Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Using a webcam to help with audio-only phone conferences

I'm certain someone has written about this, but I couldn't find it on a quick web search.

Office videoconferencing has been limited by corporate bandwidth and the dismal state of USB webcams [1]; there's no practical solution that enables one to share whiteboard work over a video link for example. Even so, I've recently been persuaded that for many people, including me, even crummy low resolution images enable better social interaction and higher quality communication.

So I've started using a webcam with Office Communicator 2005. Unfortunately the people I communicate with don't usually have a webcam, so it's one way. They see me. I either see a blank space or my own face.

That's where I made an interesting discovery. It helps me, when on a phone call, to see my own face. It helps me be more patient, and even to be a better listener. Of course, as Emily points out, a mirror would have the same effect -- but a mirror in my office would seem a bit .... odd.

So I'm experimenting with viewing my own face and body language when I'm on voice only calls. I'm guessing it will help me be more conscious of my own reactions, and better able to manage the call. 

I suspect this might be a bigger help for people with geek-genes than for non-geeks. 

This would make an interesting psychology study btw ...

(I'm sure someone has written about doing this with a mirror in the "old days". One could probably use an iPhone with "mirror" wallpaper in place of a physical mirror or webcam.)

[1] BTW, the built-in Mac webcams aren't the equal of the much mourned firewire iSight (best webcam ever) but they produce much better results than my Microsoft LifeCam. It's not just resolution, it's also video rate, color balance, focus, white balance and, above all, adjustment for variable lighting.


Anonymous said...

What a great post, just where do you glean the insights on huge variety of topics you cover? I communicate by webcam via skype on a daily basis with my family in England.
The snails pace development of web cam technology has surprised me. As you state, quality should be much better than present levels are.
The mirror in the office image did make me chuckle, geek- genes included. The psychological study should be titled “mirror image recognition and working metamorphosis processing to combat physiognomic de-attitudinal deficiencies.”
Below is an example of a high end mirror that does not require any effort on the part of the participator:
Regards, Alan

JGF said...

Alas, my mirror doesn't work like the one in your link, but it's only a matter of time.

I think some consumer cameras now incorporate "slimming" features to improve subjects appearance. It's only a matter of time before we substitute LCD displays for mirrors to do the same thing. That would make mornings easier!