Social networking behemoth Facebook recently announced a new video-calling feature via Skype. Just as Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, was making the announcement at a news conference, details were released on The Facebook Blog by Philip Su, the only full-time Facebook engineer working on the project.
“So a few months ago, we started working with Skype to bring video calling to Facebook. We built it right into chat, so all your conversations start from the same place. To call your friend, just click the video call button at the top of your chat window,” said Su.
It may not be a coincidence that this follows just a week after Google announced its own video-chat feature on its new social networking attempt, Google+, and negotiations are still underway for Microsoft to absorb Skype.
Now, 750 million Facebook users will have access to the video-calling feature. Skype has 663 million registered users as of 2010.
Why hasn’t video chatting worked so well to date? Probably because the quality and timing haven’t been so clean. Most of the facial expressions that clue us in to a person’s emotional state are processed in milliseconds. With a delay between audio and video images or frozen screens, we can get frustrated because things just don’t add up.
The art of effective communication requires some pretty precise timing of visual and auditory cues, not to mention the inherent power of the context of the situation. Perception and comprehension of the words enter in as well. Do we all understand words in the same way? Most of us are pretty good at understanding emotional cues because emotional recognition is basically hard-wired in the brain. Of course, our emotional perceptions can be modified with practice or a lack thereof. It’s a complicated and fine line we walk trying to make other people understand what we are saying and how we feel.
What’s so great about chatting face to face rather than just sending text? What’s all the hype?
Well, for one thing, interpersonal communication is significantly more effective if you can gauge someone’s state of mind or emotions by seeing his or her facial expressions. We convey a variety of cues about how we are feeling by how we subconsciously contort our faces. You know those little wrinkles, or “crow’s feet,” that appear at the corners of our eyes when we smile? They actually signify an honestly happy expression. An insincere smile lacks those telltale little smile lines.
Sarcasm is another mode of expression that doesn’t always go over too well in text. It’s much easier to tell when someone is being sarcastic if you can see his or her face. Emotional expressions are sometimes more valuable information that the actual words being said. It’s easy to say something without being sincere, especially in a simple text, but try as you might, it’s hard to fake an emotional expression.
Is video chatting going to change the way we communicate on a day-to-day basis? That remains to be seen. But just think about what a fundamental change it was when the telephone came on the scene.