Video Conferencing – SightSpeed Taking Aim at Business

October 30, 2007

in Accelerating Innovation

Peter Csathy starts his day looking into a video cam. In fact he probably spends more days and hours on a webcam than anyone I know. He couldn’t run his business without it and that’s the part of the conversation that grabbed me. I spoke to Peter (I think) soon after he started at SightSpeed. Today, Peter still lives in San Diego and the company is in Berkeley. I know he wouldn’t have been successful without SightSpeed. He’s actually living proof you can build relationships and manage remotely.

Let’s spend a moment and think about why it works for Peter. It’s not about technology it’s about attention. In today’s world our attention is everywhere… chat windows, twitter updates all flashing across the screen at the same time. In a typical conference call I can easily chat with someone else, do email or otherwise. What my cohorts may fail to get is my full attention. In fact if I walk into large companies today I often see the same “crackberry” behavior in meetings. Video is different. People can see your attention. For short calls; meeting replacements just having to show your face will enhance the quality of the conversation. F2F or face to face still helps to start relationships. Video enables you to enhance those relationships even from far away. Further the longer you use video the easier it is to leave it on… even when you or your group is working. It adds to that ambient intimacy.

Having worked recently with Indian software companies I’ve used Skype as the primary means of communication. However, no one had webcams and conference calls often seemed to go on too long. With the time zones attention losses seem to be even more apparent.. and it is easier as a group to become disconnected. If you are spending all your time creating global links and need global communications it makes sense to embrace video. If you are running FreeConference Calls with a group then consider doing SightSpeed for a few extra bucks.

Small Businesses can use this tool. Sales presenters could use this tool. The real power at the moment is to look at it a better form of distributed group communication where having everyone’s attention is important.

My net net on Sightspeed today is…

  • It may just be a great investment for your company. Managing a dispersed sales team. Managing a global project team etc. The voice isn’t up to Skype’s quality; it is still better freeconference.com. Briefings, etc. It’s getting closer to an easy way to have them. In Recruiting.. maybe… although one to one is good enough.
  • It looks disruptive (they need to go from 4 to 8 in a video conference call capability quickly). I can’t get that number of participants anywhere else at this quality level. It’s probably worth the trade-off.
  • The quality of the interface, and the overall user experience still needs work. It’s not horrible, it just does many things that could be done a lot better. The UI hasn’t had a radical change in ages and it needs one.
  • Pricing plans? Not unreasonable. For small businesses more flexibility may be required.

The competition.
Skype: For one-to-one video Skype is simply better. It provides a sharper picture even if it breaks up from time to time. That’s also based on the current format for Skype and not their beta 30fps format that they have in test. The results are thus different; needs research. Skype also fails to add obvious features like video messaging that is now available to everyone for free on Facebook. Skype appears to continue wasting opportunities to lead the pack. It should have 5 person video conferencing by now. There is a business proposition for this.
iChat: Apple’s latest upgrade with Leopard has a great new set of features. Things I’ve had to do to share files, or show a slide show etc, put a background behind my cam etc are all integrated. I find you cannot read the word document put up. Slide shows of pictures was most impressive. Enabling this type of collaboration takes the whole genre much further. In UI and functional execution iChat is probably is close to Skype and better in many ways. I’d add as it has been from the beginning. However even when I wrote up iChat years ago with video the problems remain. The voice quality sucks and the video remains mediocre. I’ve yet to test Leopard to Leopard, is this the problem? Apple! you need to fix this stuff.
Rest?: Forget the other IM clients. Perhaps MeBeam a result of Wigiwigi will one day emerge. I’ve seen other systems come and go in this space. Eg VSkype. It get interesting when it works on mobile. That’s also a different usecase for the most part. Camfrog and white label products using Adobe are out there. Adobe is perhaps the biggest challenge over time

Taking the Business Route:
The biggest risk to Sightspeed is Skype making Video Conferencing for groups etc. free. If you ask me there is no better way to continue to grow their business into small enterprises. The premium and value adds are all in the organization. That organizing system already exists in companies like Free Conferencing.
Lots of opportunities. for customer service etc over time. Companies sponsoring group discussions, and meetups. The virtual Face to Face. It’s coming. Since groups will aready invest time in group conversations it’s coming. Participants need to go up.

