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 The online-video generation is using broadband and wireless to stay in constant touch with friends. 500 channels? Try 7 billion. By Om Malik, Business 2.0 Magazine columnist (Business 2.0 Magazine) — Justin Kan started televising his life, 24/7, on the Internet in March. Racing from lunchtime crowds […]

 The online-video generation is using broadband and wireless to stay in constant touch with friends. 500 channels? Try 7 billion.

(Business 2.0 Magazine) — Justin Kan started televising his life, 24/7, on the Internet in March. Racing from lunchtime crowds at San Francisco’s Ferry Building to a Y Combinator dinner in Silicon Valley, Kan doesn’t go anywhere without a videocamera strapped to his baseball cap, constantly beaming live video to his website, Justin.tv.

This new startup might seem like the bastard child of EdTV and Blogger, the latest in tech-enhanced West Coast narcissism. But it actually points the way to a future where we use technology to stay in close touch with our friends and families around the world. Companies that take advantage of this trend are poised to capture more than just our attention.

Whether in Parisian cafes, Bombay chai stalls, or Manhattan singles’ bars, humans have an overwhelming need to get together, talk, communicate, and interact. Our genes are coded that way. It’s no surprise that as we rush toward an always-on, ever more connected society, we want to mimic these offline interactions on the Net.

Justin.tv COO Michael Seibel says the company hopes to use the all-Kan-all-the-time show to fine-tune a platform for letting anyone broadcast his or her life. Rival Ustream.tv encourages users to post live video of Hollywood stars caught on the street. The broadcast metaphor isn’t quite right, though. What we need is something more intimate, meant for a tight group of friends and family members. It’s not about performance; it’s about connection.

Technology isn’t the real challenge here. Most of us have all the equipment we need on our desks and in our pockets. Apple and Sony  popularized the idea of building webcams into PCs, and more and more computers now come with one. With 3G wireless networks, it’s possible to transmit video from your camera phone anytime. And even those without video can use text-messaging services like Twitter, which sends updates on what your friends are doing moment by moment. Add it all up and you get a massive shift to real-time interaction: technology that lets you share your life with those close to you, no matter how far away.

A new service called Kyte (kyte.tv) shows promise. Its creator, Daniel Graf, describes it as a “me TV” that uploads photos and videos taken by your phone and broadcasts them to a group of friends who subscribe to your channel. Kyte can even load snapshots taken, say, once every five seconds, to give your friends a real-time slice of your life.

If this all sounds strange to you, remember that instant messaging was an alien concept to most people 10 years ago, and MySpace didn’t exist in 2002. What’s stayed the same, as technology keeps improving, is that very human urge to connect in real time.

A few weeks ago, while visiting my parents in India, I gave them a MacBook with a built-in camera. Since then my siblings have joined in, and now, within seconds, the whole family can see each other and chat. Sometimes I leave my iChat software on just so my aging parents can see me work. While this OmTV is not as satisfying as a personal visit, it’s getting closer. And that’s why now’s the prime time for any startup that can give me – and every other person on the planet – the tools we need to broadcast our lives.

Om Malik runs the technology blog GigaOm. Top of page

By Om Malik

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