Monday, February 6, 2012

Jabber Gets on Video Bandwagon

The budding area of linking text-based instant messaging with other media receives another boost, as IM provider Jabber, Inc., plans to add video to its platform.

Denver-based Jabber licensed technology from NetGen Video, which enables users to send TV-quality video messaging clips to each other. Because the video is sent at intervals, the system avoids the problems frequent in streaming media -- like buffering delays and dropouts that occur even with relatively high-speed connections. The resulting NetGen video clip plays at 30 frames per second, scaling in resolution to accommodate the viewer's processor.

While NetGen Video's ImageIQ process uses Windows Media Encoder as its actual compression codec, the file is reduced in size before encoding using the company's scaling technology. After decoding on the receiver's end, ImageIQ scales up the image to the appropriate resolution.

In return, Westborough, Mass.-based NetGen Video's parent, LegatoVideo, has been a Jabber developer since last year, licensing the company's platform for use in its own video IM product, CliqueVM. The product will formally debut in February.

After integrating the technology into its system, Jabber said it would pitch IM-based and presence-enabled video to its client base, which includes enterprise customers like Hewlett-Packard, media giants Walt Disney Internet Group and Gruner + Jahr, and ISPs including Bell South and France Telecom.

"We'll be looking at select customers to present this to, with ... a view towards integrating this as an element of our product suite," said Frank Cardello, vice president of business development at Jabber. "That's our goal here, to go to our installed base and say, 'This is what the technology does, these are the enhancements it can offer, would you like to consider how this technology can enhance what you do?'"

In addition to promoting the services to clients, Jabber, Inc. would encourage the technology among its community of independent software developers for use in their own products, based on Jabber's IM and presence platform.

"From our experience, it's not about application development to end-user communities -- that's important to us, because Jabber does sell IM applications to customers -- but what we really do is provide IM infrastructure to communities," Cardello said. "We view IM applications as low-hanging fruit, while we work very hard on the channel to take our applications and platform into other environments."

The companies also said the joint work could help introduce NetGen Video's product to the open-source Jabber community.

"We would encourage that, and be helpful and be encouraging in any way we could," Cardello said.

Looking at the Prospects

While it's not instantaneous videoconferencing, the two companies expect that adding video to instant messaging still fills a gap in companies' communication needs.

"Video is useful in an IM framework," said NetGen Chief Operating Officer Jeff King. "Sometimes we reach for the phone, and sometimes for e-mail. E-mail doesn't require the immediacy of a phone call, but we might want to have these types of conversations documented. If there's a lot of substantive content around your conversation, you would use e-mail with attachments. But you can't get together and still have a visual component to leave an impression."

Granted, King admits there are "some issues" with the system's use of asynchronous video, rather than an arguably more intuitive, always-active stream. But the benefits outweigh the negatives, he said.

"We want to have highly impactful communications," he said. "Our technology allows you to experience 30 frames per second over smaller bandwidth connections, leveraging both existing bandwidth and the ability to effectively communicate using video -- two things we've seen gated over last several years."

Despite whatever questions exist about the solution's usability, the timing certainly seems right. Videoconferencing technology, which has existed since the 80s, has only been available for inexpensive, enterprise-class use on desktop PCs within the past few years.

Corporate buyers and developers have been further encouraged to consider IP-based videoconferencing and personal video communications by a confluence of recent trends, including safety and budgetary concerns about travel, wider and cheaper broadband availability, and improving Internet video technology.

In August of this year, Web portal Yahoo! added more advanced, near-broadcast-quality "Super Webcam" features to its IM client, which it debuted in 2001. PC peripheral maker Logitech and a host of startups like elive2u and nanoCom also have debuted Webcam add-ons to public IM networks. (nanoCom in September added an enterprise-friendly firewall-bypassing feature to its system.) Streaming audio/video e-mail player Talkway Communications landed $3 million in venture financing last month.

Video's not the only medium being attached to IM. In spring, MetraTech and Octave Communications struck a deal to launch multi-party phone sessions from an IM client, while Yahoo! Instant Messenger has for several months supported voice chats. In addition to continuing to support text, video and audio in NetMeeting, Microsoft also has been bundling voice chat and Net2Phone-like features in MSN Messenger since last year.

Meanwhile, major players in infrastructure, networking, and technology services -- like Avaya, Nortel, Cisco, and earlier this month, IBM -- continue pitching Voice-over-IP services to enterprises, potentially paving the way for other, less expensive Internet-based solutions in the process.

Microsoft also remains focused on the IP-based communications space with a push that began with its launch of Windows XP last year, which featured built-in IM and videoconferencing technologies and a host of partnerships. The software colossus plans to further refine the offering with its Greenwich real-time collaboration platform, due sometime in the coming year.

Additionally, the enterprise isn't the only place where text-based IM is being tied into other media. In recent months, dating Web site DateCam unveiled a combined streaming video and text chat service, while MatchNet began testing a similar offering that includes audio.

By Christopher Saunders

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