Does Video Chat Really Serve a Purpose?

Matthew McKenzie, Editor in Chief / Community Leader | 8/18/2010 | 31 comments

Matthew McKenzie
For years, the videophone was one of those gadgets that looked more at home on The Jetsons than in the real world. It's the sort of technology that was always coming soon but never quite here -- consider the number of sci-fi movies, from Metropolis to 2001: A Space Odyssey, that featured variations on the technology.

Today, the novelty has worn off, and video-calling technology is commonplace. But I still keep these applications at arm's length, and I don't see that changing. Not today, and probably not ever.

Consumers have had lots of chances to play with videophone technology over the decades. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) tried repeatedly in the 1960s and 70s to get videophones off the ground, and it tried again -- and again, and again -- in the 1990s. Every one of these products was a flop, plagued by high prices and usability issues. (A videophone isn't very useful if you're the only person you know who owns one.)

And then there's the modesty factor: Most people sound like a mess when they get up from a nap to answer the phone, never mind what they look like.

It helped a bit when videophone technology moved off phones and onto PCs. Millions of people have purchased Webcams, or they have owned computers with Webcams. The technology was suddenly cheap and easier to use.

In fact, I have at least two of those cheap, easier-to-use Logitech Webcams here at home. One is sitting in a box in the attic, and the other one is... well, I'm not sure where it is. I'll have to look into that.

Why did I lose interest? Partly because "easier to use" isn't the same thing as "easy to use." I can name a whole list of services that support video chat -- Skype, Google Talk, Yahoo Video Chat, FaceTime, and at least half a dozen B-list wannabes. Figuring out how to make a chat happen means getting everbody on the same page. That's a problem, and nobody is even close to sorting it out.

Then again, I'm not sure this really needs to be sorted out. One-to-one video communication was born to be a niche application. Most of us, most of the time, don't want to use it. Whether you're a consumer or a business user, very few calls are worth the hassles that come with being viewed by others in real time.

There are some exceptions. Think back to 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Dr. Haywood Floyd makes that video-call back to Earth. Whom does he call? His family, and in particular his young daughter.

That just about sums it up for me. The next time I'm en route to the Moon, I'll be glad to phone home for a video chat. But here at home, the idea of always being on camera -- or ready to go on camera -- is way too much trouble than it's worth.

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glenbren   Does Video Chat Really Serve a Purpose?   9/2/2010 8:44:34 AM
Re: Video Chat artilce from today's LAT...
When I first glanced at your message, and read that a makeup artist charges $50 for a video chat session, I still had in my mind using vido chat to screen candidates, and I thought it was $50 to make you up for a video chat session!  Maybe it'll come to that, lol!
Fredric Paul   Does Video Chat Really Serve a Purpose?   8/26/2010 5:19:47 PM
Re: One to ones, not so much.
OTOH, sometimes you wake up several years down the road and even though you never actually had the "year of..." that everyone was expecting, the technology in question has quietly gone totally mainstream.

LANs went through that back in the day, and more recently we saw something along those lines with VoIP.
Matthew McKenzie   Does Video Chat Really Serve a Purpose?   8/26/2010 1:52:01 PM
Re: One to ones, not so much.
If next year was supposed to be breakout year, and they're still saying that 10 years later, odds are it will still be the case in 10 more years.

Yeah, witness the Year of Desktop Linux. Coming next year...every year since what, 1998?

Suzanne Robertson   Does Video Chat Really Serve a Purpose?   8/26/2010 11:08:03 AM
Video Chat artilce from today's LAT...
I unfolded the LAT business section to see a photo of a makeup artist who charges $50.00 an hour for a video chat session to "evaluate faces, suggest makeup and teach application techniques" No wonder he has such a big grin on his face!!! Article has some interesteing points about the future of video chat:,0,725459.story
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Fredric Paul   Does Video Chat Really Serve a Purpose?   8/20/2010 5:37:09 PM
Re: Almost everyone...
@nimanthad and Matt:  I'm on the side that this is MORE secure. With live video, it's harder to pretend to be someone else, and harder to do mass spam attacks. Sure, an exceptionally charming social engineer might be able to leverage the video call, but even that risk is likely to be less than a face to face encounter.

Fredric Paul   Does Video Chat Really Serve a Purpose?   8/20/2010 5:33:08 PM
Re: Almost everyone...
@catalyst: The fact that people are actually using it means more to me than all the marketing studies in the world. So maybe there IS a future for video calls after all.
Fredric Paul   Does Video Chat Really Serve a Purpose?   8/20/2010 5:31:43 PM
Re: One to ones, not so much.
@Matt: If next year was supposed to be breakout year, and they're still saying that 10 years later, odds are it will still be the case in 10 more years.
Matthew McKenzie   Does Video Chat Really Serve a Purpose?   8/20/2010 11:45:41 AM
Re: One to ones, not so much.
From that IWK SMB story:

Despite those issues, observers expect SMBs to deploy more videoconferencing systems in the coming months. "For more than 10 years, vendors have been proclaiming that the videoconferencing market is about to experience a dramatic uptick in use," concluded Info-Tech's Angl. "Such statements are no longer marketing hype."


Although whenever I hear somebody insist that a claim is "no longer marketing hype," that tells me it's still marketing hype.
Matthew McKenzie   Does Video Chat Really Serve a Purpose?   8/20/2010 11:42:34 AM
Re: Almost everyone...
@nimanthad: Fascinating point about the security implications. Although I suspect this cuts both ways -- social engineering attacks might be MORE effective if the target sees the person to whom theyre talking, even if they don't really know the person.
nimanthad   Does Video Chat Really Serve a Purpose?   8/20/2010 5:31:44 AM
Re: Almost everyone...
I totally agree with Catalyst. Simply because Video Chat is very important for major business deals. By looking at the video, you knw dat ur passing the information to the right person and even if its very sensitive information you do not have to be scared since you can see that person live. Just imaging with the current spamming and hackers, you never knw who is chatting with u from the other end even though the chat ID is the same. What happens in such a scenario where you pass some sensitive information about your business to a hacker by thinking that it is your business partner ?
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