Will Video Calling Catch on in the U.S.?


So what’s it going to take to turn us into a nation of video chatters? Given how much we use our cell phones, we’re certainly a nation of chatters. Given how much television, YouTube, Netflix and other streaming video we watch, we’re certainly a nation of video watchers, as well. But will we put the two together? Research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that only 19 percent of Americans have tried video calling at least once, and only four percent engage in it regularly.

The world’s major technology companies are certainly banking that video calling will be a part of all our futures. This week, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced his company is launching a new (and free, at least for now) Skype-powered two-way video calling function to its 750 million (give or take) worldwide members. (And since Microsoft now owns Skype as of May of this year, the Giants of Redmond have a hand in this operation, too.) Apple jumped on the video calling bandwagon last year with the addition of FaceTime, a video chat function available for Macs, iPhones and iPads. Not to be outdone, Google has incorporated group video chat (the application’s official name is “Hangouts”) into its new social networking platform, Google+.

The trick, these technology behemoths believe, is to make video calling more accessible and simpler. (Sure, you can video chat now if you download an application, create an account, figure out how to use your Web cam and have anyone you want to chat with do the same...but I probably lost you at the “download an application” part, didn’t I?) What American users seem to want is one button to click to initiate a video call, without ever needing to leave the social networking Web site or application they are in.

Michael Wolf, VP of research at GigaOM Pro, told the Chicago Tribune that companies like Facebook, Apple and Google are tackling the “accessible and simple” part of the equation. These companies are “becoming these all-in-one, unifying communication systems where they absorb email, messaging, IM,” said Wolf. “Now they’re absorbing video communication. It’s a world where you can basically have all your electronic communication needs met by staying within their framework.”

Where Facebook may fall down on this endeavor, therefore, is the fact that the its new video calling functionality isn’t quite integrated right onto members’ walls. Rob Seaver, CEO of Vivox, a company that powers T-Mobile’s recently launched Facebook calling application, Bobsled by T-Mobile, thinks this will be a significant drawback for Zuckerman et al.

“While this is a fantastic technical accomplishment for Facebook and Skype, because the video calling feature isn’t integrated directly into the site, we believe this makes the service more of a launching pad for a Skype call through your Facebook friends list,” noted Seaver. “In our experience, truly integrated communication tools are easier and more natural and intuitive than separate windows (like this one) or standalone apps.”

Vivox believes that separate logins and phone numbers and communications applications are on their way out, and truly integrated communications tools are the best for talking, texting or chatting with friends.

“The Facebook news of this week,” says Seaver, “Is no doubt a sign that companies are moving into this totally integrated experience, but we do see this as a stepping stone to the future where it’s a completely seamless experience to talk communicate with our online friends while connected.”

Chances are, the marketplace will eventually get there. With these new, easier-to-use video calling platforms, many analysts think Americans will be tempted to at least try the services. GigaOM Pro forecasts that five billion video calls will be made in 2011 and twice as many – 10 billion – in 2012.

Now someone just needs to figure out exactly how to make money off it.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2011, taking place Sept. 13-15, 2011, in Austin, Texas. ITEXPO offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It’s also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. To register, click here.

Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

TechZone360 Contributor

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