The Signs of Video Conferencing Disruption

August 21, 2012

If it wasn’t apparent up until now, video conferencing is going to go through an overhaul in the coming years. And the players are changing.

During my decade+ in a video conferencing company, there was a single most important aspect: video quality. We must make video quality improve between versions: add resolution, increase frame rate, do better error correction. The other aspect? Capacity – crunch more calls in a conferencing bridge. It was, and very much still, the imperative of the enterprise video conferencing market.

We have seen signs of it changing. First with the introduction of video calling in Adobe: crappy quality in low resolution that brought us Chat Roulette and now AirTime: services that change the paradigm of who you video chat with and how, but it also brought home the understanding that video quality might not be the most important feature people are seeking.

You know a disruption is coming when multiple Y Combinator startups are looking into video calling solutions:

Learning new languages

Chat Roulette made the idea of video chatting with people you don’t know an interesting use case. While AirTime are looking at video chatting with people of the same interest list, Verbling is using the same paradigm to assist with learning a new language by connecting a language learner with native speakers.

Push to talk video

QuicklyChat is looking at a different solution for connecting coworkers: it builds its video solution around presence information it deduces from your activity on your laptop and allows starting a video chat with you without you needing to answer it, based on your presence. They believe this is a more natural way of collaborating.

I’ve seen a similar solution used in a different way within a large corporation I once visited: they have built their own video chatting solution over Flash, which allowed accessing anyone’s video camera in the company. The main use? Secretaries wanting to check if someone is at his desk before calling him to tell him there’s a visitor.

Video Conferencing bot

We’ve seen a few of these in the past – a robot on wheels that can provide “telepresence” capabilities. Most weren’t interesting, at least not as the one suggested by Double Robotics. The true story here is taking an off the shelf iPad and making it into a telepresence system with the addition of the robot hardware – a kind of a Segway for the iPad.

Jordan Crook explains why this is disruptive:

The biggest difference, however, is price. While Anybots can go for approximately $10,000, the Double only costs around $2,000. “We’re doing it the lean startup way,” said Cann, “rather than the traditional way of developing robotics which is very expensive and complicated.”


The Y Combinator-backed Double, as it were, can extend to 5′ or back down to 3.6′ to be in line with people standing or sitting in the room. It uses Opentok to essentially let you video chat with those people.

They got there by using commoditized software and hardware for the video service itself.

These ideas were impossible a few years ago. They weren’t even use cases the industry have been looking at. And now, lean startups are developing them. WebRTC will be taking this a step further: it takes video quality out of the equation by outsourcing it to Google and web browser vendors and leaving the path wide open for web developers – a huge community – to innovate with.

The enterprise video conferencing industry needs to look at ways to stay relevant when its basic paradigms and beliefs are questioned every day by new startups with new ideas at a fraction of the cost structure of the incumbents.

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