Friday, July 26, 2013

Generational issues key to adoption of online video conferencing

Studies done by a leading online meeting provider indicate that less than 10% of users choose to turn on their webcams during online meetings. I can certainly relate to this because most people (me included) almost never turn on their webcams. It saves you the trouble of "looking prim and proper" throughout the course of a meeting. As one good friend confessed, "What do I do when I feel like scratching my hair or picking my nose."

While this is one visible trend that one can experience on a day to day basis, we have several startups focusing exclusively on online video conferencing. If people are uncomfortable turning on their webcams to share their videos would such products and services have much of a future?  (Interestingly, if you count the number of Vice-Presidents that some of these start-ups have they are either making great headway with their products/services or they simply have too much cash to burn).

The truth in these trends lies I suspect in a generational gap. The younger generation is far more comfortable turning on their webcams. My 10-year old and many other kids we know do video chats routinely using Google Hangouts. Facetime, Skype, Yahoo! video chat etc. A webcam is practically a given for this generation. "What? You don't have a webcam, you gotta be kidding!" is the typical response you hear from them if you ever say you don't have one attached to your computer. While the younger generation has jumped on to the use of videos, the older generation is still uncomfortable with sharing their videos. Just like email and phone calls, perhaps its only a matter of time before online video conferencing becomes second nature to most people. Want to talk to your co-worker or your friend, get online and video conference him/her - from a computer if you are in front of one or using your mobile phone or any Internet connected device. 

Does this mean that the younger generation does not care about picking their nose or scratching their hair while they are on video? Certainly not. I suspect its just a question of being used to video conferencing from an early age. You then get used to it and soon don't think its that much of a deal to follow the video etiquette. It comes naturally to you. For example, when you are sitting face to face with others and having a discussion how do you scratch your hair or pick your nose? You just don't!

The bigger issue I think is for people who work from home. One of the primary reasons people who work from home don't turn on their webcams is because it saves them the "hassle of dressing up" before a call. Unfortunately, this is an adjustment that such folks will have to make when video conferencing becomes the norm.

From a training point of view, anecdotal data suggests that most trainers and their attendees don't really care to have video conferencing facilities, especially for long extended sessions spread over several hours. Screen sharing, annotation and ability to record session understandably seems to be the key requirement for this audience. They might turn on the video at the start of the session and maybe bring it back on at the end, but for the most part it does not seem to be a priority at this time. Maybe as video conferencing goes mainstream, perhaps there will be use of more video in training as well?