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The Mechanics of Personal Connections

Real-time connections, videoconferencing, and the Google Hangouts explosion can be understood and used properly only if we can break down and analyze the forces that traditionally drive uptake of videoconferencing as a valid means of communication. As so often happens with new technologies, practical benefits become a habit only after the underlying need that drives them is better identified.

Fortunately, in a 2011 study, Damien Perritaz, Christophe Salzmann, and Denis Gillet, researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), one of two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, identified the motivation driving the uptake of real-time videoconferencing into three distinct vector forces:

  • User Perception
  • Video Adaptation
  • Network Adaptation

If you’re a marketer wondering, for instance, why your clients are so reluctant to adopt Hangout technology, which you know is robust, the chances are that the reason for their reluctance lies in a combination of these three vectors. This makes them important to understand.

User Perception measures user satisfaction through Quality of Perception (QoP). Simply put, if the expected experience is not good enough, there is little desire for uptake. No one wants to struggle with a poor frame rate, grainy pictures, and sound that comes and goes when discussing business or trying to figure out, on a first meeting, whether to trust someone through visual and audio clues.

Video Adaptation has always been a hurdle. In the past it required some considerable technical expertise and an expensive connection to ensure that the sampling rate of the video was good enough for the purpose. Its quality often became one of the perceptual hurdles that users had to overcome before they decided to use it. When you constantly had to fiddle with the equipment to make it work, it became difficult to focus on the virtual meeting itself.

Network Adaptation has been historically iffy. Platform stability, dropped connections, sound and audio that fade in and out due to bandwidth fluctuations, and the odd freezing of screens are just some of the recurring issues that accompany the litany of reasons that spell out “unreliability.”

Understandably, when end users had to struggle with each of these three obstacles, any of which could become so difficult to resolve as to be a deal-breaker in its own right, videoconferencing was one of those luxuries that you considered only after every other option had been exhausted.

The stroke of genius behind Hangouts is that within the Google+ environment, Google did away with all three considerations by applying the digital equivalent of “Plug and Play” to the videoconferencing option. Powered by Google’s servers and with compression algorithms ensuring the quality and stability of the service, anyone with an Internet connection, a laptop, and a webcam could suddenly talk, face-to-face, to anyone else in the world, in a group setting.

It is easy here to descend to hyperboles comparing Google+ Hangouts to sliced bread. The Hangout revolution was never featured or promoted as such. Instead, in the typical way Google does services these days, it was presented as a feature of the Google+ platform and left to see how it would be used by those who accessed the network.

The results exceeded expectations and changed communication across the Web for the better.

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