Video Conferencing for Small Businesses

By James A. Martin | Posted April 03, 2008

Communicating through video has finally become a viable option for small businesses. And hey, it only took 44 years.

Videophones were the talk of the 1964 New York World's Fair. Though the videophone never took off, today’s video chat and video conferencing systems are gaining traction with small businesses. Low Webcam prices and more Web-based services aimed at small businesses are two reasons for video conferencing’s growing popularity.

Another reason: More businesses use Internet Protocol (IP) networks, which can support the heavy bandwidth demands of sophisticated video conferencing systems, according to research firm In-Stat. Also, In-Stat notes that the growing desire among businesses to "go green" (through reduced travel and other efforts) is also fueling interest in video conferencing.

Video Chat, Videconference or Telepresence?

First, it’s important to understand the difference between video chat, video conference and telepresence.

Video chat: Usually, video chat refers to two (or more) people informally communicating online through an instant messaging (IM) service, including Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and AOL Instant Messenger. Some voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, such as Skype, offer video chat too. Most video chat services are free. They can be used for business, but they’re primarily tailored to consumers.

Video chat services typically allow only two parties to communicate at one time. But some, such as Apple’s iChat and OoVoo, a free online communications service currently in beta, connect multiple parties simultaneously.

There are other differences between video chat services to consider. For example, iChat and OoVoo allow you to record your video conferences (with the other participant's permission). With iChat, you can record video chats as MPEG-4 files and play them back in iTunes on your computer or on your iPod/iPhone.

Trying one of these free services is an easy, affordable way to test video conferencing before you use it in your business.

Videoconference: Sometimes, the terms "video chat" and "video conference" are used interchangeably. To further confuse the issue, videoconferencing may also be part of a "Web conference."

A video conference is a real-time video conversation conducted online between two or more parties, usually for business purposes. A video conference may incorporate other forms of online collaboration, hence the term "Web conference."

For example, during a Web conference you might share your desktop screen with others via a Web browser, in order to collaborate on a document or give a PowerPoint presentation. At the same time, conference participants may also be visible on your screen, in smaller windows.

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