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Facebook Video Chat Feature Takes an Intuitive Approach

The future of online video is likely to be informed by video chat, for a number of reasons. As two-way interaction is one of the most obvious distinguishing factors between online video and the traditional large and small screen environments through which we’ve consumed it, our efforts to create best practices for things like video chat can inform the way we eventually optimize video in general.

In addition, current interest around live chat means that the best innovations may happen there first. Video chat may also be more easily monetizable than straight video given its potential for both business and non-business communication.

Today’s Fast Company profile of Rob Mason, a Facebook designer who worked on the recent Skype integration to Facebook, offers some great insights on the process of optimizing video for a chat environment. While it remains to be seen whether their decisions as to the placement, size, and prioritization of the video image will work out (and of course we know that with Facebook, the first iteration is never the last), their emphasis on simplicity and easy access makes a lot of sense. Mason’s intuitive approach to video placement, along with his strong ideas about user experience, is impressive. These are the kinds of discussions we need to be having about video placement in general. Where does it belong on the page? How big? What happens when you bring up other images?

I won’t do a rehash of the article other than to call out a few items that are of interest to my discussion of video in general.

Placing the Call Window at the Top. The video first appears at the top of the screen, after which you can move it around. What’s cool about this is that it establishes a practice around video viewing, in this case for the purposes of chat. Users will presumably be doing this on a regular basis, and each time they will habitually look to the same place to find their video. Anticipating where the viewer will look is a huge priority for me in video editing. I’m impressed that Mason is thinking about this, and thinking myself about the visual narrative that occurs as a result. One of the necessary and unavoidable distinctions between online and traditional video is that the interaction between the video screen and computer screen is a part of the viewing experience. We are essentially talking about user experience but with the added variable of a live moving image within it: UX+montage. The ability to create a coherent and synergistic flow between the two is becoming very important to the success of online video experiences.

Keeping the Video Window in the Foreground. This is the other design choice I wanted to call out. An interesting one, which I’m not sure I agree with but I respect. Mason has put the video window in the foreground and eliminated the ability to bring up another window in its place, so you “never forget you’re in a call.” For the best of reasons, Mason has determined that members of a chat “need to be confident that they know they are being seen and heard.” No question that eye contact in a conversation is an essential aspect of in-person interaction. This may also be a good thing for one-to-one chats but do we really want to dictate that for multi-party chats. Part of the reality of multi-party video chats is that we (at least some of the participants) multi-task as we go. I am interested in this because one of the realities I’ve embraced about online video, especially when it involves a talking head or a two-person interview, where the image does not essentially change, is that we watch the first part of the video then continue listening as we do other things. I do this often, in cases where my other work does not require full immersion and I would not be able to make time for that video content otherwise.

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