Point of Beginning Blog

Sight Lines: Can You See What I'm Saying?

October 5, 2009
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The H1N1 flu pandemic and a continued budget crunch has many companies trying to keep travel to a minimum. Recent technology and business developments related to video conferencing seek to capitalize on this environment. While surveying can't be done remotely, many business meetings can be. Is it finally time for video conferencing to soar?

A couple of weeks ago, my mom gave me a new toy-a webcam that facilitates video calls. Admittedly, this technology is nothing new; PC-based video conferencing has been available since the 1990s. But it’s had only marginal acceptance at best, both due to technical issues (low-resolution images with frequent sound problems, among others) and lack of need (aren’t phone calls, e-mail and texting enough?).

Now, however, it appears that the situation is about to change. In late September, Hewlett-Packard launched new video conferencing software called SkyRoom that allows multiple people to share office documents, streaming video and interactive 3D applications. Last week, Cisco Systems launched a $3 billion bid to buy the video conferencing firm Tandberg ASA of Norway. And speculation abounds as to how Google’s Wave might revolutionize the way people communicate with each other by pulling correspondence into real time and, most likely, integrating a video component. Add these technology and business developments to the H1N1 pandemic and the continued budget crunch facing many organizations, and we might just have the perfect conditions for video conferencing to soar as a primary means of conducting business meetings. Maybe.

Personally, I’m not convinced. I’ve found chatting even informally by video to be a bit awkward. For one, just getting online at the same time as the person I’m trying to call has been a challenge. Once we’re connected, I’m uncomfortable seeing myself while I’m talking-it’s just plain disconcerting. And then there’s the matter of eye contact. Is it really possible to have an in-depth conversation looking directly into a little black piece of plastic? But if you instead look at the face of the person you’re addressing, then it appears that you’re looking down or askance. It’s hardly ideal.

A little practice and some high-end technology are said to correct these issues, but I remain skeptical. The reason my mom gave me the camera had little to do with business communications. For her, it’s just a fun way to stay in touch with her grandson. Of course, my 4-year-old loves it. And that thought gives me pause. I suppose that in 10 years, he could very well end up viewing the phone as an obsolete device as he makes all of his calls in 3D video. In that case, video technology could end up revolutionizing business communications, as well.

Perhaps I should start practicing.


What do you think? Does your firm use video calls or video conferencing to conduct meetings with colleagues or clients? Do you see a big potential for this technology given some of the recent developments in software, hardware and the economy? Please share your comments below.

PS – If you’d like to connect with me in a video call, you can find me on Skype. Sometimes.
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