Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Valuing Video Chat

I haven't heard a lot of enthusiasm from the Tech-press over Facebook and Google's recently announced plans to implement video-chat into their social networks, and a recent post on TrustTommy questioned the focus on these services, when there's still plenty of work yet to be done on the basics (such as worthy mobile apps).

The comment I posted on his almost week-old post got no feedback, so I thought I'd expand my thoughts here, which should dovetail nicely with my recent reflections on my long-distance relationship, and my openly declared affection for Google's services.

Basically, video-chat is pretty much the most important thing my internet connection brings me, mostly due to that pesky long distance relationship I'm in. Human interaction is just richer when you can see who you're talking to. I don't just mean reading body language and facial expressions - I feel rewarded when I make my girlfriend smile, and punished when she gives me a withering look, meaning her ongoing behaviour modification can continue in earnest despite our lack of physical proximity.

At present, I'm in a state of transition, spending the Summer with my ladyfriend before moving onto Canada with a work permit, and even though I'm living in the same house as my number one reason for having Skype, I'm still getting regular use out of it to talk to those back in the motherland.

Before I left, I was genuinely concerned that my 18 month old nephew would forget about me in my absence, but a few Skype calls was all it took to assuage this fear. Even though his vocabulary is insufficient to hold a conversation, he happily sits on my brother's lap in front of the computer, warbling at the low-bitrate video stream that he recognises as his uncle. Thanks to the video-chat, I even get to see the pictures he's drawn of us hanging out, like old times!

The next step is convincing his father for a high-quality scan for my fridge

Moving aside from the touchy-feely stuff, consider for a moment the current state of Ireland, and the new generation of Irish diaspora. I think it's safe to say that video-chatting will enjoy a greater prominence than ever before, thanks to how accessible it will be in the years to come.

Facebook is one of those things that almost everybody who has the internet uses (including begrudgers like me), so even the luddites incapable of navigating to and downloading the appropriate software will be able to avail of video-chat goodness, integrated almost seamlessly with the existing instant-messaging service they use to while away their evenings (this assumes that they are able to successfully click 'yes' to installing the necessary java applet). Friends of mine embarking on international excursions talked about 'setting up Skype' as if it's a major chore, so the lowering of this barrier is definitely a good thing.

The most recent video-chat development that I'm excited about is Google +'s group-video chat, in which up to 10 (ten!) users can hang out with a video feed each (once again, Google makes me happy by rolling out free feature that trumps the paid-model offerred by competitors). I've only tested it with one other user (you're still better off with Google Talk or Skype for a one-on-one conversation), but there's a lot of smart ideas at play, the best being how the main video window will change to highlight whoever is talking (or talking the loudest if you're in a rabble).

Video, text-chat, and synchronised YouTube watching (which didn't work when I tested it with earlier) for a group of friends sounds like a good time, particularly since keeping in touch with a large group of people is hard work. Consider the way it is today for the world-adventurers you surely know: connect to someone on Skype, tell them all your news, then connect to someone else, and repeat half the conversation - to date my diplomatic way to avoid this has been to not pick any favourites and not tell anyone anything, Google +'s hangout feature gives me hope that I can catch up on my scattered college buddies in a fun, casual forum.

Et toi, reader? Are there any features about the bold new frontiers of social-networking that excite you?