“Video systems are hot. Web cams, video phones, telepresence, video surveillance, back-up cams for cars, cam-corders, Flips, camera phones, iPod cams, and others.
I am surprised how much video is working its way into our routines. I think we are on camera more than we are not.”
My friend Dave Michels wrote the above quote on his PinDropSoup blog a few weeks ago. In his post “Say Cheese” he also explains why the commoditization of video cameras is interesting to him, as a VoIP and telecom analyst:
“…my point here is that the voice conversation is increasingly shifting to video. Video phones, video chats, video bridges, and video collaboration. Not so long ago, video seemed pretty sci-fi – and that’s my point. Video is here. Video is everywhere and there is a good chance there is a video cam pointed at you right now.”
While I totally agree with Dave, and glad to see visual communications spread around the world (Thanks, Steve!), the growth in video endpoints – from mobile handsets to desktop clients and on to video conferencing units – has brought with it a grown in video calling services, that I’m not sure will serve the interest of the public.
More Services = Worse Experience?
Skype, Google, Apple, ooVoo, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM – these are just a few that recently announced some kind of new video calling-related ability in an attempt to make you, the client, use their service as your primary video calling platform. However, if unified communications has taught us anything, is that many communication options may lead to a worse communications experience if they are not unified.
Let’s just assume I would like to video chat with my friend Tsahi. Both Tsahi and I have Skype, Google Talk, Microsoft’s Office Communicator and the Cisco VTA on our desktop, plus that ability to have a video call over 3G (!) using our mobile devices or using our internal enterprise video calling solution and SCOPIA Desktop. So if I want to call Tsahi, what means should I use?
Presence information makes life easier on me. I can see that, for instance, Tsahi is not logged in to Skype or Google Talk at the moment, and rule out these as an option. However when it comes to other systems, the mobile phone in particular, I can’t really verify that Tsahi is available until I actually call him.
Furthermore, even if Tsahi is online on Skype I am not sure he can – technically – accept a video call. And although some systems, such as Google Talk, indicate whether video calling capabilities are available on the other side, this still remains quite a problem.
And don’t forget Tsahi’s VC240, which sits comfortably on his desk. I bet Tsahi would much prefer to receive his video calls on that platform, but there’s not much he can do about it (other than not take my call). If I initiate the call, I choose the means.
A Unified Solution Is a MUST
It seems that this intermediate situation has to be resolved, or the whole future of video calling would be in risk. And the solution would have to be unification. If you don’t believe me then just ask Lisa Pierce from Strategic Networks Group – she sees interoperability and connectivity as the most significant barrier.
On one hand, it makes sense to have some kind of “leading number”, a single address to call in order to reach someone. That could be via his e-mail, a global ID, or whatever. But I want to call Tsahi, and I don’t really care what kind of platform he’s on (just like with today’s phone calling).
On the other hand, I would want the system to know not only where the user is and what he’s using, but also what his preferences are. If Tsahi is in his office, use the VC240. If he’s walking around, call his mobile. If he’s at home, use Skype. And if he is unavailable, “hunt” him down using all of his communications means.
And a leading number is not enough. A multi-protocol application, such as Meebo, makes sense in that matter – some way to access a variety of communication means through one interface. That would allow the user to take the call from any of the services through the same “answer” button, use the same camera, the same controls and definitions, etc.
And there are also optimizations issues, both in terms of cost and quality of experience – you might want to use a high quality system if possible, and the VC240 is better than Skype in that sense. On the other hand, if cost is an issue, you may want to use a low bandwidth channel and not “spend” your data plan on a video call.
Back to Dave. Video calling services are hot. Rumors of Cisco buying Skype brought the video calling hype to a new record, and it seems that question is no longer “will video” but “when video” and what kind of service will we use.
As more and more conversations shift to video, what used to be regarded as sci-fi will become our reality. We need to make sure it won’t be the reality all those sci-fi horror movies were talking about.