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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Web Video Conferencing

Two of my startup development clients have recently discussed adding video conferencing to their web offering. Both startups use have two kinds of users involved who are going to want to do 1-to-1 communication through a variety of different communication approaches (text, phone, etc.) and now they want to explore providing video chat between the parties.

An equivalent example (drawing from my eHarmony days) would be providing video chat in a dating site. Since you don't know what users of the site have installed and you would prefer that there's not a lot of downloading required. In looking out there, it seems like there are some flash-based solutions like Sightspeed, ooVoo, SnapYap and Tokbox. Skype would seem to be out because of the fat client download. I even would think that someone having to do a download like WebEx does would be annoying enough that users wouldn't want it.

On the flip side, I would want the system to "call" the person to see if they are available to receive the video chat and/or show them as "not available" if they can't receive a video chat at that time.

So, how could I provide easy-to-use video chat to the users of a dating site?

I'm likely going to need an API to set up various "channels" that will allow on the fly chat sessions or to associate sessions with manually created channels.

Being start-ups and given that we don't know the usage levels, we'd like to keep things cheap.

So, some questions I'm hoping to figure out shortly:
  1. Are there examples out there of sites who are already doing this for their users? I'm not asking specifically about dating, but rather having integrated video chat.
  2. Am I missing video services that would work?
  3. Do I need an API for integration or are there other ways this could work out?
  4. Is there a good way to make this as nice a user experience as possible?
  5. Finally, any thoughts around the viability of video chat for something like a professional networking site? Make sense or not? Are we too early still for the technology?
Any thoughts or help would be greatly appreciated.

13 comments:

onEnterFrame said...

We have been using the Flash Media Server and have experimented with creating a similar experience in our company intranet.
The site keeps track of users availability (if they have the page up) in a DB. Once the user accepts a chat request the flash server creates a 'room' for them and starts the streaming/capturing.
You could find an FMS hosting service for that part.

Tony Karrer said...

First - let me say that's a GREAT handle to use.

Did it take much to do the integration with FMS?

onEnterFrame said...

Not really... we built our own Flash app to talk to the FMS. Most of it is out of the box. The clunky part was pulling the info from the DB into Flash. We did it via xml and php. so the php marks you as present in the DB. Flash app reads a php generated xml from the DB to get your info etc. We do a hash of the two user names to generate a unique room on the FMS. Mostly easy Flash and FMS programing. DM me for more details.
And thanks for the comment on the handle... more often then not I have to explain it.

this.onEnterFrame said...

I just realized I could use my Google account to simplify this... duh.

Anthony Russo said...

Not sure exactly would fit what you are looking to do, but it is possible to embed out videoconference meetings into a website (kind of like a YouTube video)and all participants would not have to download anything to join in.

Available at http://www.ganconference.com/gancnew/web.html

Anthony Russo
Conferencing Consultant
Great America Networks Conferencing
arusso@ganconference.com
www.ganconference.com
http://blog.ganconference.com/
Phone: 312-432-5377
Skype: anth.russo
Twitter: @AnthonyRusso

DrBob said...

Tony try this:
http://flashmeeting.open.ac.uk/home.html

it's a free university offering - not bad.

The social networking video site to be on of course is:

http://www.seesmic.com/

I've played around with that but in truth I always thought that the true value of e-learning was that you could teach in your underpants..

Sue Waters said...

I was also going to suggest Flashmeeting.

Damon Billian said...

Tokbox does have an API available (overview here:http://developers.tokbox.com/index.php/Main_Page).

If you have detailed questions about what it can do, please feel free to contact me & I can have one of our engineers hep.

Gary Wise said...

Good morning eLT bloggers!

I think there are two questions that must be addressed regarding the implementation of web video conferencing.

First - Are we ready and capable given the technology out there? I think that's a big "yes" if there is the appropriate change management to introduce and equip end users with relevant applications in the context of their work.

Second - Are our IS or IT departments ready? Trust me when I say this is no small question, and it's one that must be addressed BEFORE anyone gets all giggly about WVC. I can only speak for our organization, although I suspect this may be more or less visible in others. IS cares about one thing - bandwidth. Actually they care about a lot more, but launch a covert WVC app and see how quickly some really big guys guys show up at your office for a "conversation".

My hard-earned advice is to engage your IS department early if you're utilizing a corporate network with firewalls and a mix of internal and external users. It's not the challenges of transversing network security, it's the availability of bandwidth. Our on-net capacity is plentiful, but the bottleneck to "get out" onto the Internet is the challenge. If WVC was on-net only, we would not have a problem, but an island we are not.

Access costs are decreasing and video technology is becoming much more efficient, but IS mentality is not in the Web 2.0 mindset quite yet.

I mentioned change management earlier, and I must add that a large part of the CM effort must be aimed at IS...and it's not to ask for more bandwidth...it's to build a business case around strategically aligned business applications that deliver a measurable impact to the org.

I call that "wrapping the pill in cheese". Justifiable needs of the business have a greater chance of influencing IS financial decisions to increase bandwidth more so than begging for a bigger pipe to the Net.

So...my point is too not overlook a foundational partner in your adventures into video. It is the future, but it won't happen on yesterday's thinking by a key stakeholder who covets their bandwidth.

V Yonkers said...

Here's one other factor to enter into the mix. Will this be used with mobile technology and camera phones or will it be used on desk tops? The choice of technology will matter depending on if the customer needs to download the technology to use on a desktop, as they would then need to have a video camera attached to the desk top. However, with more and more people using video phones, they may not want to download software to use or might want to use it on their mobile devises.

Michael Hanley said...

Tony,
Here's my suggestion: Adobe have released a free-to-use "lite" version of their Adobe Connect Pro software available called ConnectNow.
The app is "webtop" collaboration software and in my view would provide an ideal introduction to the world of web conferencing & collaboration with minimum capital outlay. ConnectNow allows up to three people have free online meetings, with

* screen sharing
* desktop video
* voice conferencing
* IM-type chat
* white-boarding

The app has some features that could meet your online "presence" criterion, as well as some neat facilities to create, share, and generate content (similar to GoogleDocs). I did a review on ConnectNow way back in May on the E-Learning Curve Blog - click here for more comprehensive overview.

Tony Karrer said...

Thanks for all of this input. I'd not see a few of these.

Damon - you didn't leave your email - drop me a note at: akarrer@techempower.com

I'm actively exploring a few of these solutions. I'll certainly get back once we get farther.

Yuzo said...

I installed Red5 and installed/built a few services around it. Over where I'm at, we started wanting more features, so we looked at integrating with dimdim and installed openmeetings. For us, we wanted the ability to record sessions. These are all more in the web conferencing area, so I do not thing that they may help in a dating like service though.