So Peter is rightfully bullish on video conferencing. Conceptually it’s as disruptive as Skype although short term on a smaller scale. It provides a great way to infect people. It does need champions in the small businesses to succeed.

SightSpeed Business is positioned to disrupt the multi-billion dollar business video conferencing market now dominated by “the big guys”, all of whom essentially sell only high cost room-based hardware systems that sit in conference rooms and collect dust due to lack of use and and lack of ease of use. The “big guys” (Polycom, Tandberg, HP, Cisco) also only address the top 5% of companies in terms of revenues and size, whereas SightSpeed Business meets the needs of all businesses — including SMBs. (Think of it this way — we aim to do to business video conferencing what Salesforce.com did to the CRM business.)

Digital Media Update: SightSpeed Open for Business — SIGHTSPEED BUSINESS Now Live!

Video should be on a roll. As communications go more global and collaboration is more far flung the visual and the real-time chatter (twitter, chat, updates) complement each other. We keep video open longer in many cases. I’d like to see Sightspeed press the boundaries a little more. I’d like to see an API, I’d like a strategic discussion. The parts are there to create something much more powerful. It’s just not been done yet. It needs advocates, and many many demonstrations.

I talked about the “Online Presence Spiral” in April 2004. I rubbished Sightspeed then for not matching Skype voice quality (Skype had no video then).  Robin Good and I talked about “The Future of Web Conferencing in December 2003. It is time for an update Robin!. I wrote up my Skype Video First Impressions in December 2005. It’s improved n fold since then. It still requires a technology arms race to run. Then that may not be a bad strategy for the consumer market. For Business that is a little more difficult.

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  • Hi Stuart,
    great and timely points on the new SightSpeed new web-based offering.

    I agree with your comments about the UI, as they are long due and need to take a much more radical approach.

    It’s too bad you do not mention their best of the industry video conferencing recording ability which to me has next to no competition.

    I also think SightSpeed is unfairly matched to IM platforms that can do video as well, while I see it more directly competing with the likes of a little more sophisticated and costly tools such as there in the small business video conferencing space. I may be wrong but while tech specs may be similar, the sales and marketing work has also an impact over time and I think SightSpeed has done an excellent job at NOT slotting itself as a higher grade competitor than just any instant messenger with video.

    I also noticed, that probably ironically, you are calling for an update from me (you write: Time for an update Robin!), but you are referencing an outdated blog URL, off since over 2 years. If you want to look at my latest coverage of SightSpeed you can check out:
    http://tinyurl.com/3ypl84
    and all of my recent work is found via
    http://www.masternewmedia.org

    Keep up the good work!

  • Hi Robin,
    Great comments. You are right, they are targeting a different group and I think they have a real opportunity to cut out new ground targeted to business.

    On recording capability I’ve had a bug so far and not able to test it. I plan to try a four person video call and record it. Maybe you would like to do that with me and a couple of others.

    I use http://www.ecamm.com/mac/callrecorder/ for my mac and Skype it is simply brilliant. It provides more features than the Sightspeed recording approach.

    I can’t help but compare to Skype. That is my day to day video service. I do think there is an opportunity for businesses to push video in certain situations. Sightspeed provides the beginnings of a gesture or request that will get used. Like the UI it requires more development.

    Cheers

    Stuart

  • Thank Staurt for the comments.

    Regards,
    Mark.

  • Thanks for the great insights.
    It’s really valuable information.

    I’d like you to check out our free, online video conferencing service called PalBee.com. At PalBee.com, we offer registered users the ability to talk with their colleagues, friends, and acquaintances in a presentation-focused interface that combines the most important features of communication. Visitors of our web site can also use it to record online presentations, which can be viewed at a later time by anyone with an Internet connection and a flash-enabled web browser. If people would like to add this ability to their own web sites, we offer a Mashup API that registered beta testers can add to their own sites in order to offer free online video conferencing to their own places on the web.

    Hope you enjoy the service 🙂

    Albert

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