Skype is one of the most successful of all consumer conferencing/collaboration tools. They have extended its capabilities over the years to include VoIP telephone calls, landline telephone integration, text chat (instant messaging), and videoconferencing. But it has remained primarily a one-to-one conversational aid.
ViVu may just change that. The maker of streaming video web collaboration software has released a new plug-in for Skype called VuRoom. A Skype user pays $9.95 per month, then downloads and installs the VuRoom application on his or her computer (Windows or Mac). At that point, they can initiate a video conference on the fly with any number of Skype users, who do not need any software downloads or installs on their end. Skype manages finding and communicating with the desired users, and they get a hyperlink that joins them to the web conference. If they have a video camera or webcam, they can appear on screen in the conference. Otherwise they can just watch the host or other participants who have chosen to appear.
I got a demonstration of VuRoom during its late development stages rather than the finished product out today. At that time, I found a few minor inconveniences and confusing issues during initial installation (confirmation windows getting hidden behind other windows and multiple confirmations required), but nothing that prevented proper operation. Once you start up the VuRoom meeting, it is exactly like the main ViVu conference experience I described last October.
I found the biggest problem for me as a host was getting past a learning curve behavior that made me want to click the big native Skype button asking if I wanted to start a videoconference. That button is more obvious than ViVu’s application and starts up the old one-to-one Skype video call (at much lower resolution and quality than ViVu’s video by the way).
Will this make group video conferences a more popular activity for casual Skype users? It should be interesting to see if it catches on.