Krish Ramakrishnan's picture

Ever since AT&T introduced the Picturephone at the Worlds Fair in 1964, the world in general and the communication industry in particular have been searching for a term that aptly describes the usage of video in a telephone call. Terms like Picture phone, Videophone & Visiophone were used in the early years but never caught on with the public or business until the technology of group based video calling dubbed as video conferencing, a takeoff on it’s ancestral cousin: audio conferencing.

Today video conferencing (or videoconferencing for those who are not fan of the space) has become an umbrella term to describe all types of video based communication. This can be video chat between two or more people from laptops, a point to point call using sophisticated systems found in conference rooms, calls between two phones reminiscent of the original picture phone or multi-party calls similar to audio conferencing.  The experience can vary from  ‘almost being there’ to worse than what NASA transmitted from the moon.

The cost of video conferencing also varies from being free to paying through your nose.  However, costly systems did not necessarily provide good experience both from a visual communication and human interaction perspective.   Thus the term video conferencing gained notoriety as an excuse to show up late for meetings when video was involved.  Businesses used video conferencing as a last resort rather than the tool of choice. Dozens of the video conferencing industry did very little to erase the perception and in fact compounded the negative perceptions by neglecting quality, interoperability and ease of use. 

In recent history, Cisco almost succeeded by rebranding video conferencing  as Telepresence by combining high quality with immersive experience. Telepresence succeeded in inviting businesses to take a fresh look at video conferencing. The immersive nature of the experience instantly placed Telepresence at the top end of the video conferencing pyramid. The video conferencing industry ever short on marketing innovation latched on to Telepresence as the word that saved them.  Thus most video conferencing offering was rebadged as Telepresence. In fact, Cisco, which deserves credit for video conferencing comeback, is the worst abuser. Every video product it ships is Telepresence of some sort.  As a result, not only there is lack of interoperability but have un-interoperable terminology.

Well, it is Half-time – for the video conferencing industry to borrow a phrase from a recent commercial from Clint Eastwood.  Advent of new technologies, web cams and new players with fresh insights are changing the landscape.  Video conferencing allows you to do more from saying  “I do” over video to ‘being there’ from anywhere. Video conferencing is no longer a dirty word. It is time to burnish the image. The industry has much to gain. It is time to democratize Telepresence by re-badging it as video conferencing.  The term should be all encompassing – after all this is 2012.  The technology of video conferencing has come a long way from its debut in 1964.  Let us toast to video conferencing: Let the term be in vogue for the next 50 years – when the first video call from Mars makes it way to earth made possible by cloud services like Blue Jeans.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.