202px President George W. Bush conduct a video tele conference at Offutt Air Force Base Video calling   today, tomorrow and beyond.
Image via Wikipedia

Video calling has taken on a new life in the past two or three years as we’ve seen VoIP be rebranded in a sense as unified communication. Video on the Internet gained attention with YouTube, but it’s become much more as sites like Facebook integrate video messaging too. With tools like Skype video is quickly becoming a routine part of our voice calls.

Does Video Matter?

Video technology has made some amazing advances in the past few years. In business, not so long ago, a video teleconference required an expensive, high-end solution. There will always be a place in the large business enterprise for solutions like Cisco’s Telepresence, however, small and SOHO businesses simply cannot support the expense of those tools any more than a consumer.

But there are lessons to be learned from that large business use of video. There are three basic drivers for incorporating video into business work processes:

1: Humanize Communications

Everybody has had to cope with the unending chain of email messages that never quite seem to answer a question or reach a point. Email threads take on a life of their own and last for months. Many times direct human contact is a more efficient method of communicating. A phone call doesn’t provide the subtle nuance of eye contact or body language. Video makes conducting business more human. People want to talk to other people. When we’re trying to close a deal or reach agreement on some important issue, eye contact is a vital human element that we can only maintain through either meeting face-to-face or with a video call.

2: Incorporate Rich Content

Our employers are playing catchup in many ways. When we’re at home we have high speed access to a huge range of services – Blogs, social media sites, podcasts, and video through YouTube and many other rich media delivery systems. We get content information in ways that have replaced the old mainstream media, like broadcast television. If our business workplace doesn’t find a way to incorporate rich media capabilities that deliver content and that we can easily digest, our ability to compete in the market will lose effectiveness. And as the baby boomer generation begins to retire from the work force, younger workers are becoming harder to recruit because they’ve been socialized to expect readily accessible rich media

3: Reduce Travel

Airline and hotel costs are a huge expense burden for business. In tough economic times like we’re currently experiencing, it’s one of the first things to get cut from the budget. Video collaboration is a great way to eliminate travel expenses for meetings.

These same principles impact our personal lives. Many of us spend our entertainment time watching Hulu, YouTube, PrimeTimeRewind or some other streaming media online. Beyond that, we use tools like Skype, SightSpeed or iChat, partly driven by a hardware improvement – our new computers all come with video built-in today, and most come pre-loaded with one of these video chat programs. For consumers buying a new computer today video works right out of the box. The “geek factor” of having to fiddle with settings and configuration has been eliminated.

The Real Importance of Video

In the communications segment of the tech sector, video has become a hot conversation topic. New ways of using video to deliver a message, cut costs, or simply gain visibility are often the topic of heated debate. A while ago, my partner Sheryl wrote a blog post Video: Who needs it? that really makes the point:

“As many of you know, Ken and I have promoted ourselves as a hyper-connected couple. Many of you know what that means because you’ve seen it in action. Some of you may guess at what it means, and some of you can’t fathom it.

This morning, while on a Squawkbox call, aka Calliflower, one of the off-topics after the show was about how people use Skype. Jim Courtney mentioned a man he knows who was very homesick, missing his wife while on a business trip, and what he and his wife did was set up a Skype video call while he was gone, and that way they slept together even though they were apart.

I can share with you that Ken and I have not done that, yet, largely, I suppose, because we have yet to spend a night apart. However, should the time arise and that occur chances are pretty good we would do the same. We’ve certainly done other things that many of our friends find excessive.

On another Calliflower call, yesterday, Alec Saunders asked what we all felt the future of video is, really asking if we think there is a future. This made me think about video and my perspective.

A few years ago I couldn’t have imagined being so comfortable with video. For many people in my life that would still be the case. Most of those people don’t live their lives as publicly as I do. Of course when I say publicly I mean that I put video online, am constantly being photographed and having pictures of me posted somewhere, but also because I join conference calls and video calls where any number of people I don’t know may watch.

Besides that, I guess my thoughts on video are due to the fairly large segment of internet users who regularly use or watch internet video. That is something that has changed over time.

The interesting thing with video is that in my experience, the driving force of many of these technologies are porn makers and users. I have many ideas about that, but it’s pretty clear they were the beginning instigators and that’s borne out by the millions of people who simply clicked what they thought was an honest link only to get a porn popup inviting, and then later, forcing them to go to a site they didn’t intend visiting.

Now video has reached a stage where the early adopters are starting to wonder how to use it for business purposes. Not just as a toy few have the ability to use, but as an actual tool that helps business and telecommuting to become a reality that actually works.

Examples of video in telecommuting start from a friend of mine, Peter Csathy, CEO of SightSpeed. I interviewed Peter a year ago, and one of the first things I learned is that he is a telecommuter. Peter lives in San Diego but the SightSpeed offices are located in Berkeley.

