Facts & Fairy Tales: Software Video Conferencing & Collaboration

An interesting discussion has popped up on LinkedIn in the Video Conferencing Professionals Group.  Someone asked for advice about software-based video conferencing solutions and said he wanted to make a list of what was available in the marketplace.

Many users and vendors chimed in, offering names of packages, points of view, experiences, all the things that one might expect.  And then the discussion heated up a little (as one might expect ?).

My read is that there is a basic distinction that is being lost in the noise when people answer the question: “What is Telepresence?”

Telepresence engineers

If you ask an engineer who works on video, it has a pretty specific meaning and it has implications for standards, codecs, lines of resolution, bandwidth, and more.  This point of view led one contributor to write:

“If we want to be honest, many companies are very deceptive about their features, approaches, functionality and pricing —

To illustrate.  One company on this very thread suggests that its a Software based solution that promotes ease of use — high definiton and H.264 for multi-party conferencing and operable as a SaaS or cloud based solution —

If you believe that, then you should also believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.”

In reality, he may be right.  H.264 usually means a lot of bandwidth PER CONNECTION, and a 10-way call = 10x a lot of bandwidth.  So is the company peddling fairy tales ?  Since they were not identified by name it is hard to have an opinion.

But what if the company in question said: “We’re flexible, we let you work with the tools and devices you want to work with, we can work in a cloud/SaaS model, we can do telepresence quality, we have collaboration tools, and more !”  This may all be true, just not all true AT THE SAME TIME.  Is it misleading, deceptive, etc. ?

I say no.  Here’s why.  Back to the question of “What is Telepresence?”  If you ask 1 million people who are NOT video engineers…

Telepresence Definition #2

…you will get a variety of answers from an empty stare and shoulder shrug, to guesses about holograms and video conferencing.  99.99% don’t care about the standards and codecs and such.  (Disclaimer: statistic completely made up for emphasis, not empirically derived)

What do the 99.99% care about ?  Communication and Collaboration. 

  • Can I sit down at my desk (or conference room) and use a tool to communicate with people?
  • Is it intuitive enough for “everyone” to use?
  • Can I invite people who don’t have my brand of system into a meeting?
  • Can I reduce travel?
  • Can I overcome the limitations of voice-only communication?
  • Will it work reliably?
  • Can I manage it?
  • Can I share my desktop?
  • Can I chat?
  • Can I schedule a meeting?
  • Can I run a Webinar?
  • How do I know the other party is ready?
  • How will this integrate into my existing networks/security policies/applications?
  • How much does it cost?

The 99.99% don’t actually care about what the technology is, they care about what it does.

Who really benefits when you put true high definition on a video-phone with a 7″ screen?

Better question: Who benefits when you put sharp, clear video on laptops, desktops, tablets, in conference rooms and clouds and share communication capabilities among all these platforms?  A boatload of people.  (Inappropriately graphic statement avoided)

So back to the question: “What is Telepresence?”  Is it the definition that the .01% know to be correct and that the name was invented to distinguish, or SHOULD IT BE the “like I am there” communication capability that the 99.99% seek and find regularly in both traditional and software-based solutions: the ability to project their presence, via video conferencing and collaboration tools.  I pick the latter, but then I am a bit biased since VeaMea develops and markets a video conferencing and collaboration platform that some might call a fairy tale.

Bottom Line: if you want to separate the myth from the reality, and decide for yourself, you cantry it.