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Video On Display at VoiceCon 2008

I've long been a videoconferencing critic and have thought of it historically as a "solution to no problem" and I also remember when 9-11 happened and many of the pundits were boldly claming that video use would skyrocket, Polycom stock shot up and what happened? Nothing. So this begs the question: Is this year's strong showing of videoconferencing vendor hype or is it real this time?

I actually think it's real this time and we'll start seeing much broader adoption of it than we did in years past for a number of different reasons.

First, I think the ease of use will help adoption quite a bit. I mentioned how the use patterns didn't really change much when 9-11 happened, and I think ease of use had a lot to do with that. I remember talking with users back then about how crappy the user experience was. Generally it took an IT person about 30 minutes to bring the roll around cart to the person's office and then user got a remote control that was the size of a laptop and it wasn't obvious as to how to even initiate the call. The ISDN systems required the user to know the SPID of the other party. Picture a professional like a doctor asking another one for his "SPID" and you can see why there was no increase in adoption. In contrast, today's systems are very easy to use and can generally be launched by simply clicking a mouse or dialing a phone, bringing spontaneity to the use of the application (rather than waiting for IT to set you up).

Second, the variety and range of video systems today is huge, creating an equally large variety of experiences. In the past we had three choices: Crappy desktop systems, less crappy room based systems and a "portable" system that's hard to set up and equally crappy in quality! Today we've got very high quality desktop systems, HD room based systems, Microsoft Roundtable-which brings a very unique experience to video--and then there's TelePresence at the high end. I know many of the people speaking in the keynotes poked fun at Cisco's TelePresence because of cost or other issues, but as someone that's used TelePresence to virtually meet with people, I'll go on record as saying that it needs to be experienced to be understood properly. I've used the TelePresence system from Cisco many times to conduct meetings and strategy sessions and while it's still not exactly the same as being there, it's the closest thing I've experienced. I thought the Cisco keynote with four different people in four locations all in the same, real-time, conference was a great way to highlight what it can do. I thought the topic dragged on a bit and there needed to be more dialogue between the speakers, but the basic idea did show off its potential.

I've also used Microsoft Roundtable, and that provides a totally different user experience--and provided a great experience when I was home-based participant in a larger conference. The speed at which the views switch from speaker to speaker also creates an environment where all of the people can stay engaged.

This does pose an interesting problem for companies looking to deploy: Namely, to understand which use of video fits in best in what situation.

One of the other reasons I think we'll see a rise in videoconferencing is the point Cisco was making with their keynote, and that's corporate green initiatives. While "green" hasn't become a major issue in the US yet, I do think we're close to having it become a major initiative. Most major organizations have corporate social responsibility officers and, for some reason, IT hasn't fallen under the green mandates of this group - but it will sooner than later. When this happens, I do think you'll see more use of video to both curtail travel for cost and green, but also see more collaborative tools introduced.

So, we've got a situation with easier-to-use systems that are better quality, and both collaboration and green initiatives to act as a driver. Not quite a "perfect storm" but a it's a strong enough storm that we'll start to see much broader use of all different types of video.

I know for those out there that tried video years ago, you probably had a really bad experience with it (as did I) and there are all kinds of social stigmas surrounding using video from home, but I do think that using the newer systems will demonstrate that today's video is just far superior to the video available a number of years ago.