In the days before videoconferencing it was a little more straightforward to connect with people. Everyone had a phone number, and to call that person you dialed that phone number. It didn’t matter which service provider you used, or what network you were on. Anyone could call you at that number.
While all of this is still true, we now have many more options and ever-shifting communications norms. Is it still ok to just call someone on the phone unannounced, or should you first send an email to schedule a call? Or is it better to send a text that says “call me”? Unfortunately, there is no one right answer. It can often depend on each person’s preferences and workflow. There are some people I communicate with over Twitter DMs, some that I chat with over Skype messages, some hit me up on FaceTime, and some still just call my phone number. It’s the wild wild west out there.
One particularly unsettled area of communication etiquette is how to initiate a video call. Perhaps because video is still relatively new as a primary means of communication, we don’t really have a uniform understanding of how to make it happen. To make it worse, there is no uniform directory of video numbers. In a perfect world, our old phone numbers would be our new video numbers and everyone would be instantly reachable over video regardless of network or provider. Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world.
As a result, the common dynamic for initiating video calls has become the “your VRM or mine” method. One person shares a link to a cloud video meeting room over email or IM and everyone clicks it to join. We don’t need interop between apps if everyone is willing to click and join using your app. So, as a result, the way the typical video meeting starts is with an instant message, usually asking “Are you there?” followed up by “Can we jump on video?”. The question is, can we skip this step and just direct dial on video, the way we have always done with audio calls?
A quick look at Google Trends for the first consumer direct dial video service that comes to mind (FaceTime) and the first consumer VMR that comes to mind (Google Hangouts) tells an interesting story. Is the decline in FaceTime due to competition from other popular messaging apps that now have video, rather than due to a market rejection of direct dial video? Is the comparative growth of Google Hangouts due to the popularity of group video meetings rather than due to the “click to join” meeting creation?
There are a few vendors of directory based video networks and they report that their users actually do more direct dial video than VMR meetings. When you think about it, this isn’t too surprising, especially for internal company calls. After all, the reason we use the “your VMR or mine” method is because we generally don’t have the ability to direct dial since there is no universal video number directory. However, if you can create a video directory for your company, it makes sense that they would want to call each other directly over video, just as they have over the phone since the beginning of time.
I think that the VMR dynamic will continue to dominate the enterprise space in the near future. It’s working and use is growing. However, I do think that vendors selling direct dial, directory based, cloud video solutions will also continue to see growth and adoption as well. Ideally, in the future we would have easy access to both means and use whatever is appropriate for the situation. However, until we have a universal directory, I expect VMR video meetings to be the common standard.