Does Video Conferencing Really Work?


Suddenly, everyone is talking about Video conferencing. Cisco Systems just announced an uber video conference system – you could buy that or a tricked out Mercedes Benz. Microsoft is cooking up one of its own. There are other options, of course, and we have written about them on GigaOM. All this attention has sparked off a small controversy. Andy Abramson writes about his clients SightSpeed, and channels Cisco CEO John Chambers as saying:

…a keynote speech in which he said the company has saved US$100 million in air-travel expenses by switching to video-based collaboration. Chambers says he believes that “collaboration is the next frontier for productivity.’’

This hasn’t gone well with Ken Camp, who says that despite all the fancy gear, in the end deals get done F2F (face to face!)

Cisco may have saved money, and maybe they can claim it’s a boatload, but it hasn’t eliminated their travel or need to get in front of customers. In my corporate life, they never try video conferencing… I’m sorry, but telepresence exists in Chambers’ mind, not the reality of Cisco business on the ground.

Strong words… but I kinda agree with him. Video conferencing as a productivity tool… if personal experience is anything to go by, is still sometime in the future. Our distributed team has iChat A/V with cameras built into our respective laptops, but we still don’t use it … at all. Instead we just use it for IM. I have tried to encourage folks to use it, but there is some resistance to it.

What do you folks think?


james braselton

hi there yes video mobile phones like evo iphone 4 and samsung galaxy pro 2 can do video calls and do them well


Count me in the “I think it can work, but I haven’t seen it yet” camp. Video conferencing is a great idea, but in my experience the software tends to be unreliable and the quality patchy.

joel cohen

Video Conferencing is fabulous with out of town clients. You still have to do a F2F but for secondary meetings, V/C is perfect. Great picture, great sound.

Rick Loughery

Absolutely – video conferencing works. I have a lot of day to day contact with colleagues in London and Tokyo and being able to SEE each other adds a bit more to the working relationship that voice, IM and email can’t do. I think video conferencing is key for these types of encounters but for customer/partner meetings – there is no substitute for spending face-to-face time. Video conferencing is also the KILLER APP for families separated by distance. The quality is finally at an enjoyable level (note – the Mac to Mac with iChat is killer but the PC to Mac, PC to PC apps still have some ways to go).


I’ve tried several of the packages people mentioned both as a student and a teacher, although rarely for meetings. I’ve found that things like Skype video (and sometimes even the messenger video option) is good enough for a good teacher to be able to correct pronunciation over during an online language course.

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

A few months ago we hosted The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam. One fo the speaker couldn’t be there and the one we had as a back-up canceled at the last moment. After we announced that one of the speakers couldn’t make it someone in the audience aproached me and asked me if I had iChat on my laptop and would like to do a Video Chat with Jay Adelson, the (other) founder of Digg. Within a few minutes we had him full screen on the big screen. People loved it!

But besides that the iSight has been collecting dust for years. Besides that one moment I never neaded it. When I did use it with someone we would both stare at each other, and the sight of a hazy face didn’t add anything to the conversation except an awkward feeling and some distraction…


Side note: I have participated in continuing education sessions via Microsoft LiveMeeting (I think that was the package), where a remotely-driven PowerPoint was combined with a speakerphone-driven teleconference. While not as nice as a live training session, this was a reasonably good learning experience.


Agreed, there seems to be a stronger acceptance of IM over videoconferencing. I’m in the same boat with my company. We have owned the gear needed to videoconference for over two months and not used it yet. At the same time, we IM each other on the minute. (We use Yahoo! Messenger, FWIW. It has a video feature already installed, to give you an example of how easy it could be to implement.)

As far as the issue of video v. F2F for closing business deals, clearly the power of personal persuasion and confidence building cannot be leveraged via videoconferencing. There’s a time and place for technology tools – and complex sales activity is not one of them.

I see IM and videoconferencing coming into play in 3 areas:

1. Commodity-driven sales, where the questions of product quality are moot – perhaps because you and your competitor are selling the same shrink-wrapped box, and price/shipping are the major obstacles
2. Service of existing customers, regardless of the complexity of the business – If you have already established the personal confidence level needed to secure an account, I can see quick customer maintenance “calls” being performed electronically. Ex: An insurance client IM’ing their agent to inform them of a change in property ownership.
3. Back office communications – When everyone is on the same team, working toward the same goals, I can see communications flowing electronically via IM and videoconference.

Everything has its place, and IM/videoconferencing can certainly assist in the work of business. But, like most technology solutions, they aren’t universal cure-alls in most cases.

Brandon Checketts

I’ve tried video conferencing several times, but there rarely seems to be a need to use it. In my experience, most of the time, when you want to see something at the remote location, it’s something that’s being displayed on a computer screen or projector. If all you are using video conferencing to do, is see the computer screen at the other location, then there are far better tools available.

I’ve found that the best thing for meetings is a telephone call, and an IM session. This way you can still easily communicat over the phone, and use the IM session to pass links or files back and forth.

I can imagine cases where a video conference would be superior, but for the most part, they are just not that useful.

Jon Moss

I would LOVE to start using iChat AV more. However, one slight hurdle. I am the only one in the business with a Mac! We all use antiquated PCs – groan – and my Mac is a personal one. We had a videoconferencing system installed a fw years ago and I honestly don’t think it has been used once. Stuck gathering dust in a meeting room. We don;t even use and IM client. The only thing I can do is teleconferencing and that does work ok, unless some muppet is in the car and all you hear is the road noise!

Jonas Feiring

Video / phone conferences can never replace a real meeting. BUT, (and there is a really big but here), Video / phone conferencing can save many crucial decissions. Since Time and Space are really fixed stuff, not being able to show up for an important meeting / having to delay decissions could mean unnecessary delays and rising costs. This is where A/V conferencing can save the day. Listening in to a Workshop while home with a sick child. making crucial decisions while stuck in an airport.

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