I have to admit, I was pretty dubious at first. Rounds is a Flash app, and my only prior experience with Flash-based video chat was a brief stint as an anonymous phallus on Chatroulette. But I needn't have worried; the entire service seems to be about bringing people closer together, but without the massive spam of dribbly man bits.
But how does Rounds bring people together? How does it make standard video chat more friendly? By simply providing interactive buttons. Push one button and your video stream will become all fiery, or on the other hand, smattered in snowflakes. Another button turns your face into a Warholesque piece of art. There are masks and overlays, too, like the halo, cloud, and sunbeams that you can see above. The image in the background is a 'skin,' which either chat participant can change at any time.

And that's the key to Rounds: you're encouraged to mess around. You can mess with your own face, or you can mess with your friend's -- either way, you'll both see each other's reactions in real time. In the photo above, Natasha had no idea that I was about to beatify her with a halo -- and the glowing grin that I received positively filled my heart with joy!

I've only touched on the video chat aspect of Rounds, but there's a lot more. Like MSN Live Messenger, there are games like Checkers and Backgammon -- or even Spin the Bottle (with built-in questions and dares!). One of the coolest features is the ability to 'share' a website; you can open up Facebook or Flickr and share the mouse, navigating this way and that. (What a great way to share a photo album with friends and family online!) There are also some FarmVille/Facebook'ish aspects like Coins and Gifts, but I haven't played with them yet.

In conclusion, Rounds converted me from mature-and-serious into a wobbly pile of giggles. That's not bad for a Flash app and a five minute conversation.

Tags: 6rounds, app, audio, facebook, gixoo, rounds, social, video, video chat, VideoChat, webcam chat, WebcamChat

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