Why do we feel weird about video calling?

Filed under: Contributed Column,Print,Technology | Tags:

I have to admit that I’m a late adopter of this technology. Skype and video calling software has been available to us for free for a few years now, but I’ve noticed the adoption rate really changing lately so I thought I’d bring it up. Maybe the addition of Face to Face on iPhone is what turned up the volume on video calling.

What’s the trend?

In the past six months, I’ve noticed Skype replacing conference calls, and the volume of calls I receive online is about equal to the number of people who call me on my mobile phone. Cool, right? Here’s why I like Web calls instead of phone calls: the media features on desktops and laptops have been amped up lately to accommodate gamers and people who want to watch movies on their computers. The sound quality I get from streaming calls through my laptop is far better than what I get even with my ear buds on my iPhone. And it’s absolutely hands-free. It sounds and acts like the caller is in the room with me!

Where we are completely silly

However, I think it’s hilarious that no one that I talk to wants to use the video component to Web calling. Most of the calls begin with some awkward fumbling around while the other caller figures out how to disable their camera. I’ve even seen people go so far as to fold up a little paper tent and then put the tent over their camera. (Actually, that was me before I figured out how to turn it off.)

Is it the same phenomena as when you are seated in a restaurant facing a mirror? It is distracting to see your own face when talking to people — I find that I frown a lot more than I thought I did. Or maybe we’re just so surprised to see a close-up of our own faces when the camera lights up that we reflexively lunge forward to shut off the image. Whatever the reason, I think we’re missing something by not using the video. We’re probably cutting the communication value in half once we shut off the camera.

Why else would you use web calling?

The advantages of using a service like Skype go beyond simple call clarity and video capabilities. Web calling allows users to build lists of people they call, and see ahead of time if the person they’re trying to call is online or not. It saves a lot of time that we normally spend listening to the phone ring prior to leaving a message. With Web calling, if the person is offline, you can send a text message right there from the calling software. One and done.

Another useful business feature is the ability to create group conversations (with or without video). Once a group is formed, all group members can simply click in to use that conversation any time for quick check-ins. This eliminates the need to schedule a call time and send out a dial-in number with a code. Compared to Web calling, conference line scheduling seems positively barbaric.

As the workforce starts doing more telecommuting and freelancing becomes the modus operandi for more and more specialized skill sets, I see a permanent place for Web calling in the workplace. And as the software evolves, it’s taking a lifestyle approach — for example, when you call someone, Skype tells you if it’s the caller’s birthday or not — a helpful add-on if you’re calling clients that you want to impress — or calling your spouse.

If you haven’t incorporated Web calling into your workflow yet, maybe now is the time. You’ll be surprised how many of your business partners are already there.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at marci@mdvinteractive.com.