There has been a lot of talk in the last months about the democratization of video. If you’re not familiar with this term, it basically means that anyone, and everyone, would be able to create, broadcast and share videos. User-generated content (UGC) websites such as YouTube, easy to use video editing solutions such as iMovie, and the successful proliferation of video cameras create a reality where anyone with a camera can become a video producer and broadcaster.
In a recent IMTC2025 panel titled “The Democratization of Video Conferencing” RADVISION’s Amir Zmora, together with a few esteem counterparts, discussed the same reality in the video conferencing market. The availability of high quality cameras, even for desktop users, the ability to conduct a video conference in high definition from your desktop, and the improvements in call quality have made video conferencing as popular as ever, allowing anyone, and everyone, to communicate using this technology. What I call a real means of communications.
The signs of the democratization of video calling process are everywhere: Steve Jobs announcing FaceTime, Skype and its likes reporting record numbers, and the continued growth of the video conferencing market.
The Case of ChatRoulette
But maybe the best sign for the democratization process of video calling is ChatRoulette. In case you – somehow – missed the tremendous hype around this new website, let me sum it up for you quickly: it’s all about video calling.
Molly from RocketBoom explores ChatRoulette.
What ChatRoulette does, in a simple and slick way, is connect users one to another, with video as the main source of communication. In fact, testifying from my own limited personal experience, audio is redundant in these “chats”. It’s all about video and instant messaging. And a whole lot of fun.
The success of ChatRoulette – from hundreds of users in December to thousands in February, and all the way – according to the 17 year-old ChatRoulette founder, Andrey Ternovskiy – to more than a million users at any given time is the best proof that video calling has a great value.
Of course, there’s a lot of controversy around ChatRoulette, no one can deny its appealing nature – it’s not just talking to strangers, it’s seeing them. And that ability, to see the remote participant, is what ChatRoulette is all about. I doubt that it would be as successful without the video.
Popular artist Ben Folds performs live piano improvisation
for random Chatroulette users during a live concert.
Brilliant Service, Old Technology
Although ChatRoulette is a brilliant service, you can’t really call it innovative. As Sam Anderson of the New York Times noted back in February, ChatRoulette is “built entirely out of recycled parts” – chat, which we all know and like, and point-to-point visual communications, which Skype have made a reality a long time ago.
Anderson says ChatRoulette’s charm is “the tension between chaos and control”. In my view, it’s more than that – it’s the ability to connect to strangers, all around the world, in the most natural way possible, using video. With all due respect to camera consciousness, resolution, bitrates and camera quality, ChatRoulette proves that that ability to see the other side overcomes all the technical problems.
And it’s easy to see how ChatRoulette can evolve to become so much more. Quoting Sam Anderson:
A curated version of ChatRoulette – powered maybe by Google’s massive server farms – that would allow users to set all kinds of filters: age, interest, language, location. One afternoon I might choose to be thrown randomly into a pool of English-speaking thirtysomething who like to read poetry. Another night I might want to talk to Jet fans…
The site could even keep stats, like YouTube, so you could see the most popular chatter in any given demographic. I could get very happily addicted to a site like that.
I doubt that ChatRoulette would be here in a year. You can already see the hype dying. Nevertheless, what Ternovskiy and the millions of enthusiastic ChatRoulette users have proven is that visual communications are attractive and serve our communication needs in a whole different level than we’re used to.
And it proved that the technical and cultural landscape is ready in terms of the democratization of video calling. “The people” are already voting for video with their webcams.