A new venture from RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser aims to do what Chatroulette couldn't--succeed in the world of video chat. The company is called SocialEyes, and is co-founded by Rob Williams, who also worked at RealNetworks. The secret weapon? Facebook, apparently. SocialEyes will allow you to chat instantly on streaming video with the people in your network of friends.
Alright video fans (and hounds), let's see a show of hands of everyone who looks back on the Real Media Player days with fondness and nostalgia? Anyone? Anyone? Yeah, that's what I thought. Between my own experiences and the anectdotal evidence from people around me, it's safe to say that most people don't have warm fuzzy memories. While RealNetworks definitely did alright for itself, and pioneered in online audio and video before most companies were even thinking about it... the product ultimately failed to become one of the major players today.
However, that's not to say there wasn't any success there. There was, but according to the Wall Street Journal, it shifted toward software development intended for one-to-many communications like video conferences or seminars--and they also helped develop Rhapsody.
So... how will Glaser's new start up fare?
How Does SocialEyes Work?
SocialEyes--not to be confused with the WordPress theme of the same name--takes advantage of the Facebook Connect API to find out who you're connected to on the social network and then let you chat with them via live streaming video.
Like Chatroulette and all the similar sites that sprung up last year, there's no software or app to download. Just sign in by connecting with your Facebook account, and you're off to the races. The core difference, of course, is that SocialEyes aims not to connect you with strangers on live video chat... but friends. They serve up a Brady Bunch Style grid of friends for you to chat with--who are no doubt all very attractive people like the ones in this screenshot:
Glaser thinks he has a hit on his hands. From the Journal article:
"People don't want to just call random strangers and talk about nothing," Glaser says.
What's been missing, in Glaser's view, is a way to reliably identify people and let them reach each other. Enter Facebook Connect, an extension of the popular social network's technology platform that lets users link their Facebook identity to other sites.
About 600 million people have used Facebook to establish "a digital identity, which says this is who I am," Glaser says. If SocialEyes can help those people interact with video, it can "do something pretty powerful.”
I'm not sure I agree completely. Chatroulette actually proved that people do want to connect with strangers and talk about nothing... they just want to avoid unrequested nudity in the process. Which doesn't mean they don't want to also conduct live streaming chat sessions with friends, because I'm sure they do.
One very cool-sounding wrinkle is that Glaser hopes to carve out a market for educational live streaming video. Like... if you want guitar lessons, SocialEyes will help you connect with someone who can teach guitar. This might be live streaming video chat... or pre-recorded guitar lesson videos.
But the idea is to help friends connect for sudden video chat, and at the same time let strangers connect for chat as well, but only around specific purposes.
SocialEyes closes testing and opens to the public this week.
Let me see if I've got this straight... you want people to have a way to connect with their friends using live streaming video chat... so that they can see when a friend is online and just instantly start a conversation with them that includes video.
Congratulations... you invented Skype. I mean Google Talk. Wait! I mean AIM. At least with Chatroulette, we got something unique--chat with random total strangers... instantly!
I'm honestly a little curious about the buzz on this company. It feels like a step back. The only real innovation here at all is linking your facebook contacts to video chat. And heck, Google already does that kind of thing with Google Talk--anyone with a Gmail address that I've corresponded to is automatically added to my Google Talk contacts list, and I can see when they're online or not... and even video chat with them at the push of a button.
Can somebody tell me what I'm missing? The educational stuff sounds great on the surface, but honestly... what are the odds that at the very moment I want a guitar lesson there's some guitar instructor just sitting in front of his laptop--webcam on--waiting for a suitable student? Sure, there will also be prerecorded educational content, but I can always find that at YouTube as well, right?
Even if SocialEyes succeeds, isn't it only a matter of time before Facebook rolls out their own version of this? After all, I don't use Google Talk inside Facebook to chat with friends, do I? No, I use Facebook's own native chat client. Why would video not eventually be part of Facebook's plans?
Of course, I could be way off. I have been plenty of times before. Heck, I thought the Real Media Player was awful, and would never have guessed that the parent company had so much success behind the scenes. So what do I know?
Glaser knows startups... knows video... far better than I do. I'm not suggesting this is a laughable idea. Just a potentially short-sighted one. I suppose it's possible that Facebook might acquire them if their service takes off. And I'm not the least bit down on the idea of a Facebook-based video chat product. Just not sure it's necessary.