Commentary

The Evolution of Video Chat

As the Internet has developed and grown technologically, online video has been at the forefront. Consumers are tuning out of television and are instead looking toward the Web to catch up on the favorite shows they missed the night before. Millions of online users are watching live streaming news broadcasts from work (i.e. 4.6 million people watched Michael Jackson's live memorial service last summer via Ustream and are using YouTube to upload and share videos instantly with other Netizens. In short, online video is in high-demand with consumers and has been for many years. Some may even say that video is, and always has been, a step ahead of the Internet game plan.

Let me explain: When people think of online video, many think YouTube. But before YouTube was even a twinkle in the eyes of its developers, online video was already in full force, just in the form of video chat. Ever since the early days of video chat, there were ideas in place to enhance the technology, taking text + image to text + image + voice, and so on and so forth. So, why might you ask, isn't video chat a bigger phenomenon than it currently is?

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The simple answer is availability. Video chat needs availability on every end point. Because it has had to wait on the availability of the hardware and bandwidth to change, it has had a slower start. Until recently, most computers did not come with preinstalled webcams or echo-canceling microphones, which made it more difficult for consumers to participate in video chat with quality sound. While video chat providers cannot control the pre-installed webcam and echo-free microphone issue (this problem is slowly starting to change with the offering of netbooks), video chat providers are fixing this problem by focusing on easy to use URL-based, in-browser video chat options.

All of which brings me to my previous point. Online video has always been a step ahead of the Internet. Video has evolved with the Internet, some might even say a little faster. But the question has always been: How long will it take for the bandwidth capacity on the Internet to catch up with video chat technology? A few specific areas where this has occurred: multiperson chat, social networks and mobile.

Multiperson video chat isn't a recent phenomenon, but some users are just now getting around to realizing how useful and inexpensive it really is as a communication tool. Two friends or family members who live on opposite sides of the world can see and talk to one another in real-time, and the technology is still expanding. In addition to one-to-one chat, many video chat providers also offer many-to-many chat, enabling groups of friends and family to all talk at once ­- regardless of the distance. Some video chat providers enable up to 5,000 people in one chat room, something that requires a significant amount of bandwidth and an idea that had to wait for faster bandwidth speeds before making it available to the consumer.

Until recently, one of the limitations to video chat was that you had to build your network on the provider's platform. Sure, there are chat rooms that can host hundreds of people, but what about the friends who aren't using the same program? That¹s a problem that weighed on the minds of many providers, but solved itself with the advent of social networking platforms. Many video chat providers are now finding ways to not only reside on their own platform, but to integrate and evolve with its audience. As a result, many providers are integrating with social networks like Facebook and Twitter, creating branded video chat communities and allowing consumers to post their video chat links on their Facebook page and invite their friends and family with a simple click of a button.

Mobile smartphones are quickly becoming the one-stop shop for all of the many users' online and offline activity, such as phone calls, text messages, email, social networking, search, and the list goes on and on with each new application. It is a natural progression for video chat to work its way onto the mobile platform. Video chat is evolving from a standalone service to something developed in concert with other technologies and is becoming more readily available to the consumer. Many chat providers already have apps on the BlackBerry and iPhone and, as mentioned before, have integrated with Facebook and other social networks.

One of the biggest complaints during the launch of the original iPhone three and a half years ago and the iPad this year was the lack of video chat capabilities. Video chat providers forecast consumer demand and began building the appropriate functions for hosting video chat on mobile. Now, with iPhone's FaceTime application, video chat is accessible while on-the-go, albeit only with other iPhone users.

Once again, the video chat technology was ready for this well in advance. The point is that while the Internet has undoubtedly changed the way we communicate with one another, online video and video chat technology have always been able to accurately forecast these new trends and capitalize on the changes that the Web has wrought. In fact, chances are that online video providers have already been thinking about the Next Big Thing and are perfecting their technology platforms as we speak.

4 comments about "The Evolution of Video Chat".
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  1. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., August 31, 2010 at 1:09 p.m.

    Good points all! Point to point (ie: person to person) video chat has always been at the forefront of not only consumer demand - but has been a driver in the early adoption of online video as a whole. We're planning on integrating as system we've discovered from a company called PalTalk (www.paltalk.com) that really seems to have it all in terms of features, platform and distribution model.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 1, 2010 at 5:05 p.m.

    In the New York City's 1964 World's Fair, AT&T was introducing a video phone to the public. Something that always left an impression.

  3. Clyde Boyce from Firefly Media, September 1, 2010 at 8:48 p.m.

    I've discoverd vchatter which is one of the newest video chat applications and is one of the fastest growing apps on Facebook. Being housed withing Facebook provides an extra layer of security which can't be found in many other video chat services. So you can be a little more comfortable about not being suprised by a chat partner! It's already oine of the hotttest video chat services in Asia.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 2, 2010 at 6:44 p.m.

    FB and security can't be mentioned in the same year, let alone in the same book or page. Wait....someone is using them in the same sentence.....like I keep saying, this is going to be the sorriest generation ever.

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