Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sure...But What's It DO??

From Financial Times Front Page
So anywhere you go on the web this morning, you see this somewhat surprisingly breathless report of (yet) another video chat application for the Facebook platform.  I guess it may be news because it's the brainchild of Napster wunderkind Seans Parker and Fanning.

My first thought is the fairly obvious "how many free video chat platforms do we need, and what can one do to differentiate itself from the others"?  I mean, you talk to someone while looking at their face (or whatever they happen to have their webcam pointed at - my impression has been that faces were not commonplace on ChatRoulette).  We've had Skype and GChat for years.  Why bother?

But that leads to the larger question: Is this something people generally want to do?  I've been hearing about videophone services since the 1960s.  It's been possible for a long time, and yet it has never become commonplace, let alone a default mode of communication.  Videoconferencing is certainly valuable for businesses and widely distributed organizations - allowing people to work together on projects, sharing computer screens, presentations and even white boards, all while getting to know their colleagues a little better.

But video chat?  You have to stay in front of the webcam, which is not typically how people tend to behave on a telephone call.  I, like many of you, am a 'pacer'.  For the same reason I love Bluetooth - the freedom to wander around the room - I would not be an ideal candidate for a video chat session.  But even beyond that, is this something we'd like to do?  Our sense of what a telephone call is, that voice-only conversation where we've learned to replace the visual cues with more exaggerated verbal ones, is highly developed at this point and I'm not sure the distraction of looking at someone contributes to communication.  Beyond that, it's just our face (or, for some, our junk).  I suppose it's interesting to see what people look like, but after you've seen them, the ongoing image of that moon-like face just loses any value.  I did, however, read about an outfit that's building a video chat app for smart phones that uses the front facing camera.  That might be much more interesting - the ability to show people what you are talking about, or just have a view from out the window while you talk would at least be more interesting than the endless staring at your poorly-lit face.

I don't know.  The lesson here is even in a gold rush, where the first cool new app in a given category tends to make money, is that just doing the same things, doing things that have been done, or even doing things that have been done and don't seem to be important or exciting just isn't likely to get you anywhere.


  1. We should sell pickaxes and beans to the video-conference platform builders.

  2. Yup. Saw a vid-'phone at Disneyland in 19-&-60, & it looked about like GChat does now. If I had enough lighting in this dump to make myself look tolerable, maybe ...

    But for the past 50 yrs. no one has really wanted it, esp. the ladies. If you're gonna slap on the war paint, you might as well meet in person.

  3. It seems like the only thing to do is to come up with better compression...but in a way that doesn't matter either because the series of tubes is getting faster and the machines are more powerful.

    I don't get new video chat options either.