Videoconferencing Is A Nice-To-Have, Not A Need-To-Have

from the and-so-it-goes dept

Over at Network World, a reporter is noting that videoconferencing has supposedly been “the next big thing” since 1988 or so, and wonders why it still hasn’t really caught on among a mainstream audience. Certainly there are some corporate users, and some people use it to talk to their family via webcams — but it’s still relatively rare. In response, I’d first point out that the promise of videoconferencing as the “next big thing” goes back well before 1988. There was a ton of hype around AT&T’s plans to offer videophones back in the 1960s — and it went nowhere. The reasoning is the same as it’s always been. In most cases there’s simply no need or no desire to have a video connection. You can accomplish just as much with voice communications, and the video is often seen as more of a negative than a positive. For a video call you need to make sure you look presentable, which isn’t great for unplanned calls. It also doesn’t let you do anything else while you’re on the phone. In other words, it offers very little benefit and has some serious downsides that make it less than useful for many users. So, no, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that after 45 years or so, there still isn’t all that much interest in video conferencing.

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Comments on “Videoconferencing Is A Nice-To-Have, Not A Need-To-Have”

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The Man says:

You can lead a horse to water.......

I spent a large amount of money implementing a video conf. system to tie corp. office to many remote offices that are at least 1 hour drive away or more. Wanted to have the people from remote office use the video conf instead of drive to meetings. This did not work. The manager was not used to not being face to face, the employees were not used to not being face to face and the whole thing was a mess. The technology was cool and worked well, you could see and hear everything real time, they just did not want to use it. The people on the far end thought of it like tv and did not participate. They used cell phone and got up to do things like they were not in a meeting. We created protocols and tried to inforce use. I would send someone on both ends to enforce the use of the video conf system thinking that if they got used to it they would use it. None of it worked. I found that if I did not constantly force everyone from the dept. manager to the end user to use it, and monitor every meeting, they would not use it. Very frustrating. I also have to admit that once the novelty wears off, their is not much you can do over video that a phone and an email account to share a document could not also do.

DMM says:

Personal uses

For family or loved ones that are separated by long distances, video conferencing is a godsend. But there is only value in video conferencing which has reasonably good quality and you can see the other’s facial expressions. The other important thing that is missing from most video conferencing software is ease of use. If it’s not easy to use, it won’t be used.

John Kruse says:

Net value x frequency of use

I would agree that most of the time VTC is a waste of time and resources. The bottom line is that sustained adoption of technology is primarily based on two things, the net value and frequency of use.

I’ve seen VTC pay off in two situations. My current company uses it effectively because it is brain-dead easy and always available. The other example is in virtual connections that run 24/7 between work sites (often in a breakroom or other place where people naturally congregate). In either case, the combined net value a VTC combined with the frequency of use makes the continued use a no-brainer.

For the sake of full disclosure, I’m a co-author of the Technology Transition Model that laid this stuff out years ago after we ran into similar problems with useful technology being used only through constant pressure.

John Kruse says:

Re: Re: Net value x frequency of use

VTC does have value, as do rocks in some circumstances. By lowering the barriers to use, they have increased the net value of use — the pros stay the same, but the cons are decreased.

As per the second post, usually management sees the value and tries to force use. Instead, they should make it incredibly easy to use and try to use it on high frequency VTCs.

Sorry, if I wasn’t clear.

GeneralEmergency (profile) says:


Didn’t NetMeeting, WebEx et al, move quite effectively into this space??

Video of faces in meeting is only important if you don’t trust the people you are meeting with. We’re all there to talk about the work product, which is predominately digital these days, so seeing someone’s PC desktop is more important than their toupee.

Life Size says:

It works. We just setup 7 of these for our company. When our SVP went out and bought them, I told everyone, “It’ll never work”. I too have seen companies spend boatloads of money, dedicate T1 to upstream/t1 to downstream and still have crappy framerates.

This is crazy good. 512MB provisioned for each unit and there is no chop and no delay across our MPLS network. I had to eat some major crow.

Max Powers at (user link) says:

Too much distraction for employees

Even though I have never been involved in a video conference, as an employee, I would hate to been seen during a conference call. I would worry too much about my looks instead of paying attention to the topic at hand. Checking my hair, tie, etc. would be distracting.

I’ve had many conferences sitting at the table with my co-workers and it was always productive.

Anna says:

For the deaf, video conferencing is already here

For the deaf, even videoconferencing on home computers with those cheapie videocams has opened up an entirely new world. Anyone nerdy enough to read Techdirt might want to drop by the main branch of the San Francisco Public library on their next visit to SF. A free videoconferencing service is available to deaf people, matching them up with a sign-language interpreter via live video, and this allows those with limited writing ability to make phone calls.

The computerized TDD system works well for those who are comfortable with the written English language, which is a skill that some deaf adults don’t have.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: For the deaf, video conferencing is already he

A free videoconferencing service is available to deaf people, matching them up with a sign-language interpreter via live video, and this allows those with limited writing ability to make phone calls. That still doesn’t make any sense. Why don’t they just get “interpreters” for them to use TDD then? The video part still isn’t justified.

Bjorn (user link) says:


For the home market, the lack of cordless video devices is a 20-year leap backwards to the “chained-to-the-wall” era. If you can’t bring it with you while you’re frantically searching for pen and paper it’s just not convenient enough. OTOH, I just watched a demo of the video-conferencing included in Apple’s new Leopard OS (never owned a Mac) and the ability to have computer-inserted backgrounds immediately struck me as useful for work situations: no more need to wipe whiteboards of sensitive information. (Now they just need to implement avatars, so the self-conscious amongst us can participate 🙂

illegalprelude says:

im with others that im a very technology sav person and use it on a daily bases. As far as it goes,a lot of times, me and my buddy will be online together and use Vent to just talk while we do whatever (play games, hw, work around the house) and Vent lets us just talk.

But if we were to be Video Chatting, it makes the whole thing awkward. What if im half dressed, what if im doing other things, am I presentable, does he/she know im playing games while listening to their life story.

So while I do think having Video chatting can be very useful, on a daily bases, when it comes to it, alot of people when talking online or over the phone, dont wanna see you sitting on the stall while talking, let alone anything else.

Sneeje says:

Not quite the issue

I don’t think that it has anything to do with not being better than phonecon, email, or chat, or people being uncomfortable being seen. There are plenty of examples where people choose face-to-face over VTC and phone, and that is the crux of the problem. Until alternate methods of communication become as natural as interacting in person, they will flounder.

For example, I hate phone conferences. You can’t have more than a couple people or people step on each other (no visual cues to help sequence contributions), and it is nearly impossible to discuss anything other than status. Having a design call on a teleconference is a nightmare. Plus, invariably, someone calls on a noisy cell-phone, etc.

VTC has the same problem, because it doesn’t replace face-to-face. Too many of the valuable interaction dimensions are missing.

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