There are just some things that don’t mix. Over and over again, we’ve discovered this with the various strands of Internet-connected television. Yes, being able to download movies and television shows from your NetFlix account to your Tivo box is a nice feature, but no, people are not inclined to sit in front of a keyboard or even a smart phone while watching television. Now with the announcements by both Google and FaceBook that they’re rolling out video chat features, I have to wonder if we’re not about to witness yet another colossal industry flop, this time in stereo?
Evolution – in organic life or in technology – is not a conga line of superior creations. Evolution includes many branches of distinctly-adapted creations that fulfill a required niche. That’s why there are humans and butterflies on the same planet, rather than a single, superiorly-adapted species. That is also why there is television and radio: one does not fulfill the role of the other. Its important to keep this in mind when we watch the parade of tech analysts and trend-watchers as they insist that Product X is the “wave of the future,” and that all other similar technologies will soon be relegated to the Smithsonian.
Internet on the Television
Computers and televisions also fulfill distinct roles. One is active, the other passive. When you watch television, do you really want to sit with a keyboard, tablet or smart phone and constantly change your field of vision? Not to simply update your Twitter or maybe program a few things to record, but to even make the television operate? That’s a recipe for a headache, even in the most technologically-adapted people I know. And forget about mice and the ill-fated pointers.
In many homes, television viewing is also a communal experience. Two or more people will watch the same television. Computers are largely a personal device, with only one person viewing it. Imagine watching television while someone constantly fiddles with five different applications on the same screen.
So while I certainly spend many television-watching sessions also furiously Twittering and surfing the Internet – much to my wife’s chagrin – I really don’t have any desire to combine the two in a single device. And clearly, after the flubs of WebTV and Gateway Media Center PC’s, the idea has gone to trial and the verdict has been a sentence of life on WikiPedia.org entries and punchlines.
All Hail Video Chat!
So, video phones have been the oohs-and-aahs sci-fi fantasy since there has been sci-fi. Why hasn’t it happened sooner? Well, it has. Over and over and over again, from AT&T’s Picture-Phone of 1956 right up to The Apprentice hawking some video phone service I don’t know the name of because…. it seems like it was probably a failure.
And here we go again. FaceBook and Google both have video conferencing systems in various states of readiness, and the big story throughout much of the media was whether Google beat FaceBook to the punch or the other way ’round. But has anybody bothered to ask the question: why do we use Social Networking instead of just talking to each other face-to-face? Because the answer to that question may be the reason for what I suspect will be an inevitable and expensive failure for both companies.
Social Networking is only half-social: yes, we share, we talk, we debate, we laugh. But we do so within the privacy of our own spaces. And we do so, in many cases, in various forms of anonymity. Even video blogging is a largely underutilized avenue of blogging. Do we wonder why?
Then there is one last item that dogs many would-be technological revolutions, Web TV and Video Chat included: the techno gap. Its all well and good for those of us who live and breath technology to say how easy it is to setup FaceBook chat, but is that the same experience your grandparents will have? What about your sister or brother who has a few kids constantly fiddling with their computers? Or your parents with the spyware and viruses loaded on their systems. Will they have the same effortless experience as you?
I could be completely wrong about the video chat thing. But I’ll bet anyone who cares to that this thing dies a slow, largely untelevised death in the backwaters of the companies foolish enough to have bothered.