Like a lot of other folks, on Wednesday I was playing with the newly launched video chat capability on Facebook.  Done in partnership with Skype, it brings video chat to the masses via the 750 million Facebook users out there.

First I chatted with Larry Lisser in San Francisco.  Not a good experience.  Grainy, laggy video, and bad audio synch problems.  If this is what Facebook video chat is all about, I thought to myself, it’s going to be a failure.  Next I talked with Dan York and his two year old daughter Cassie.  Great experience, and entertaining as all get out due to young Cassie’s antics on the screen.  Don’t tell Mrs. Saunders, but that little flirt was blowing me kisses the whole time!  And the video was wonderful and in synch.  Clearly the quality problems with Larry were simply network related.  And then I chatted with Jim Courtney, where we quickly started digging through the nitty gritty of the user experience.

What do I love about Facebook video chat?

  1. It’s a little thing, but the window pops up on screen directly below my center-mounted web cam.  It forces me to look into the camera when i’m chatting, which means that I’m meeting the other person’s eye, rather than looking at the screen.
  2. I can leave a video-mail message if the other person isn’t available.  Why isn’t this in the standard Skype application?
  3. It’s SUPER easy to set up and use. For many people, Skype has an intimidating UI with a lot of options.  Facebook video chat is pure simplicity. I could see my wife, or my brother-in-law, both of whom have resisted Skype until now, using this.

It’s probably not going to steal away today’s Skype user.  The experience isn’t as rich, quality isn’t as high, and you have to be logged into Facebook to receive calls.  Instead, Facebook video chat is a great compliment to Skype.

Bottom line: I don’t agree with Om Malik that this is a one-sided deal in Facebook’s favour.  Like Andy Abramson, I think this is a good thing for Skype and for Facebook.  Facebook gets a feature that will allow it to compete against Google +, and Skype gains an audience that they might not have otherwise had access to.  It won’t be long before there are a billion video chatters on the planet, all using Skype technology, and that’s what Skype’s management wants and needs.

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According to the Globe and Mail’s Hugh Thompson, next month will mark the 10th anniversary of the Personal Video Recorder, or PVR, in Canada.  And what a boring and dull ten-year old our PVR has become.  Almost none of the promise of the PVR’s first released in 1999 has ever been realized here.  Instead, our PVR has become little more than a glorified video cassette recorder.

Yes, the satellite and cable industry trumpets the advent of “whole home” networked PVR’s.  What a yawner.  ReplayTV had this ten years ago.  In fact, the current crop of PVR’s is missing a whole host of features that used to be common place!  How about:

  • In-video content search, pioneered by Ottawa’s own Televitesse.  By scanning the caption stream, Televitesse could find specific spoken words in a program, and jump the viewer to that scene.  It was perfect for news hounds.
  • Search and record by cast member, subject, genre, or review ratings.  All delivered by ReplayTV over a decade ago.   My favorite feature of ReplayTV?  Once you had created the search, it would simply record anything on any channel at any time that matched search.
  • Tivo Season Pass – record an entire series, every week, even if the time or the day or the channel changes.

The tenth anniversary of the PVR in Canada is a legacy of mediocrity.  The television companies – Bell, Rogers, Shaw – apparently don’t have the imagination or the desire to improve the viewing experience for the user.

Is it any wonder that so many people are turning to the web, instead of television, for video?

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Cutting the TV umbilical cord

May 16, 2011
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It seems that more and more people are cutting the cable-TV cord these days.  Just this morning, Dianne Nice announced on the Globe and Mail blog that she and her husband would be pulling the plug on pricey TV bills at the end of this TV season.  Her rationale?  The bills are too high, she […]

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Bill C-32 enshrines planned obsolescence

December 6, 2010
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In my basement, there are three milk crates of vinyl records – the music I collected in my teens.  Those records haven’t been played in a very long time.  They became obsolete in October 1982 with the introduction of the audio CD.  CD’s were convenient, easy, and mostly scratch proof.  We all loved them, and […]

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Skype vs Apple–is video the catalyst?

November 29, 2010
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In “The Sunday Morning Reflections on Game Changing Technology” Andy Abramson digs into what’s going on in the video space. You can summarize what he’s saying as “with Facetime, Apple could remake the video conferencing space”.  He lays out a number of scenarios where applications like Webex and GoToMeeting are shared with video via an […]

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Cineplex’ reinvention of the movie business.

November 22, 2010
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I am full of admiration for the management team at Cinexplex Galaxy Income Fund. Background: Ten years ago I invested in a home theatre.  Times were good, I had some spare dollars to burn, and I’ve always been a fan of the movies.  But I really didn’t like the boxy little multiplex movie theatres of […]

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Making a Calliflower promotional video

February 9, 2009

We’ve been working hard on different ways to promote Calliflower as an online meeting tool for the last few weeks.  One of the latest techniques we’re using is online videos. It turns out to be surprisingly easy.  Create a script, grab some stock photos (check out, royalty free music, and put the whole thing […]

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Squawk Box October 29: Guest GIPS

October 29, 2008

This morning we talked with Global IP Solutions about the future of video conferencing. You may remember Global IP Solutions as the company that teamed up with Skype to deliver high quality voice over IP from the desktop when everyone said it couldn’t be done. Today they believe we’re on the cusp of the same […]

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Squawk Box August 19 – Sightspeed VP Eric Quanstrom

August 19, 2008

SightSpeed Marketing VP Eric Quanstrom joined us on this morning’s SquawkBox conference call.  This call was inspired by the fact that SightSpeed seems to be multiplying the number of ways that you can use their technology pretty dramatically. They’re touching everything from MySpace to corporate video conferencing.   It seemed a good opportunity to hear from […]

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Squawk Box June 10: Guest Om Malik

June 10, 2008

Pal Om Malik talked with us today about the launch of NewTeeVee Station, his service for finding and presenting the best of web video to viewers. Om envisions the target audience as the universe of people who have a few minutes after lunch and just want to veg-out with a quick, but quality video clip. NewTeeVee Station is stuffed full of short 5 and 10 minute videos, selected by the editors.

Perhaps the most dramatic part of the conversation was toward the end when I asked Om what it was like to be a media owner, rather than a journalist. In the company of the friends on the line, he talked about his heart attack earlier this year, and how it had impacted his business and his management style. It was truly a remarkable conversation.

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