Reuters is reporting that social network Facebook and search giant Google are both potential companies looking to buy out Skype for about $3-4 billion to bolster their respective video chat services. Is video chat really that valuable?
Generally speaking, video chatting has always been a niche market. As hard as companies such as Skype and Apple are pushing their video chat clients, it's still a communication channel that has yet to become truly mainstream. Ask almost anybody who uses video chat and what do they use it for? To connect with family and for work conference calls.
When the iPhone 4 and FaceTime came out, I thought video chat would skyrocket off the ground. I used it maybe twice and have never used it since the service launched last year. I video chat on Skype with family in other countries maybe about four times a year? One of the largest hurdles to video chat is accessibility.
Sure, we have Skype video chat on our iPhone and Android smartphones as apps, but we don't have the instant gratification of being able to just hit someone up with a video chat from anywhere there is web access without an app. Remember, not everybody has a smartphone with apps, but there are still tons of regular cellphones out there with front-facing cameras by Sony Ericsson, Nokia and the like. The fragmentation of video chatting is also a problem. Currently, I use three different apps to video chat with family: Skype, iChat and Windows Live Messenger. That's because not everybody has a Mac or a PC or a wants to use Skype. So I have to compromise. With Skype built into Facebook or Google, we'd all have one universal platform to chat on and it'd be easy — no apps, no incompatibility issues. Facebook's 500 million-strong members and Google's 193 million or so Gmail users could easily shift things.
With practically everything in our lives integrated into the cloud on Facebook or Google or both (I just stopped and thought about how much info they have on me...scary), integrating Skype's superior video chat capabilities into Gmail or Facebook makes sense. Now, Skype just needs to decide which one to offer itself up to. I'm leaning on Facebook because of broad users. Everyone — young and old uses Facebook. We're all spending way too many hours on it. Google's services are more for productivity and as such, wouldn't really push video chat onto the center stage.