Can you see me now? Video messaging and the future of communication

Technology is enabling us to get ever closer to the ideal of casual and seamless face-to-face communication over long distances. In fits and starts we’re pulling in more tools and options for communicating and getting us closer to a video-based ideal thanks to better devices and faster broadband connections.

Skype (s msft) is reportedly testing video messaging options for mobile users today. The service would let people leave a video-based message for their friends. I can see a whole new variant on the “wish-you-were-here” picture messages I send that could involve panoramic views or the local soundscape (good for concerts and birdcalls, bad for when I’m in New York City).

A few weeks ago, Twitter launched Vine, to let people record 6-second videos and post them easily from their mobile, and Facebook is testing a voice messaging application that will let you leave a voice-based message for friends from Facebook. While the Facebook example isn’t video-based it drives home the larger point: Our web interactions are pushing forward to mirror our real-world interactions as much as possible, which means that our bandwidth demands and our mobile devices need to keep up.

Vine Twitter screenshot video social sharing

On the mobile device side, we’re doing fine. Processing, cameras and microphones on smartphones are enabling us to record quality videos, voice and images. In the case of images we even have enough processing power for some editing. But on the bandwidth side, it’s unclear if we’re going to have the capability to share our efforts. That’s why on the wireless and wireline side we need to keep adding capacity and lowering costs. Conducting a video call today sucks up a lot of bandwidth, but there are ways to reduce the impact on the network and drive down costs for consumers and the operators.

When I look at the increasingly visual nature of the web and the influx of video options for communication I realize that we can finally escape the limits that technology has imposed on how we communicate over long distances. Letter writing, postcards, voice calls and even static web pages are poor substitutes when you want to share an experience with someone, and they are substitutes that are driven by the limits of the technology at the time. Many of those limits are no longer there.

Adapting to this will require us to ditch centuries of habits and preferences, but it opens up much higher quality ways for people to communicate. We will still drag these other forms of communication into our video-based future but we’ll be able to choose when an email makes the most sense or when we’d rather stick with voice.

As I scroll down the pages of an online catalog, I am grateful that I have the bandwidth at home to load pictures quickly so I can see the details in the product. I can’t wait for the ability to see things in 3D — or even set up a quick video call with someone who is near the product for a closer look.

I assume my six-year-old daughter — who refuses to take phone calls from people she loves unless there’s a video component — will resort to voice only for strangers and business-related conversations. Getting to that point means more work needs to be done to seamlessly integrate the options available to people much like Apple has done with FaceTime on its platform, and then to spread that to all platforms.

Companies like Skype, BlueJeans Networks, Polycom, and countless others are all trying to make this real as are the people pushing for the WebRTC standards. Right now it’s a mish-mash of standards, platforms and options, but video will coalesce into something that as simple as picking up a phone or mailing a letter is today.