Video chat is pretty cool and popular with certain demographics but it almost certainly makes no business sense. All the press announcements from Google and Facebook about it don’t change that one iota.
Video chat just isn’t that useful
The trouble? Most video chat is boring and/or awkward. Instead of just talking on the phone, you have to look at the other person as they try to remember they’re on cam and not let their dressing gown fall open or to start eating their bogies or letting their mouth hang open while eating Pringles.
Worse still if, like me, you’re ugly. I can project a charming persona easily enough over IM, but I just can’t pull that off if I you can see my sweaty head, big schneb, unshaven chin and the arresting visual deformities that cross my brow when I’m thinking.
If you’re desperate to get into someone’s knickers or catching up with a distant family member, those are just the hurdles that you have to find the moral fibre to overcome. Outside that, the novelty vs. usefulness figures are awful.
Sure, some hipster company somewhere runs video chat instead of a conference call – but that’s more because they’re still 23 and bother brushing their hair of a morning. The rest of us want to make rude hand gestures at the phone or roll our eyes contemptuously without being seen.
Phone calls and IM are better
Phone calls and IM still dominate the communication sphere for a simple reason: the tech is so simple and it accords us a little privacy to go about our business while chatting to someone. I can lie to you on IM about what meeting/phone call I’m not actually taking in a way that I can’t on video.
It’s still mainly the economics though, stupid
People look back at the playful era of the dotcom boom with a certain fondness and enjoy a chortle at those silly things that people did back then in their naivety as if these people were Edwardian simpletons. That mentality is, however, alive and kicking in 2011.
Fact: video chat is an unmonetisable expense.
- Search and social can be turned into money, because there’s data to work with: demographic or intent
- Video is still the most bandwidth-intensive format for communication
- No-one will be clicking ads when they’re ‘accidentally’ bending over to show their cleavage in a better light
- No-one will be clicking ads then they’re intensely watching someone else in the hope they accidentally bend over to show their cleavage in a better light
So in both cases, Google+ and Facebook have effectively announced that they’re increasing their cost of operation for no sound business reason other than “grab some column inches and hope”.
Imagine, say, that British Airways announced that all passengers would receive a free massage on all flights. Investors and the press would quickly mark them down as crackpots and start selling like hell. But hey! This is tech! It’s different! And awesome!
Assuming that the people running these companies aren’t actual mentalists, you’ve got to figure that they know this and understand that video chat just won’t become that common – and that this is actually just advertising hype rather than anything that anyone asked for.