Video Killed The Radio Star
I just sat through some of the live Facebook announcement whereupon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and team introduced a couple of new site features, including group chat and Facebook video chat.
This announcement, of course, comes on the heels of Google’s introducing of its own social play, Google+, and more notably, Google Hangout, a group video chat and “hangout” feature that has gotten a lot of positive pixels since it emerged.
Facebook’s video chat play was built atop Skype, although a Facebook engineer emphasized in the announcement how seamless the integration was, Go Team.
Google Hangout also has a seamless video chat feature that requires no plug-in, but it is sending its streams through a Google cloud instead of peer-to-peer and, as already mentioned, featured group chat out of the gate.
What Facebook doesn’t yet have is exactly that, group video chat, even after today’s announcement.
That may well be due to the limitations of Skype’s peer-to-peer technology, remembering in the past Skype has limited video chat to 5 users at a time. Google’s open-standards-based video service, conversely, is delivered via its massive cloud infrastructure and so doesn’t have that ceiling.
Both approaches, of course, have their pros and cons — we’ve seen Skype impacted by its “supernodes” failing simultaneously, thereby losing the Skype “traffic cops” that helps connect its users with one another.
And we’ve also seen numerous examples of cloud services going south for hours or days at a time, leaving users high and dry and cloud services unavailable.
But, generally speaking, both Google and Facebook have a pretty solid record for availability and uptime, so we’ll assume for a moment these services will be highly available.
That brings us to the interesting calculus that helps in understanding the business relationships underlying these services.
Facebook continues to hitch its wagon to Microsoft, Skype’s new owner, for its video chat service. In today’s press conference, it was indicated that the vanilla Facebook video chat capability would be free, but that Facebook/Skype/Microsoft juggernaut might offer paid premium services inside Facebook at a later date.
Google’s service, being homegrown in its own cloud, doesn’t seem to be limited or enslaved by any such business development deals in the video area.
Rather, their uphill climb into getting more users onto their video chat service is directly correlated with their challenge of getting more users to move beyond leveraging Google simply for in-and-out search queries, and instead view it is being directly related to the social graph/circle battle being fought by these two Goliaths, one where Google tries to stand on its own as a viable social network.
On that front, although Facebook has enabled its Facebook “Lists” capability to allow you to create specified lists of friends (Your yoga buddies, your family, your co-workers, and so on), Google’s “Circles” is a much easier-to-connect, not to mention more user-friendly, way to connect and allocate access to my social graph, at least to this user.
But user-friendliness and a few blog posts may not be enough to help Google charge that hill. One wonders if Google+ just might not be the first service that could benefit from some serious mass media advertising on Google’s part, one that could attract and lure a wider audience to try the Google+ and Hangout services.
Then again, maybe they could just buy a run-of-site advertising buy on Facebook, targeting it at 18-34 year-olds who are overly avid users of Facebook!
Whatever their strategy, what’s past is sometimes prologue.
In MTV’s early days, the first music video that aired on August 1, 1981 (perhaps tongue in cheek) was The Buggle’s hit “Video Killed the Radio Star,” which lamented a singer whose radio career was cut short by TV.
The music business would never be the same.
And though group video chat may not be the thing that sees the death of text chat on services like Facebook and Google, I do think their emergence could be the beginning of a much more video-oriented online culture, one which we’ve somehow managed to (mostly) avoid during the first 17 years of the commercial Internet.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not really mentally prepared to start putting on a sports coat over my pajamas every time I sit down in front of my MacBook Pro.
But the new Facebook and Google video chat services may soon not leave me any other choice.