The recent announcement that Facebook would be integrating Skype into the social network platform caught my attention. Chat on Facebook has great advantages in that it alleviates your cognitive load (essentially meaning you don’t have to remember great swathes of information) and it allows you to multitask.
Your previous conversations with your Facebook friend are displayed within the text chat window when you chat to them. You don’t have to refresh your memory as to what you were discussing the last time you communicated. I often chat to people whom I haven’t talked to in a while and some whom I am not particularly emotionally close to. This record allows me to talk to my friends without awkward pauses whilst I think “did they break up with so and so?” etc. This also reduces the potential for embarrassing faux pas.
Multitasking, supposedly a chiefly female skill (I have my doubts on the veracity of this claim), is something for which Facebook is particularly suited. I can have conversations with several people at once (one of my Facebook friends is remarkably adept at spotting this however – “Oi are you talking to someone else?!” is a typical response). I can be working on a word document, I can be coding some data, or I can be watching television and still carry out a semblance of a conversation with someone on Facebook (knowing that they are probably doing exactly the same thing).
Now the crux of this post; video messaging is a very private, directed thing. There is no record of your previously “face to screen to face” conversation, the capacity to multitask is severely reduced. I can have a very lazy Sunday morning, breakfast in bed, MacBook perched on my lap, and can pop on Facebook to catch up on the news. I can chat to people on there and they won’t know that I am in my tattiest PJs, hair akin to a birds nest and (because of a particularly late night) mascara burdened eyes producing a very good Alice Cooper impression. There would be absolutely no way I would even consider Skyping at that particular moment.
I predict we will only see a small number of select groups of people using Skype over Facebook. There will be those people who are geographically distant to each other such as friends who have emigrated. There will also be those who use Facebook chat for more intimate reasons, anyone who has ever used Chat Roulette will have probably encountered the more, erm, explicit uses of video chat. You will of course have people using it for much more innocent reasons – parents showing off new babies to friends and relatives, grandparents checking in with their grandchildren at university etc.
It is not just the goals of use that will have an impact on the adoption of Skype over Facebook. For someone who isn’t technically literate, Skype is a relatively complicated thing to set up, it also requires a webcam. Most laptops and netbooks have this functionality built in, but someone with a desktop pc may have to source this. Even easy access and relative expertise does not guarantee use. I have an iPhone, my husband has an iPhone. We could feasibly video call each other. This would allow for a supposedly richer experience, we would be able to see each other’s expressions and supposedly gain more meaning from our conversation. We have both had video message functionality for more than a year. We have never had a video chat. Whilst I would quite happily use Skype for professional purposes – a situation where I am selling my skills and knowledge, I would feel very uncomfortable using it in a social situation, particularly when communicating with acquaintances.
So it will be interesting to see who uses Skype, and whether its integration with Facebook actually produces a new set of individuals who prefer video communication to text in every day online conversations. We may also find that in 40 years’ time video communication is the norm just as telephone communication is today.