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Video Calls – Will the Technology Survive?

October 7, 2014

© 2014 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

When people first get the technology to make video calls, they get excited! But interest in this terrific concept always wanes. What will it take for the technology to survive and, more importantly: thrive?

Why Do People Always Get Excited About It?
I see it over and over again: people get excited about being able to make video calls! Whether it’s friends calling friends, lovers calling lovers, or grandparents calling grandchildren, this is a technology that holds a lot of promise! The tools are plentiful: Cisco, Skype, Lync, Facetime, Tango, GoToMeeting, and a zillion others! Even many VoIP phone systems can accommodate video calls now!

With the technology so prevalent and, truly, at most of our fingertips, why doesn’t it take off? Why don’t we see (pun intended) more people making video calls?

Why Do They Lose Interest In It?
There are a few reasons I’ve seen develop into patterns:

  1. We often lose interest in the ‘new thing’ after awhile, and video calling falls prey to this tendency like anything else does.
  2. Some people don’t like how they look in video calls! I’ve seen entire organizations decide to prefer video calls over audio-only calls, only to have that decision reversed a couple of months later. Let’s face it: we get self-conscious! Plus, we lose the ability to do other things while in a conversation– multitasking feels rude in a video call!
  3. Video calling systems are limited; most only let you connect with someone using the same software or platform. Thus there is often no way to video call someone not using the same system.

The first two reasons can be overcome if the prevalence of video calling could push us to a greater comfort level. But the third will forever keep the technology from becoming widely adopted. What if I don’t like Skype’s user agreement that lets them use my computer to route other people’s calls and consume my bandwidth? What if I don’t have an Apple device and thus cannot use Facetime? What if I don’t want to install yet another video call app on my system because someone wants to connect with me who doesn’t have any of the many video call apps I’ve already installed?

What’s It Going To Take To Become Standard?
The industry that provides apps to access and to power this technology need to agree on standards that allow differing systems to interact with each other without requiring that both parties in a call use the same app. This is exactly what it took to make email so common! Here’s a quick history of email:

  • In 1965, MIT began electronically sending messages within its system.
  • By the mid-1980s there were dozens of systems that could send messages to others using the same network and technology.
  • A standard was agreed to, called MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) that enabled the exchange of email between differing systems. Even so, early systems only worked for those within themselves (remember CompuServe?).

A set of standards needs to be agreed to and adopted so someone using Facetime can video call someone using Skype or Cisco or GoToMeeting. Anyone who wants to create a terrific video call app should be able to, and that will drive technological advancement and advantage to the point of making the video call as ubiquitous as email.

The Drive for Profit and Advantage
Some of the companies offering video call apps and platforms may be concerned that sharing their technology may impact their profitability and cause them to forfeit their advantage in the marketplace. I’m an entrepreneur, and I understand. However, consider the example set by electric car maker Tesla and its founder, Elon Musk. On 6/12/2014 they made this announcement on their firm’s blog: “Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.” Forbes Magazine, in a 7/17/2014 article, said, “Tesla’s gambit challenges… conventional wisdom. It suggests that the highest hurdle that innovative companies often face is not the theft of their ideas, but rather the development of new markets.”

Bravo, Tesla! If the electric car is going to grow in popularity and overcome the challenges of the marketplace, many more electric vehicles will need to be on the road. Likewise, if video calls are to grow in popularity and overcome the challenges of the marketplace, a set of standards must be set so everyone can talk with anyone in a video call regardless of the app either end of the conversation is using.

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