Google+ may transform video landscape

Still in trial mode, Google's fledging social platform features strong communicative tools in Hangout feature that has potential to dominate video market but security concerns linger, observes analyst.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

Google+ Hangout may see more success than its video conferencing competitors, but it will not fully change the way companies leverage social media due to security concerns, notes an industry watcher.

Skype and Google are the two prominent video offerings available today but Google has the potential to win with its roots in e-mail, mobile and now a social media platform, Google+, said Pranabesh Nath, industry manager of ICT practice at Frost & Sullivan.

The analyst told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that Skype has been successful as a standalone service in terms of usage but after being acquired by Microsoft, which has sliding market share and long development times for Windows Phone, its long-term success seems uncertain as "Microsoft future strategy does not seem certain".

Apple is also a key contender with its iPhone and iPad devices and iOS platform which support the company's Facetime video chat function, Nath said.

In comparison, G+ video offering features multi-way videoconferencing, is user-friendly, has voice-activated video switching capabilities and is expected to be made available on mobile devices running on both the Android and iOS platforms, he noted.

"Even if G+ fails to capture the appeal of users, Google Hangout could easily be transferred to Gmail or even Google Docs." he explained. "Google has the potential to integrate e-mail, social, chat and mobile- or location-aware solutions with Hangout to make a truly innovation solution that includes all forms of communication, including video."

The analyst added that he would "bet [his] money on Google" seeing success with the new videoconferencing capability.

Skype: Competition "not new"
Skype, who introduced its own group video calling capabilities last year and expanded its offerings beyond the desktop, did not want to comment on Google+ Hangout as an upcoming competitor. A company executive, though, told ZDNet Asia that "competition was not new".

"We think the increase of industry players offering video chat is further validation to the rise of video which Skype has played an active leadership role in bringing video communications to the masses," said Eunice Lim, consumer PR for Skype Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific.

However, Richard Thurston, senior analyst of enterprise telecoms at Ovum, noted that as there are now many PC-based videoconferencing tools such as Cisco Systems' Movi which are low-cost and offer stable, quality user experience not matched by Skype or Google.

"These offerings integrate much better with corporate infrastructure and interoperate with some higher-end videoconferencing offerings, making the management [of such functions] much easier for IT departments," Thurston told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

Promising as it may be, Nath noted that Hangout is not changing the way businesses use social media, at least for now. He pointed to Facebook as the largest competitor to G+, noting that enterprises were using Facebook for marketing purposes and to reach out to customers

"Whether companies jump on to this platform will depend on how successful it becomes in terms of gaining a significant user base, as well as the type of applications it can provide," Nath explained.

He acknowledged that G+ Hangout offered an interesting application "from a company marketing and customer interaction standpoint" and could be used to deliver interactive video presentations, which was something Facebook could not do.

When contacted, a Google spokesperson said: "We hope that Hangout will enable more companies to leverage video conferencing as a regular form of communication within their organization, as well as externally with their customers and consumers."

Hangout security concerns
Hangout and functions within G+ have drawn security concerns that are similar to those of Facebook, according to Nath. The analyst noted that Facebook's key weakness was its lack of concern for individual's privacy of information.

"G+ has tried to tackle this with its 'Circles' concept so there is an assumption that any future applications or games, including Hangout, would use the 'Circles' concept," he said. "In this sense, you could argue the privacy features in G+ seem to be better compared to the market leader, Facebook."

The Google spokesperson told ZDNet Asia that as a security precaution, all participants in Hangout must be invited and by default, Hangout audio and video content are not recorded and all chats within Hangouts are "off the record".

Regardless, Thurston maintained that Skype and Google may not offer all the security layers that enterprises need and that security in video conferencing is an area that is often overlooked by businesses.

"It is possible to eavesdrop on a video conference, with the result that confidential information, audio and collaboration data, can be intercepted," he warned, and advised businesses to deploy encryption as a first step, which most video conferencing offerings currently support.

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