Did Chatroulette Just Launch the Interactive Video Conferencing Boom?

Ustream's Broadcasts Lack Punch of NSFW Site

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Matthew Szymczyk
Matthew Szymczyk
The numbers don't lie. Live video conferencing and streaming is on an explosive growth trajectory. Consider some recent stats:

The numbers show there is avid consumer interest for broadcasts that happen over the net, streamed in real time. But what of interactive video conferencing? Though the events above offer social media integration, they aren't "true" interactive video conferencing events. To date, most of these livestream broadcasts allow people to chat with one another about the event as it's happening or to pose questions that a moderator will ask the subject of the livestream itself. But is this true "interactivity"? I would argue a definitive no.

Skype and live, one-to-one video conferencing systems offer interaction between connected hosts in a live, connected video feed. So there's already an inherent difference between the current examples of "livestreams" and the systems in place for video conferencing. Conferences being the keyword that implies basic live video interaction between stream members. But, apart from making headlines on Techcrunch or Mashable, most videoconferencing and livestreaming hasn't achieved a level of critical mass adoption yet.

Twitter was the catalyst to help microblogging explode onto the scene and even went so far as to create an ecosystem around it -- URL shorteners, service clients (Tweetdeck, Seesmic) and so on. Similar patterns are emerging with the recent massive growth Chatroulette is experiencing. Part of this is due to curiosity (like every new trend) but I would wager that Chatroulette itself has just become the catalyst for interactive video conferencing and will accelerate adoption of video conferencing by the masses.

Here, in no particular order, are a few stats on the webcam and video-conferencing ecosystem:

Note: Chatroulette is a new video chat service that can be very NSFW (Not Safe for Work). If you go looking for it, expect the very worst.

So these are "official stats," but what of Chatroulette? Since the service has only been out a few months, there's not much in the way of official stats, but here's what I've been able to dig up or have seen after using the service:

  • Traffic has almost doubled in a week, from 20,000 concurrent users on February 13 to almost 40,000 on February 20.
  • Approximately 75% of users seem to fall into the 18-24 age group.
  • Though there is still quite a bit of obscene content, it seems to have diminished proportionally with the larger traffic numbers. Maybe more "normal" people are starting to use the service.
  • An ecosystem around Chatroulette is already developing. The first out of the gate -- software that allows you to modify your live video stream. Manycam is one such system which allows for augmented reality-like features such as applying animations to your face through facial tracking.
  • The most important observation: Clones of the service are already appearing in record time, such as Redditroulette, Tinychat and others.

So what Chatroulette has shown is that there is definitely consumer interest in and a market for interactive video conferencing -- especially with the Gen Y demographic. This is not surprising, as both Gen Y and Gen Z are demographic sets that will be growing up with these types of interactive systems in place (similar to initial text-based chat systems that were in place for Gen X.)

Furthermore, Chatroulette has shown that a simple UI and Flash-based video conferencing system can work -- efficiently and effectively. This probably isn't good news for startups and tech companies that have been trying to sell five- and six-figure teleconferencing platforms and systems to businesses. Expect to start seeing "generated backlash" against the Flash-based technology even though the genie is already out of the bottle.

Finally, this recent surge in traffic with Chatroulette shows that desktop-based video conferencing only has room for growth. As adoption grows, we'll also see more advanced uses of video conferencing that include more advanced interactivity. This is the main reason we developed ZugSTAR technology to allow augmented reality-based interactivity between video streams.

It remains to be seen if Chatroulette itself is a fad or the next Twitter. However, what it has shown is that interactive video conferencing is here to stay and is positioning itself to be the de facto method of communication very soon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matthew Szymczyk is CEO of Zugara, an interactive marketing agency based in Los Angeles. Zugara is a member of the AR Consortium and oversees the largest AR community on Facebook. He tweets at @kobrakai.
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