Thursday, August 7, 2008

Video Calling Anyone?

When I noticed that a startup called TokBox (pronounce it “talk box”) had received a new round of venture funding, I decided to investigate this space. It’s not one of my favorites. The concept of video calling always conjures up the 60s ad (which shows up on PBS and other reports from time to time). The whole point of the really insulting ad was that a woman would have to do her hair and makeup before answering the phone. I can’t find the ad on the Net, although I’ll bet it’s archived somewhere. I did find a piece of interesting history on the Picturephone though, suggesting reasons for its expensive failure.

Fast forward to the present. Skype now offers video calling; I also found a firm called SightSpeed that seems to emphasize the business uses of its service. TokBox offers a video calling service that doesn’t require either party to download special software, and that seems to be its primary benefit. I was also interested to note that they have a feedback tab (expanded here) on every page of the site—good idea. Not surprisingly, they have a Facebook app. That seems to open up a huge network.

Back to the 60s. Do home users really want to be seen when one of their friends initiates a chat session? Answer that for yourself! I have my own strongly-felt answer to that one!! Seriously, I really do think it’s an issue.

CNBC has a video interview with one of the venture capitalists supporting TokBox. It focuses on the business uses of the technology, which once again seem the most compelling to me.
View the video here.

This space will likely continue to generate new entrants and new applications for the large social networks. Given the stress on collaborative work, and as CNBC points out the growing cost of business travel, there seems to be a lot of room for business applications. In the meantime, for sure some dedicated personal users like the fans on TokBox’s Facebook page, will continue to have a lot of fun with it.

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