Multimedia Chat Points to Future Online Behavior

Update: Now that Mark Zuckerberg’s sister inadvertently has sent out a pic of her and her fam using facebook’s new temporary photo sharing app, I thought it appropriate to update this post and resend it given new context. I hope you find it’s pov meaningful to you!

My kids (12 and 1415) are perceptive when it comes to my interests in all things digital, so recently, when they told me about a new service called “SnapChat“, an iphone app that let’s you send a photo and message to your friends “privately”, I paid attention. How is it private? With two key new features: 1) the picture is only viewable for a fixed number of seconds (that you, the sender, chooses), AND, the app won’t allow you to take screen grabs.

In related news, the founders of Napster, and heavy hitting Silicon Valley movers and shakers (Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake in “the Social Network”) and Sean Fanning) have introduced a new video chatting service called “Airtime” that connects people based on their Facebook profiles. What is it? How does it work? Essentially, it will allow 2 types of video chat. First is a very simple UI to give you video connections with your existing Facebook friends. This isn’t really interesting though as Facebook already has video chatting built in through their partnership with Skype.

What interesting is that the service will randomly match you with others who share your existing Facebook interests. So if you like wine, walks on the beach, the Cincinnati Reds, the movies “Stripes” and “Dog Day Afternoon”, the service touts it’s ability to find you matches who you can  chat with, live, who share your interests.

Both of these new services relate to two subjects I’ve blogged about previously. The war for “messaging” platform leadership between Google and Facebook and the ongoing battle between the conflicting human needs for connection and privacy. These two new services make those subjects ripe for further exploration.

First, SnapChat. I believe this speaks to the digital native’s desire, or dare i say requirement, for privacy within their digital communications. All of us, and hopefully our kids, have heard the news that “What goes on the internet, stays on the internet.” This is certainly true, and certainly a barrier to folks who want to have the same rights to privacy that they hold in their non-digital lives. SnapChat, and other “private” messaging services have been created solely to fulfill this need.

Next, Airtime. Anyone remember ChatRoulette? It debuted as an anonymous random peer-to-peer video chat application. You never knew who you would be paired with, and those with whom you were paired remained entirely anonymous. Given that there were zero community controls or repercussions, ChatRoulette quickly became a place for nudity spammers and others who were not behaving. A mere curiosity. But one that gained immediate exposure in digital circles as something to be aware of, even if only as a model. It opens up endless communications possibilities in theory.

Airtime aims to fix all the negatives about ChatRoulette. Because you sign in with your Facebook account, you are immediately accountable for your behavior. To protect users further, the service monitors activity looking for signals of misbehavior (nudity, etc) and removes transgressors immediately. You are allowed to keep your privacy as long as you wish when chatting with strangers, or reveal your identity as you wish. Who will use this service? Initially, I believe it will be the curious, the lonely, and the social scientists among us who plumb the depths of human behavior. Eventually, I can see a service like this becoming mainstream as the barriers of video chat interest continue to come down and video chatting experiences like Google Hangouts continue to mature and gain acceptance.

Will these new services have impact on your online behavior? Maybe not with SnapChat, but imagine that twitter, or even Facebook decided to allow a “private” messaging capability that erased your content after a short viewing window for your specifically intended audience? Wouldn’t you consider using that feature on occasion if not regularly? If it takes off as a behavior, what will that mean to marketers who are beginning to depend on the data available from sources like the Twitter “firehose”? Could it kill the nascent “Sentiment Analysis” craze that companies like Radian6 are leveraging?

Maybe not with Airtime, but eventually, businesses are going to be looking to engage with their customers via video chat. If both parties can identify positive opportunities for connecting, might it not lead to new ways to gather information, learn new stuff, be entertained, accomplish account service tasks, even buy stuff?

I can’t wait to find out. What do you think of these new communications opportunities? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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