As I mentioned last week, every Friday I plan to post a stream-of-consciousness rundown on things that are “on my radar.” Basically, these will be things that I’m starting to pay attention to and maybe thinking I should experiment with. Or in some cases, I will have already started experimenting with them, but not have enough to say about them to write carefully crafted blog post.
Today’s topic: Videoconferencing, or screensharing.
Videoconferencing has been on my radar for quite a while. Five years ago, when I was getting ready to leave the large law firm, they were thinking about buying a dedicated videoconferencing system. Back then, those kinds of systems cost well over $10,000. Nowadays, there are all sorts of videoconferencing and screen sharing programs available, some free and some very cheap.
I’ve never understood why people thought that it was of paramount importance to see other people’s faces in a meeting. Sharing screenshots of documents and other visual aids is much more valuable. In other words, a service like GoToMeeting provides the basic tools that people need to conduct those kinds of meetings that benefit from physical presence. Sure, I can understand how it’s sometimes useful to read people’s facial expressions to get a sense of what they’re thinking, but that is of lesser importance than sharing documents.
I’ve been using GoToMeeting for several years, and while it costs $49 per month, it’s incredibly useful for sharing documents on my screen so that people can see what I’m talking about. Recently, I found out about a service called Join.me that allows someone to show their screen to up to 200 people at a time; and, it’s free.
The proliferation of services like iChat, Google video chat, and Apple’s Face Time, signal that we’re about to enter the age of widely used videoconferencing—if we’re not there already. This, to me, is another example of how small firms have an advantage over larger firms.
Large firms have either, already invested in expensive videoconferencing technology (that is now much cheaper and easier to manage using lesser cost tools), or are still considering making that kind of expensive commitment. By the time most large firms get around to adopting and frequently using videoconferencing technology, the mainstream tools will be cheaper and more widely available through things like Face Time or Google video chat. In other words, the small firms can adopt and adapt more quickly as this arena develops.
It’s the same problem that large firms encounter when they try to implement proprietary social networking tools; Facebook is already here and people know how to use it (ditto Google +). But large firms gravitate towards expensive proprietary things the way that moths steer towards light. Mindlessly.
Mainstream adoption is going to take place around tools of people already understand how to use, not expensive proprietary tools that massively capitalized companies robotically spend money on.
So the question really is this: which of these videoconferencing tools will emerge as standard-setters and receive mainstream adoption? My guess is there’s room for several different kinds of services. GoToMeeting and WebEx will fight it out for that share of the market that wants to be able to schedule screen sharing meetings in advance, don’t need to broadcast more than 15 people a time, and are willing to pay up to $49 per month.
People who wanted to videoconferencing where they can see all the participants faces will find that, if they just want to meet with three or four or five people, they can use some free service like Google video chat or Apple iChat. Those services are limited to four people at a time right now (a constraint probably mostly dictated by bandwidth issues), but that limit will keep rising steadily in the next couple of years.
The reason this question is on my radar is that it’s interesting that the technology needed to make videoconferencing happen is largely in place already. What needs to happen now is for more people to (1) become aware that it’s available, and (2), to see it as something incredibly useful in the business setting, i.e. a way of eliminating many physical meetings, or streamlining them and making them more productive without making the participants all have to come to the same physical location to discuss something.
We’ve built the video technology and spread it out all over the place. Bandwidth is cheap and ubiquitous, and there is plenty of competition. So, when are the people going to adopt this as an everyday tool for business?
I think in the next two years at most.