One of the things Peter shared with me, and I have stated this a few times because I find it to be a very profound idea, is that telecommuting, and really business of all kinds, begins with a trust factor. In business, in relationships, trust is huge! Now, you can have trust without visual communications, because to say otherwise would mean the blind population could never trust, and I’m not going there! It takes longer to establish, but it is possible.

When you are trying to establish yourself as a viable commodity, you need to come across as trustworthy. That is much easier to gauge when you can see the person, view the body language we all take so for granted, and have a face to face conversation with someone. Video conferencing makes that possible without actually physically being in the same space. Especially today with more bandwidth and faster connections. It’s not the jerky, poor quality motion from the earlier days of video.

I believe video will truly impact our lives in ways we have yet to consider. I also think the naysayers of today will fairly quickly become so used to it they won’t know how they operated in life before video.

Let’s face it, who of us hasn’t had a video call of some sort? I use it regularly. I talk to my family, I talk to friends, we share from long distances changes in each others lives. It’s truly a ground breaker.

Another thought I have with regard to video is that as we stop heading out the door to work, socializing with our coworkers, we are going to need ways to connect with each other, since we’ll spend less time together physically. Video makes it possible for us to still have the contact with others that we crave as humans. Human beings seek comfort from other humans. It’s the way we’re designed. It’s our nature to socialize and commune together. Segregation is not our way. Video really will help as our culture makes the changes it is clearly going to make.

I know many people will scoff at, or disagree with my thoughts. I for one am excited about the changes that are happening. Will they all be good? Probably not. They never have been. Television is an example of that. Video is the bridge to help us stay connected and all it takes is a little familiarizing for us to understand it’s not like being on TV. It’s more like sharing the same space. We used to visit in the same room. This will make it so we still are.”

Personal Video Matters

There are three widely used personal video tools for conversation today come from Skype, SightSpeed  and iChat. These tools deliver PC-based video calling capability with excellent quality.

Computer-based video calls are growing in number every day, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s for business or personal use. The reality is that it’s used for both. Video is a popular and easy to use service that brings people close together.

So Where’s the Rub?

If personal video is so popular and so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it all the time?

All of these powerful video solutions mentioned are computer-based systems. While we use computers daily there’s still a large segment of the population that’s reluctant to try new things. While the task of installing software and setting it up may seem trivial to many of us, it can be very intimidating to someone who isn’t adept at making things work. As easy as these tools are to install, that act of installation presents a barrier to many. Microsoft gave us the phrase Plug and Play, but that simply isn’t a reality when it comes to setting up new things like video. Plug and Pray is a more common feeling among many.

Until video requires zero technical knowledge from basic users – no decision, no setup, no configuration – video services will continue to struggle with market penetration. That’s changing as these tools become more integrated, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.

What About the PicturePhone?

No matter how much we may love the Internet, the basic tool for voice conversation for most of the world is still the telephone. Last week I wrote Why on earth does mobility matter?, exploring how important mobility is. However, video, which isn’t very mobile today, is important today and tomorrow. Today we use wired connections for video, but tomorrow we’ll use mobile video too. More on that another time.

There’s a new company Sheryl and I have been work with that’s revitalizing the idea of a videophone called Vidtel. I say revitalizing because Vidtel’s solution does something previous videophone solutions never did. It really works. All we had to do was plug in to the power and an Ethernet jack on our cable modem connection. The video phone updated the settings and was fully operational within moments.

 Video calling   today, tomorrow and beyond.

The idea of a video telephone in the home or office was first presented to the public as the Picturephone AT&T showed at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_phone for more background). I worked for AT&T for many years, and I never saw a Picturephone that worked worth a darn.

This Vidtel phone, however, works just like a regular phone, and it’s available now. It’s a real product and service that’s just new in the market, but gaining momentum fast.

We knew we’d need a way to test this Vidtel’s solution under real-world conditions so we set one up for my mother on a recent visit. She’s a perfect example of someone who uses a computer, but who wouldn’t take on the challenge of installing something like Skype.


The bottom line is that video is coming to the telephone in a new way. This first product is a great demonstration of how video will enter our homes without any technical knowledge required. Anyone who has a high-speed network connection can use it. It really is cheap, fast and easy – attributes that our society prizes.

Today we are all information age workers and citizens. Sometimes new technologies invade our lives; sometimes they creep in slowly. Video used to be a pipe dream that was so expensive it was unreachable. Not any more. Video calling and collaboration are a reality.

Tomorrow, video will be a central part of our lives. It humanizes and personalizes our communications in the most revolutionary way since voice telephone calls. It brings us into closer contact with people who matter to us. It’s how we’ll share events in our lifestream.

 Video calling   today, tomorrow and beyond.